This week, I share an interesting idea about being soft-hearted, an interesting article about how weird the Bible is, and continue our interesting study of Pilgrims Progress by exploring the […]
This week, I share an interesting idea about being soft-hearted, an interesting article about how weird the Bible is, and continue our interesting study of Pilgrims Progress by exploring the sixth chapter where Christian loses his scroll in the peaceful arbour.
Just a couple things before we get started. The first thing is that I’ve been working hard lately to put a lot of the livestream Twitch content onto the YouTube and Rumble video pages. So, if you go there, you’ll see the devotional series on Philippians I’ve been giving on Thursdays – and the Q&A discussions that we do on Sundays. Once I’m caught up, they’ll come out on that channel every week, for those who want to just see those – or who want to pass them along without all the other Twitch content. They’ll be edited up a little bit, but it’ll mostly just be whatever happened during the stream.
And, on the video editing note, I had a really exciting thing happen this week. I sent around a request to see if anyone would want to volunteer some time to edit the gaming videos into something short and entertaining, and I actually got contacted by someone who not only believes in what I’m doing here – but actually has a degree in video production! We’re still in the very preliminary stages, figuring out what that all looks like, but I’m pretty excited and hope that there will be some entertaining gaming videos coming out very soon too!
So, if you want to see all those videos, please go subscribe to my YouTube or Rumble channels. You’ll find those links on the main website at ArtoftheChristianNinja.com
And finally, believe it or not, I’ve actually got XtianNinja Merch – as in Merchandise – as in coffee mugs, shirts and whatnot with my little logo and various characters on. I had a professional artist design my logo and emotes and they are insanely cute. I didn’t go for the angsty, grumpy ninja logo that everyone else seems to want. I went with an adorable, big-eyed, friendly looking ninja who looks pretty rad on all kinds of stuff. My daughters are going absolutely nuts for them, and I think that a lot of you will like them too.
Of course, I’ve got t-shirts and sweaters, but coolest things to me are the Praying Angel Notebook, the Emote Coffee mugs that have an angry ninja on one side and a lovey-dovey heart ninja on the other – or a happy ninja on one side and a super sad one on the other. But the funniest one, I think, is the angry ninja socks. They’re just so silly.
This merch isn’t really meant to be a source of income for the channel – in fact, I actually turned down the profit sliders to make the prices more reasonable – it’s just meant to be something fun to build up the community. It would be awesome if you’d check it out – and if there’s something you want me to include – like, say, there’s an emote you like, but it’s not on the right thing – like you want the excited ninja, but you want it on a mousepad or backpack or something – just let me know. It’s super easy to make a new option. I just grabbed the ones I thought people might like.
I’ll put the link on the website and in this episodes description.
Ok, and let’s get on with the show.
An Interesting Idea
I have a few songs that I call my “crying songs”. These are the ones that if they come on, it’s like they grab my heart, give it a squeeze, and tears fall out like water from a sponge. I’m sure you have a few of these too. They don’t all have to be Christian songs, or even religious – they just they’re the ones that, if they come up in your playlist, or on the radio, or in church, or at a friend’s house – you know that it’s going to change your mood. I don’t have many of them, but there are certainly a few.
One of them is a song called Mighty to Save. Here, I’ll play you the first little bit.
Those first couple lines hit my every time, because they are so true! “Everyone needs compassion. A love that’s never failing… Everyone needs forgiveness… The kindness of a Saviour” And, let me tell you, even as I write this script, just typing out those words is grabbing my heart.
“Everyone needs compassion”. God is compassionate. Jesus is compassionate. He is soft-hearted. Over and over in the bible we read that God’s love never fails. That He has such a long fuse, such amazing patience for rebellious people, and that His common grace falls on everyone – even if they mock and deny his existence. He is soft hearted.
Think of Jesus, climbing the hill to look over Jerusalem and breaking into tears. Think of the parable of the lost sheep. Think of when Jesus restored Peter after he had denied him three times. Or weeping at Lazarus’ tomb, or taking care of his mother, even as He hung on the cross. Jesus was soft-hearted.
And one of the gifts that God gives us, when we turn our lives over to Jesus and follow Him as our Lord and Saviour, is that he gives us a soft-heart too. In Ezekiel 36:26, one of the promises God makes for when the Messiah comes, is that he will remove our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh. In other words, he’ll make us soft-hearted.
These days we sometimes consider soft-heartedness to be a negative thing. Because the world is a rough place and people are always suffering, soft-hearted people always tend to carry a little bit of sadness with them. It’s also considered a weakness, because soft-hearted people want to help others, and can therefore be manipulated by dishonest people pretending to be in crisis.
And so, when that happens, the advice given to these people is to smarten up, harden up, protect yourself, stop snivelling over the woes of the world, and think about yourself for a change. But, I don’t think that’s good advice.
I think being a soft-hearted person is a good thing. It means that you are very empathic, sympathetic, generous and kind. When you see someone going through a bad time, even if you don’t know them personally, you feel for them and those feelings compel you to want to help them. When you see someone in need, you have an internal drive to fill that need. When someone sins, even in a terrible way, your soft-hearted nature automatically wants to show them love, forgive them, let them know they’re not alone, and that even though they messed up, they are still precious to someone.
As a victim of bullying and abuse, one of the reflexes I developed was to shut off my emotions. I didn’t just deny my bad feelings, or ignore my pain – instead, I just took the emotional volume control and turned it waaay down. It wasn’t a conscious decision, not really, but the idea was that if I don’t have feelings, then my feelings can’t get hurt. If I can’t feel sadness, I won’t be sad. And if I don’t feel good about things, I can’t be disappointed when they are taken away.
In other words, the solution was to harden my heart. Shields up, red alert, dig the moat, build the wall, shut the gate, and take whatever feelings are left, lock them in a box and throw them down the well. The idea was that a hard heart, is a safe heart.
But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. As I grew and matured, as God worked on and in me, I realized how bad it was that I’d shut all that down. How could I love God, love my friends, love a girl, if I didn’t have access to that? How could I be passionate like Jesus, if I removed my passions?
And so, I asked God to make the exchange again – to knock down the walls I’d set up around my heart, and to help me feel what He feels about this world. And as painful as that is sometimes, as uncomfortable, scary, and difficult as it is to have all those feelings back – it is such a better life. Now I can feel joy, love, hope, friendship, empathy – even wonder and excitement. Sure, it’s still no fun to give my heart to someone and have them step on it – but on the other side of that coin comes a depth of friendship that I’d never been able to experience before.
What reminded me of all this was when I read Hebrews 3 during my devos this week. Verse 7-8 says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…” Verse 13 says, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” And these verses were a reminder of my hard-hearted days – and a reminder of how easy it is to go back.
Verse 8 is a warning to not harden our hearts on purpose. That means that we can willfully, purposefully, harden our hearts. God says something in His word, in our spirits, through a Christian friend or leader, and we go… “No way. I refuse to feel that. I refuse to go there. I’m going to cut off that compassionate instinct before it gets me in trouble.”
And verse 13 is a warning that a hard heart can happen without our knowledge, without us deciding it too. It says that one of the results of sin is a hard heart. In other words, as we choose to sin, especially habitually, we don’t even notice that our heart is crusting over – that we are becoming more cruel, more angry, more judgmental, less compassionate. We don’t realize that our private sins, the ones no one sees, actually have a real effect on the rest of our lives, because now we can’t love like we used to, or have joy like we used to, or be as sensitive to others as we used to, and the voice of God, the presence of God, becomes more and more muffled – until the only voice inside our head is our own and the enemies – but we’re so hard-hearted that we think it’s still God’s.
Which is probably why that song makes me cry so much. Because not only do I need compassion, love, and forgiveness – but I know what it’s like to kill those feelings inside myself towards others – and what it’s like to get them back again. And I’m so, so, so thankful that God has helped me to become more soft-hearted.
My hope for you, as you listen to this, is that God would do the same for you. If you’ve been through abuse and you’re afraid to open up, ask God to start the process, because He is gentle and kind and will do it right.
If you’re not sure if you’re all crusted over, then ask God to reveal what parts of your heart are hard – the parts you can’t see – and ask Him to break out the sledgehammer and let you feel again.
And, if you are soft-hearted person who secretly wishes that you could be more hard-hearted, because you’re tired of having so many feelings – let me encourage you to read the scriptures in a new light and realize that God is soft-hearted too, that the Holy Spirit can grieve, that Jesus wept, and that your soft heart is a gift that gives you a connection to God that a lot of people simply don’t have.
An Interesting Article
This week’s Interesting Article is entitled, “How to (Honestly) Face the Oddities of the Bible’” and it’s a book review by Michael Kruger, on The Gospel Coalition .org blog.
This article is a review of a new book called, “A Most Peculiar Book: The Inherent Strangeness of the Bible” by Kristin Swenson, that is meant to somehow make the Bible more approachable as we see it’s weirdness – while also trying to discredit and discourage people from taking it too seriously.
Here’s a quote from the book that Kruger uses, “Besides texts of lofty wisdom, inspiration, comfort and guidance, the Bible contains bewildering archaisms, inconsistencies, questionable ethics, and herky-jerky narrative style. Yet, those features barely get a passing glance these days. Some believers simply explain them away, while nonbelievers use them as a reason to dismiss the Bible entirely.”
The book then starts to go at deconstructing the Bible from every angle. How it has so many authors, some of them anonymous, was written over a long time, in a diversity of cultures, in various languages, and has been copied countless times. Swenson goes though how many different names God is called, the weird descriptions of Satan, the immorality of many of the Bible’s most famous characters, how many unbelievable miracles happen, and lists all of the contradictions and inconsistencies. It finishes off with a chapter on how immoral the Bible actually really is, as it advocates things like cruelty, genocide, slavery, and killing children.
If you recall, last episode we talked about how Saul didn’t turn into Paul, and this book has a similar vibe – but on a lot of steroids. Instead of picking out a singular foible among believers, this book implies that anyone who takes the Bible seriously, and actually wants to obey it as the Word of God, should be considered not only an idiot, but also evil.
So, what does Micheal Kruger, the New Testament Professor and Scholar, who is also president of Reformed Theological Seminary, say about this?
Well, he says a few things. First, he appreciates the fact that there are a lot of Christians who have never even considered the stuff that this book brings up, and it’s actually a good thing that many have to contend with it. There are a lot of people with what he calls “an overly sanitized view of the bible” who get pretty upset when these things are pointed out. And they get mad at their pastors, Sunday school teachers, and small group leaders, because they wonder why this has never come up before!
And with that, I totally agree. If we’re going to call the Bible the Authoritative Word of God, the Foundational Document for Every Human Being on Earth that has the power to dictate almost every facet of life – then we’d better be able to deal with someone who starts pointing out some of the weirder parts.
But, thankfully, Kruger also points out this book’s weaknesses too. I’ll leave the article to you, but let me go over them quickly:
The first criticism is that this book “Assumes the Worst”. In other words, Kristin Swenson – who is, herself, an Associate Professor of Religion at a University in Richmond, Virginia – spends a lot of time coming up with a bunch of difficulties and issues – but doesn’t bother to put the effort into actually looking for answers. Which there are many – that biblical scholars and preachers have known for, like, ever. All she would have had to do was pick up the phone and call one of a million people around her that could have let her know how Christians have dealt with that issue.
The second criticism Kruger makes is that while the premise of the book is supposed to be an honest, critical look at what the Bible really says, Swenson comes with the obvious agenda of trying to fit liberal ideology into the text – like that Jesus didn’t care about marriage, extra-marital sex is fine, and that the bible is fine with same-sex marriage. As Kruger says, “If she were following the tenor of her book, wouldn’t it have been better to admit the Bible teaches the traditional view of marriage, even if she finds it difficult or offensive? Isn’t the whole point that we should let the Bible say hard things, even if we disagree? It seems that evangelicals may not be the only ones trying to make the Bible say what they want it to say.”
Isn’t it crazy that whenever you poke a hole in a book or article or movie like this, that’s trying to discredit Christianity or scripture, that it’s always sexual sin that leaks out first? I wish authors would just be more honest. “Hi, my name is Kristin Swenson and I want to have sex with whoever I want, but doing so makes me feel shame, so I wrote a book where I try to make the bible say it’s ok, so I might feel guilty anymore.”
Anyway, the third criticism, is that Swenson makes the classic philosophical error of calling the Bible immoral without actually saying where she, (QUOTE) “finds these moral norms she invokes so assuredly.” How can you say that slavery is wrong, morally wrong, if you don’t have some kind of moral standard to appeal to? If she has the authority to call the bible categorically immoral, then what’s her moral basis for such a statement?
I’ll leave the rest of the article for you to read – but I would love to hear your thoughts about it during the Livestream AMA this Sunday at 12pm Eastern Standard Time. Send me some comments and questions in advance through the website, or record your voice through the Speakpipe page. Or, you can always show up and do it live. I hope you do come. It’s always an interesting time.
An Interesting Study
The last part of these podcasts is an “Interesting Study” on the classic book, “Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan. Remember, there’s a link to this book – for free – on my blog if you want to read along. This week we’re looking at the Chapter 6 when Christian enters the Pleasant Arbour.
This section of the story is so instructive when you start to take it apart. So, Christian heads up the Hill, and it’s pretty tough going. At one point he’s even crawling. But, half way up he sees a nice, little park on the side of the road, and heads in there to rest a bit. He pulls out his scroll, which in this book is usually code for either His bible, or his assurance that the promises of God are true, gives it a read, and then falls asleep.
He sleeps too long, it starts getting dark, he freaks out, takes off up the hill, and meets a couple people running back down the hill. They are Timorous and Mistrust, two men obviously sent by the enemy to discourage Christian from his journey. The word Timorous means to suffer from nervousness, to lack confidence, to be easily frightened. And the word Mistrust means to have no confidence in something. So, what’s the deal here? Well, Christian, going up a hill that’s already hard enough on him, meets a couple guys who embody the question, “Will God get me through this?” Their answer was, “No way. It’s too hard, too scary, and besides, there’s freaking lions in the road, and we’re going back.” Christian says that he knows that going back would be foolish, so for him, the only way is forward. The two men take off and Christian starts to freak out a bit himself. He reaches for his roll to encourage himself and it’s not there.
And he is so so so bummed out. He’s mad at himself. He knows he has to walk all the way back to that arbour, and it’s getting darker, and he just beats himself up the whole way there. Then, he gets his scroll back, and takes off up the hill again.
My question for you, and the thing I want to chew on today, is… what is Bunyan trying to say when he has Christian forget his scroll? Remember Bunyan is a pastor, writing to people, to warn and encourage them in their walk with Jesus. So what’s this all about? What is Pastor Bunyan trying to tell us?
I think it’s that we need to be careful that when the pressure of life releases a bit, when things start to cruise along pretty nice, when things go okay for a while, that we need to be really careful we don’t stop practicing our spiritual disciplines like prayer, bible-reading, meditation, worship, fasting, serving others… because it’s going to have consequenses.
If you’ve been a Christian for a while you know how this goes. When things are hard, when you are in need, when there’s a lot of responsibilities on your shoulders, or you’re sick, or someone you love is in trouble – you’re drawn to your knees, you feel like you need to pray, you know you’ll fall apart without it, and the problems are so big, you know you need God’s help to deal with it.
But then, things start to smooth out. The crisis is over, the budget is going ok, no one is having a health crisis, the car is running fine, you’ve got a job, your church is getting along – it’s actually pretty good! And it’s not before you realize that you haven’t really prayed in a while, your bible reading slips, you decide to take a little vacation from church because they’re cruising along fine, and no one really needs you right now, so you stop looking for places to help out.
I think that’s when our faith falls asleep and the roll falls out of our pockets – our assurance starts to slip, our atheist moments start to increase, and our faith starts to atrophy. Then, when we start back up the hill, some difficulties come, and the enemy sends some discouragement our way – we are suddenly wracked with doubt and fear. We wonder if we ever had faith at all. We wonder how we could have been so sure before, but now our confidence in God is crippled. We start to freak out a bit and clamour for something to make us feel better, but our instinct isn’t towards prayer, scripture, fellowship, and worship – it’s for other things, more practical things, more immediate things.
And then, the Holy Spirit convicts us and we realize that it was actually during that time of peace that we were the most vulnerable to attack. We thought it was when we were suffering, but no – that was when we were closest to God! The real test came when the pressure was off – and we failed.
So, we repent, we walk down the hill, beating ourselves up, regretting the time we wasted, the pain we caused ourselves, and feeling really bad about having turned our back on God so easily. We end up having to rebuild the old spiritual habits that had been so easy, we call people we should have been calling all along, we start working out that faith muscle again through service and worship and prayer – and it’s not long until we reach that arbour, find that assurance, recommit ourselves to God, and are able to… as Bunyan says… nimbly, or quickly, run up the rest of the Hill of Difficulty!
Have you experienced this? If you have, then you’re normal. If you’re going through a tough time right now, one of the things you can be thankful for is that it’s reminding you of your absolute need for God. That’s a gift.
But, if things are pretty easy for you right now, you might want to make an assessment to see if you’re actually sleeping in the arbor, if darkness is coming, and if you’re roll is secure – because if it’s not – you’ve got a bad time coming. So, now is a really good time to make sure that your time of peace isn’t actually when the enemy is making advances against you.
And that’s it for today.
Thank you so much for listening, and I hope you heard something interesting.
Remember, you can find more episodes, and links to my social media, the new private Discord server, and a bunch of other good stuff (like my free books) on the website at ArtoftheChristianNinja.com.
If you want to follow along with what I’m doing, this podcast comes out on Fridays, and I livestream on Twitch from Sunday to Thursday at 12pm Easter Standard time. On Thursdays I give a little sermon and on Sundays we do a Q&A where you can ask me whatever you want. I’d love it if you dropped by.
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