February 2013


Sunset Silouette

Neighbors (Photo credit: davepatten)

God invites us into His epic saga where a collective body of mankind passes from spiritual death to life one life at a time. In this adventure, He gives us relationships.

Everyone has neighbors, and everyone is a neighbor to everyone else. Neighbors include spouses and family, friends and acquaintances, co-workers and classmates, and even strangers we’ve never met. Some are kind, some are hostile, and some are indifferent.

Because this body of neighbors is lost and broken, we’ve all been hurt and we all hurt others to one degree or another. Collectively, we’re the walking wounded because we’re like children with live grenades. We don’t understand how to lovingly exercise the power of free thought, will, and behavior.

Without joining God’s adventure, perhaps the best we can manage of life is to get whatever we can without too much damage to self and neighbors. The worst we can do is to inflict as much harm on as many people as possible, including ourselves. Either way, it’s no way to live.

The Healing Connection

Multitudes of the walking wounded have experienced nothing but rejection or abuse at the hands of others. They’ve never experienced any sense of belonging, of love, or so much as a whiff of community in any body of neighbors. People thus deprived simply shrivel and die inside.

As neighbors, you and I are designed to be connected, not detached from one other. Yet it isn’t good to depend primarily on one another. This might surprise some readers.

Using a body analogy, many Christians teach that God designed us specifically to be dependent on one another. They’ll explain that the kidneys, for example, depend on the lungs, and the lungs depend on the stomach, and so on. In conclusion, they’ll say, “Imagine if kidneys and lungs didn’t do their jobs. In the same way, God wants us to depend on each other.”

It sounds good until you realize that a thriving body depends primarily on each part’s connection to the brain, not between its parts. So, the kidneys don’t do their job because of the lungs, but because of the brain.

Likewise, thriving neighbor relationships rely on connection to Christ. Even when it’s established for only one of the persons, it’s no longer vital to be “treated right” by the other. For example, if you insult, judge, or reject me, I’m not devastated and therefore feel no need to retaliate. I can wish you good will because my well-being doesn’t depend on you.

If I’m extremely well-practiced in this, (which I’m not yet) as the original Christians were, nothing you can do to me will harm me, including murder. My well-being simply doesn’t depend on you, and doesn’t even depend on me remaining in my physical body. This independence is Jesus’ “secret” behind turning the other cheek, praying for enemies, and blessing those who curse you. In other words, neighbor love.

But it’s rarely taught to today’s Christians. Instead, we attempt turning-the-other-cheek behavior simply because “the Bible says so,” neither understanding the sequence behind it nor building up the independent, Christ-like strength to do it. The blind lead the blind right into a minefield.

As strange as it sounds, you can’t love your neighbors until you get free of them. This doesn’t mean to reject neighbors or be indifferent to their needs. It simply means that in surrendering to God, we rely less and less on people nurturing us. Although He may bring nurturing people into our lives (and some who make life difficult), dependence on God puts us in a better position to foster and serve relationships without abusing people or falling victim to them.

Practice: Re-establish Connection to the Head

Study the two instructive commands that Jesus gave, which, according to him, summarize God’s primary message of eternal life. (1.) Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul. (2.) Love your neighbor as yourself.

Then ask God to help you understand it. First, ponder whether the message of love might still be primary, or whether Jesus put it on the back burner or abolished it altogether. Consider what love might have to do with abundant life and well-being with God, now and always.

Second, note that these two commands address the relationship between mankind and God, and that mankind can be understood as “yourself” and everyone else—“neighbor.” Command #1 covers God and self; command #2 covers self and everyone else.

Third, note the sequence of building love as Jesus presented it. To love your neighbor as yourself assumes that one already loves one’s self—not in a prideful, human way, but in a healthy, Godly way. Self-love is a pre-requisite for neighbor love. To use a house analogy, Christ is the foundation, self is the walls, and neighbors are the roof.

Now, compare this sequence to the popular JOY acronym that you may have been taught: Jesus, Others, You, in that order. Which would seem to put you in a position of strength, good will, staying power, and joy? Which might likely build exhaustion or resentment over time?

To me, Jesus’  order is much wiser because it motivates human nature to work with God, as opposed to keeping human nature always at odds with His ways.

 

House I - Roy Lichtenstein

House I – Roy Lichtenstein (Photo credit: Ukenaut)

We continue this week to explore the body’s part in renewal of the whole person. Unlike novels, facial expressions aren’t specified in Scripture. But they’re implied in dialog passages. For example, I picture the Lord grinning, as if up to something, in this scene:

“Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t realize it was Jesus. He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered. He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” (Jhn. 21:4-6)

I see raised eyebrows when Jesus explained new birth to Nicodemus. “‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and you don’t understand these things?’” (Jhn. 30:10)

Of course, his entire body is central in crucifixion and resurrection passages. Even his ascension occurred in a body. My point is that spiritual concerns alone aren’t the whole story.

Treasure Houses

“Don’t you realize that you’re a temple and that God’s Spirit lives within you?” (1Cor. 3:16) As the outer man, your body houses and expresses your inner essence. Paul uses several body analogies to illustrate spiritual realities. Other passages about houses, temples, or tents are often about people. In the field of dream study, houses represent the self.

Then there are collective bodies/houses. Passages about cities are about groups of individuals and their way of living. Of course, the Body of Christ is the collective body of Christian disciples throughout the ages.

Scripture describes New Jerusalem, the Bride, as a “great city” of people united in Christ who rule and serve in love. The Harlot, Babylon, is also a “great city,” but her people aren’t governed by love. Both are characterized in terms of a female body; both are beautifully and lavishly adorned; and both are about a collective mind-set and resulting life-style.

Just as your mind, emotions, and will are valuable and worth taking care of, so is your body. That doesn’t mean we worship the body, as hedonistic societies do. This god causes relentless obsession over how it looks to others, or dictates behavior aimed solely at satisfying some physical sensation like lust or gluttony. This is “fleshly” living.

But don’t trivialize your body, either, as others do. Because you have a physical form made of flesh doesn’t meant it should be mistreated. To regard it as worthless is a blatant disregard for all that God created and continues to create. Your flesh is fearfully and wonderfully made, something to be treasured. If God thought otherwise, would Jesus have manifested as human flesh?

Powerhouses

In filling up and learning to obey, rightness must move into the body as action for transformation to become complete (perfect). Without love and goodness inhabiting your thoughts and will, your body becomes a means to carry out ill will, manipulation, force, and abuse against self and neighbor.

“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luk. 6:45)

Treating your own body well affects how well you treat others. Our bodies, like emotions, should serve us, not master us, in the safe, trustworthy use of power. So we’re to offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), which doesn’t mean they’re forfeited, but simply devoted to and organized around God and good will.

Practice

1. Students of Jesus are with him in all dimensions of personhood—mentally, emotionally, in choices, and in action. Immanuel is God with man, God’s Word in the flesh. The Spirit dwells increasingly in your household if you’re learning from Jesus how to do everything he says to do.

So, watch how he used his body in daily behavior with neighbors. What did he do with his hands? What was his tone of voice? Where did he position himself when walking with people? Did he avert his eyes or gaze directly at people? In every way, and especially on the cross, his body spoke the character of his whole being.

2. That said, be careful of “lifting up the Lord” so far that it puts distance between you. Obviously, it’s meant well, but it’s hard to get a sense of walking and interacting with the Lord if he isn’t close at hand, or only watches from afar.

There are enough forces working to separate you from God, so don’t inadvertently contribute by widening the gap! Pre-condition and position yourself for intimacy by regularly practicing the presence of God. “And lo, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mat. 28:20)

3. Contrary to common belief, consider the biblical notion that your body isn’t temporary. Yes, your spirit will one day shed its current form, but people who are prepared (“worthy”) get the same body back in glorified, fully restored form just as Jesus did. (Exactly how that happens, no one can be sure. We don’t have enough detail.)

But even before any resurrection, Scripture seems to imply some sort of body after physical death. Paul hints that if there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body (1Cor. 15:44). In The Revelation, when John sees the souls of people who were beheaded for holding to the Word (Rev. 6:9, 20:4), I believe he sees actual people complete with arms, legs, heads, and torsos.

At any rate, Jesus is the first-fruit. Human bodies are an eternal part of our essential being—the soul—in both heaven and hell. If you understand “soul” as “person,” and as something of substance rather than a disembodied, nebulous thing, life as God defines it—whole and integrated—makes more sense. Even in everyday earthly activity, the body is much more than something to hang clothes on.

Collage of varius Gray's muscle pictures by Mi...Having explored transformation of the inner person, and, assuming that routine neighbor love is the goal, we can now look at how the body fits in. As the mechanism that delivers whatever is dominant in your head and heart, your body is the “outer man” that Paul talks about.

Speech patterns and tone of voice, for example, reflect the inner person. Eye movement and facial expressions can be compassionate and kind, or stab like daggers. I can use my hands and arms to deliver a comforting touch or a devastating blow.

Whether my shoulders are slumped or squared, or my gait is shuffling or springy, you can “read” me because outer posture generally manifests the inner stance. So you probably know when I’m experiencing destructive fear, anger, jealousy, or bitterness, as well as positive joy, peace, or hope.

Of course, I can expend tons of energy maintaining a poker face. Maybe I don’t want people to get too close or really know me, but whatever the reason, it’s possible to live a guarded, disguised sort of life-style. But it’s exhausting and prone to “leakage” because it’s contrary to God’s design. (more…)

Surrender Dorothy written in the sky by a witch.For several weeks, we’ve been looking at the movements of transformation, the process of re-integrating mind/thoughts/feelings with heart/will/spirit to create a new inner person who surrenders to good will and abundant well-being. The result is love for God and self that overflows to even the most obnoxious neighbors.

Normally, I’m not a fan of the word surrender because, for me, it conjures an image of raised hands in a do-nothing stance. You surrender your wallet when you’re being mugged. It carries a negative vibe: “powerless,” “defeated,” or even “violated,” and implies being stripped of your will. It’s hard to embrace because it just doesn’t feel right. Maybe that’s because this is the usual human experience when people surrender to other people.

Then again, handing your wallet over at gun-point isn’t true surrender.

A Life of Its Own

By contrast, surrender to God is a positive thing because, unlike a mugging, it conveys genuine consent and cooperation. No one surrenders to God against their will. In the Christian context, true surrender brings participation and increased activity instead of waiting on the sidelines for things to just happen. And life takes on a whole new texture and energy.

Now and throughout human history, the ongoing movements and grace of God are active rather than passive. He invites participation and involvement in an adventure bigger than difficult neighbors. A surrendered heart is actively and willingly engaged with God, intent on passage from inner death to life here and now. (more…)