Jesus Stills the Storm

Jesus Stills the Storm (Photo credit: Will Humes)

Spirit is the fundamental basis on which we relate to God because He is Spirit who intermingles with His physical creation.

For mankind, spirit is the essence of personhood and life. Biblically, it’s synonymous with will and heart, which has a great deal to do with thoughts, feelings, and wishes.

Paul reminds us that the mind of the Spirit is thriving life and peace, while the mind of the flesh is living death (Rom. 8:6). Like Jesus, he wanted people to understand that a physical-only orientation to our world cuts us off from “life to the fullest,” where we languish and die.

Spirit occupies and affects the physical body, yet can’t be located anywhere specific within it. Spirit exists as distinct–co-mingling with physical matter but having independent power to think, choose, and affect it. This is true of the Holy Spirit as well as human spirit because it’s one form of energy.

To use a mundane example, and the best one I’ve heard, the furniture arrangement in your house is your personal power to convey your thoughts regarding it. The furniture didn’t arrange itself under its own power. So the furniture is seen, while the spirit behind its placement is unseen yet just as “real.” My point is that the spiritual realm is the one in which we primarily live and move and have our being and power.

It’s by spirit that you and I arrange our lives, good or bad. That doesn’t mean the physical world is nothing but evil, or something trivial we should try to ignore or escape. It simply means that spirit, thankfully, isn’t limited by it. This is why we can happily be in the world but not “of” the world—just as God is.

The Manifest Power of Spirit

Like morning dew, spirit regularly “condenses” into physical matter from seemingly nothing. Biblical examples are manna from heaven, food for 5,000 hungry people on a remote hillside, the burning bush, and even God’s Word itself becoming flesh, to name just a few from the Old and New Testaments.

You and I are spiritual beings designed to perceive and relate to spirit, often using physical, bodily senses. Scripture is full of people who vouch, “I heard the sound” of rushing waters, or rushing wind, or voices speaking from heaven all around. Others say that an angel or other being “touched me and renewed my strength.” “I saw.” “I felt.” “I heard.”

This sort of thing continues even today, though I think we’d hear more about it in Western society if people weren’t afraid of being dismissed as crazy. In our unbalanced, collective mind of the flesh, we’ve learned to ignore the spiritual “radar” we’re equipped with.

Jesus, the Lord of science, energy, spirit, and matter, reveals God’s world of ceaseless spirit and undying power. He, of course, could walk on water, speak to a raging storm, turn water into wine, or fill an empty net to the breaking point with fish. He could, at will, lay down his life and pick it up again because he is, simply, the Master of life and the Master of death.

Yet, even among Christian pastors and laypeople alike, it’s amazing how many today believe that God no longer speaks or manifests Himself in person, and His only communication with us is limited to the Bible. In this view, encounters with spirit are either imagination or strictly from the devil. Little wonder, then, that they describe relationship with God as difficult and live rather stunted life-styles empty of joy, energy, strength, and grace.

Faith is being certain of what we don’t always see with physical eyes. We walk and act by faith because we can know God’s Spirit and His world of both seen and unseen reality. Undoubtedly, this is what Jesus has in mind when he teaches and corrects the crowds. He aims to prepare and restore the spirit’s sense of place with God, the place of human rightness, pervasive love, and sound well-being.

Bridging the Gap

Last week, I wrote about continuity between the Old Testament and New Testament, and that starting with Israel, God changes His tactics as mankind grows into His reality. As an example, I mentioned the woman caught in adultery, whom Jesus saved from stoning. This week’s example is that God, by Spirit (according to Paul), has now revealed His ancient mystery of unity to prophets, apostles, and thus the entire world, through Christ, who brings life and immortality to light. (Eph. 3:5, 2Tim. 1:10)

God is Spirit whose physical form is Jesus; yet the Holy Spirit can’t be located anywhere specific in space or time, just as human spirit can’t be pinpointed in the body. Jesus is therefore able to be “with man” in any time period whether he or they occupy physical bodies or not. Indeed, his Great Commission assures us that as we teach people to obey all that he commanded, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mat. 28:20)

And even in the ages to come after that, we won’t live in a strange, disembodied world devoid of physical matter. We’ll live in physical, resurrected bodies on a physical, refreshed Earth with familiar animals, plant life, rivers, oceans, and cosmic heavenly bodies. Moreover, we’ll judge angels which, presumably, would involve some kind of interaction (1Cor. 6:3).

Thus, as we practice and grow increasingly “in step” with God’s spirit-saturated world, learning to thrive in it free of darkness and doubt, we become complete, or, “fit” and “perfect.” In fact, we’re created to rule in it, to reign with Christ, the Master of life. As Peter phrased it, we become partakers of the divine nature (2Pet. 1:4). As Paul phrased it, how much more “will we reign in life” through Christ (Rom. 5:17).

Therefore, it’s vital to see and become fluent in the world Christ presents, for it’s where we live now and eternally. He invites us fully into the environment God created for us; and spiritual formation in Christ enables us to celebrate with God, angels, and other spirit beings that even now, the earth is full of His glory (Isa. 6:3).

 

Advertisements
Getup Get God

Getup Get God (Photo credit: prettywar-stl)

The photographer of this graffiti says he saw it in a window and decided to capture it. I saw the photo and decided to use it (freely shareable) to address a widely held misperception among Christians and non-Christians alike.

Many people see God as predominantly unhappy, ready to smite at the slightest provocation. Yet love and grace don’t flow from an abundance of crankiness, but rather, from such profound joy that it spills over even to enemies.

Heaven and angels and all sorts of beings associated with God are consistently portrayed as rejoicing with Him, usually connected immediately with worship. God is supreme in joy, infinite in love, and unmatched in wise, creative goodness. While He’s clearly displeased with some things at some times, that doesn’t mean He’s an ill-tempered Being.

For example, four successive chapters in the book of Job (38-41) are God’s running commentary of delight over the creatures and systems He created on Earth and in its immediate cosmic surroundings. Consequently, Job decides he was a bit rash (though I don’t think entirely unreasonable) in his rant to God. “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (Job 42:3) God evidently didn’t think Job was unreasonable, either, for He wasn’t displeased with Job. Sarcastic with a touch of humor, yes, but not displeased.

At any rate, who knows what God has done in the billions of entire galaxies we’re only now discovering? A decade ago, we didn’t even know they exist let alone what marvels they contain. If you and I can delight over beauty or be greatly moved when gazing upon majestic sights even in this fallen world, think what God gets to see every day throughout His wondrous universe—densely rich things He’s not yet introduced to us.

My point is that we can be happy for God that His pervasive joy pours into His creation, which certainly includes mankind. That delight is meant to be contagious; we should “catch” it from Him because our glad-heartedness, cheer, and happiness delights Him and is a primary form of worship.

Old Testament vs. New Testament

So what are we to make of the “mean” God of the Old Testament? I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a few ideas. First, I know that if we overlook the joyful OT God, we’ll never make sense of Jesus or his vision of new life for the world that God has always loved.

I also know that while God Himself doesn’t change, He does change His tactics over the centuries when dealing with mankind. Off the top of my head, one example is the woman caught in adultery, whom Jesus protected from being stoned by the Pharisees.

They, of course, considered Jesus a lawbreaker. But he knew that the New Covenant overwrites the Old Covenant, yet doesn’t alter God’s intent that His Law of love—the Ten Commandments—be both the course and reflection of transformed human spirit and character.

It’s important to realize that lesser laws regarding circumcision, sacrifice, oaths, tithing, stoning, etc., aren’t the Law. The Pharisees had forgotten this, which is precisely what Paul, like Jesus and the original disciples, consistently pointed out.

Common Link

I think a major problem today is the idea that God gave the Law only to show how miserably mankind fails to measure up. God’s Law does do that, but its larger purpose is to restore to us His vision of who we can be. It shows direction and possibility rather than impossibility; and it’s precisely what Jesus embodies and teaches so we can see and pursue that vision.

We might also consider that the twelve original disciples were to Jesus what the twelve original tribes of Israel were to God—an ever-expanding inner circle of collaborators in His plan for the entire world. Although it started with Israel, it was always intended to include everyone—Jews and Gentiles, males and females, young and old, rich and poor, sinners and saints. (Coincidentally, this week I read an interesting article here about the Twelve. Since it fits with my post, you might like it, too.)

It’s wise to remember that Jesus never abolished the Law. What he abolished was Death. When Scripture says that Christ is the end of the Law, it means completion and fulfillment, not cessation or termination. Today’s widespread teaching that Jesus rendered the Law irrelevant is a serious flaw that blinds our faith and paralyzes blessedness.

As the writer of Hebrews said, we fix our eyes on Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross (Heb. 12:2). But by ignoring or minimizing the Law, it is we who render Jesus and all his work irrelevant. In his own words, he boiled the Big Ten down to two simple commands: Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself.

This is the common link I see between the OT and NT; and it doesn’t flow from perpetually miserable cranks. It’s the action of people who can cheerfully obey because they increasingly see what God sees as they prepare for bigger, grander, even more delightful things to come.

Therefore, when we trash-talk what God has made, and worse, ascribe that disdain to Him, we easily conclude that He’s either out to get us or has now taken refuge somewhere far away. It’s tough to love and admire a cosmic Sourpuss, yet that’s what we try to do. Then we say that relationship with God is difficult. That distorted view robs us of the desire to collaborate with Him in furthering His good in what He’s already created and, even now, is happily making new again.

 

English: Civil Air Patrol 1985 Cessna 172P, wi...

Civil Air Patrol Search and Rescue Aircraft

No, it’s not a joke, but it is pretty funny when you hear my story! My point will then be clear.

But first, we need to stop thinking of grace strictly as forgiveness, comfort, or a favor we don’t deserve. Grace is continual action. Grace is power. It isn’t static; it’s dynamic. It moves, it drives, it does things. Paul says it’s not by works of the Law we’re saved, but by the works of grace. Not just God’s grace, but ours as well, through partnership with Him.

We can think of grace as fuel. The idea is to burn through that fuel like a jet fighter on take-off in full afterburner. The sinner idling on the tarmac doesn’t burn a fraction of grace the disciple does! Think of it this way: if grace were money, it relates to your discipleship as a grant rather than a salary. Grace is a gift from God rather than something He owes you; but it still revolves around work. Grace isn’t the opposite of work; it’s the opposite of wages and payment. Sin is about wages and pay-back—“the wages of sin.”

Second, grace is also about poise, as in gracefulness and ease. Poise is related to position, as in a rattlesnake poised to strike, or one’s position on economics. Lack of grace means stumbling rather than dancing. At the risk of sounding like a class-A klutz, allow me to demonstrate:

Awk-warrrd…

(more…)

 
English: An artificial Christmas tree.

Image via Wikipedia

I stumbled upon this interesting article in Relevant magazine about Christian Christmas traditions that aren’t originally Christian. It sort of follows up my last post. Apparently, we’ve borrowed these pre-Christ traditions and incorporated them into our celebration of Christ.

1. The Christmas tree

2. Mistletoe

3. Gift giving

4. Dec. 25th

5. Redemption

I like the way the article finishes:

We call it Christmas and have named it after our Savior, but let’s not be so arrogant as to suggest the holiday is exclusively ours. A better perspective is to admit we have co-opted the season, along with many of its traditions, for the purpose of pointing toward Bethlehem.

Christmas is the story of the Incarnation—of the insertion of Christ into the dust of humanity, of the infusion of grace into something worldly and pagan. In the process, mankind was redeemed. If so, then our theft of these solstice traditions is no crime against history. Instead, it’s yet another picture—a beautiful, generous, peaceful, evergreen metaphor—of redemption.”

Question mark

Image via Wikipedia

We must understand the nature and purpose of grace. Christians are all over the map, embroiled in all sorts of debates because we fail to comprehend that grace isn’t a one-time thing; it is God’s ongoing action in our lives. As Dallas Willard says, it works like fuel to enable us to do something.

We also fail to understand that salvation isn’t a one-time decision; it’s a process, a journey, a course designed by God. The definition of salvation is, simply, life with God. The result is “new life from above.” That new-life course is fueled by grace to obey because grace and obedience go hand in hand. If we treat either one as a stand-alone, we suffer the consequences in this life and the afterlife.

Jesus explains very clearly that no one enters the kingdom of heaven unless they’re born twice. First, physically, i.e., by “water,” then spiritually, by Spirit. (Jhn. 3:5) No one considers the moment of physical birth to be the whole life. It’s simply the beginning. So also, the moment of spiritual birth isn’t the whole new life with God, i.e., salvation. It’s merely the beginning. (more…)

 
Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

When Jesus says to let the children come to him, he means let the beginners come to him, and “do not hinder them”. A disciple is simply a beginner, a new student in a new (to them) way of living. This “way”, of course, isn’t new to God. Jesus said all along that if we want to enter life, obey the commands.

What commands? Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself. In his own words, Jesus says that these two simple instructions sum up everything. It isn’t complicated, but we do need further guidance on how to obey and why it’s good for us to do so.

Jesus also explained to the beginners that he is the way, the truth, and the life. But where is this “way” laid out? Where do beginners start to follow this new way of living? How do they learn to love themselves as well as neighbors (assuming they already love God)?

In the Sermon on the Mount. These instructions span three full chapters in Matthew: five, six, and seven. It’s one continuous address; and it’s sequential. Step by step. It starts with eliminating anger and contempt. This step alone will revolutionize a life! Imagine not being ticked off or annoyed all the time. Imagine not being dragged all over the map by other people’s incompetence or stupidity? Imagine what that alone would do to lessen inner agitation?

That puts us in a brand new position of freedom. And from that new position, we can progress through Jesus’ next five areas of soul-killing attitudes:

  • Adultery and divorce (obsession with others)
  • Swearing oaths and over-committing
  • Score-keeping and revenge
  • Outer appearance and image
  • Judgment and hypocrisy

In that specific order. If we try to do it randomly, we fail–not because we’re just no good, but because we’re using the wrong “system”. See, Jesus knows what makes us tick. He also knows what fouls us up and what will set us right. Disciples of his new way of living become increasingly free of what poisons their nature and prevents loving self and neighbor.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. The way I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jhn. 13:34-35)

It’s a new, but very old, command. And it isn’t complicated once we know where to find his instructions on how to begin carrying out the command.

Sanada's Secret Passage

Image by jpellgen via Flickr

I don’t watch much TV, but I do occasionally watch Man vs. Wild and Survivorman. I’m simultaneously fascinated by their ingenuity, but haunted by my own inner question: Could I survive in the wild? I know I’d rather eat tree bark than a bug. But I can’t decide, if I had to choose only one, whether I’d rather have a knife, a pack of matches, a rope, or a container of water to survive.

When it comes to religion or Supreme Truth, it’s a jungle out there. In Christianity alone, there are so many theological debates that we’re often lost trying to navigate through many sets of God’s truths. We’re adrift on a sea of doctrines that seemingly don’t relate much to the life we’re living now on this earth.

So if I had to gel all of God’s truths and come away with only one, it would be the certainty that the power to change and improve our lives is available to us in partnership with God. You and I can become the optimized versions of ourselves that God designed.

The key word is partnership. Call it friendship, fellowship, union, or yoking with Jesus, the life of blessed well-being that God offers is accessible. That’s what entering the kingdom of heaven at hand, or “new life from above”, is about. Whether we live on Wall St. or Main St., on Easy St. or Skid Row, it’s about living a kingdom life that counts for something good in the here and now, and to carry that with us into the hereafter. Christian faith is the difference between full-on thriving and merely surviving. (more…)