Goonies Treasure Map

Goonies Treasure Map (Photo credit: MontyAustin)

Once you begin to see value in yourself, you’ll also need to see value in transformation. Then you’re enabled to make a choice that makes sense to you. You can intend transformation to live new life in God’s kingdom.

I find it unsettling that after forty years as a Christian, I never really had a complete or practical image of the kingdom of heaven, probably because I marginalized the bulk of what Jesus said. I didn’t see it myself when I read the Gospels, nor did church leaders present it to me.

I had a stronger relationship with my church and bible than with Jesus. Like many, I believed that forgiveness alone would save me. And the cross he hung on, not he, would change my life. Effectively, for most Christians I know, Jesus is worth more dead than alive because his primary value was in his crucifixion, not his life.

The Lord’s life-style didn’t make sense to me. Therefore, I didn’t plan and organize my own life-style around his. I never formed the intent to live the kind of life from above that he did in God’s kingdom. And after forty years, it showed.

For one thing, I saw the kingdom of heaven and salvation strictly as an afterlife issue. The kingdom was far away and far future, having little bearing on the challenges in my current life. Eternity started after I physically die, and passage from death to life occurred only then. For another thing, any necessary changes in this life would happen to me once I espoused the right doctrines, especially those pertaining to atonement for sin.

For me, this constituted trust, faith, and belief. It was the definition and extent of obedience to Christ. My delayed reward would be that I’d one day wake up in a wispy realm with God, engaged in an eternal church service complete with choirs, harps, and lots of Amens and Hallelujahs.

Becoming the sort of person who can stand life with God never occurred to me. I wondered instead how God can stand me. (more…)

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Fork in road
Fork in road (Photo credit: creativelenna)

Have you ever considered that even un-regenerated people are made in God’s image? Everyone is born with the capacity to create and originate things and events, and the freedom to choose.

That’s an extraordinary thing when you consider what power that is. And when you consider man’s fall, it’s an almost unthinkable power because it means we can choose evil or good. We can also reject either one.

Which brings us to the will. To me, this is the most God-like aspect of His image that you and I are endowed with. I often say that even the nastiest person to walk this earth is more like God, in this respect, than anything else on the planet.

Will is the same as heart or spirit. It’s the core of personhood, the center of the soul. The sort of person you are and the way you speak and behave emanate from here. The heart is the wellspring of life (Pro. 4:23). It’s also wicked and beyond its own cure (Jer. 17:9), but not incurable.

As central as it is, will/heart/spirit can’t be separated from the other elements of the self (soul)—mind, body, behavior, and social relationships. You can single it out when you want to discuss it, as Scripture does, but the will doesn’t operate independently. It’s profoundly shaped by thought, feeling, physical bodily systems, environment, routines and habits, and other people. (more…)

Cropped screenshot of Charlton Heston from the...
Cropped screenshot of Charlton Heston from the trailer for the film The Ten Commandments. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that knowing God is the definition of eternal life and briefly explored some ways to practice His presence. This week, we look at knowing ourselves—who we are and who we can become. Before anyone can change for the better, they need to see where they are and know where they want to go.

First, See the Big Picture (Vision, Image)

The epic Exodus found in the Old Testament is an eye-opening, big picture of salvation. It isn’t simply “going to heaven” when you die. Deliverance isn’t an airlift where you’re in one place/condition then suddenly transported to another. God didn’t lift the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt into the Promised Land.

Rather, deliverance is passage. Salvation is spiritual exodus from ruin to new life—transformation and restoration while you live. The person you are when you die is the person who steps into the afterlife. Living eternally with God is simply the extension of living your current life with Him, for the present is included in, and part of, eternal life.

Thankfully, God wasn’t waiting on the other side of the Red Sea for the Hebrew slaves to figure it out and arrive on their own. Likewise today, He isn’t waiting on the other side of the pearly gates. God was with the slaves through it all. Although He initiated and master-minded their passage, He didn’t do everything for them. In partnership, He instructed and held them accountable to conquer many things, always with the promise that He was with them.

God still initiates transformation, but doesn’t do everything for you. So practice is to modern Christians what the desert was to the Israelites. It’s about preparation, refinement, mistakes, and correction. By grace, God shows the way of deliverance and offers His presence and support throughout. It’s the great theme of Scripture. (more…)

 

English: Monarch Butterfly Cocoon
English: Monarch Butterfly Cocoon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week I wrote about the salvation process—regenerative transformation that delivers us from evil, inner chaos, and slavery to sin’s control.

Scripture instructs us to continue working out our salvation (Phl. 2:12) and, as disciples, it is we who carry our crosses with God’s help (Luk. 14:7). To know that He gives each of us responsibility for our own part in His redemptive process is humbling, gratifying, and exhilarating at the same time.

I often mention practice, but it recently occurred to me, If you never knew what practice is or understood its importance before, what makes you think others do? God is speaking to me, so I plan to write several posts on this subject. It should help others and make good practice for me!

First: Why We Need It

A human being is divinely designed to function as an integrated whole. Individual components of personhood are like the engine in your car. There’s the cooling system, fuel system, electrical system, and so on. When we want to analyze or discuss the components, we can isolate them, but we know they work as an integrated unit known as “the engine.” If one or more component malfunctions, the engine doesn’t run well or maybe not at all.

It’s the same with “the person.” We can isolate individual aspects of a human soul to analyze and talk about them, which Scripture does, but they’re meant to work as an integrated unit. However, because we’ve been born into and trained by an un-Christ-like world, they don’t. As we get further from God, people splinter and don’t function well. Scripture variously calls this ruin, death, and lostness.

Far more than forgiveness for sin, Christ provides the way, as well as personal support and assistance, to re-integrate broken parts of personhood (heart/will/spirit, mind/thought/emotion, body, behavior/relationships) into a whole person like Christ. S/he is able to think and act in ways that are consistently good and right.

The biblical term for that is “perfect,” which means complete or mature (not flawless). In this, we see the passage from death to life, the resurrection and renewal that eventually culminates in a global bodily resurrection when the current age ends.

This is why it’s a mistake to reduce salvation (the common understanding) to an afterlife-only issue severed from biblical practices in ordinary Christian living.

Second: Surrender

Transformation to wholeness can only develop through discipleship, active pursuit, and practice. Surrender to God doesn’t mean you do nothing; it means you learn to do things differently. And you don’t do it alone; you do it with Jesus, for “I am with you to the very end of the age.” (Mat. 28:20)

To know that is to experience the presence of God (“have eternal life”) in ordinary life—in the land of the living. But we need to know what and how to practice. Therefore, while it may sound ridiculously unnecessary, the first thing you can and must practice is the presence of God. You practice knowing that He isn’t somewhere in outer space or a 5th dimension.

Amazingly, many Christians don’t believe that God is anywhere near or that He still interacts with people. Worse, many are told that His only method of communication today is through the Bible. Yet they talk about relationship and “walking with Jesus” while living with constant inner conflict and struggle, dead to God’s kingdom of peace and joy.

So don’t laugh it off; you can’t surrender or put your faith in a big blank. Everyone needs the solid experiential knowledge of God’s presence because it supports everything else in the reality of eternal life. You shouldn’t (and needn’t) rush this preliminary step. Just start from where you are.

Third: Preliminary Practice

There’s no right or wrong way to practice the presence of God, but exploring the following ideas is a good start. Your goal is to discover whether you actually believe them, and if not, why not. For example, what do they mean to you? Have you been told something different? Have you made certain assumptions?

Do some soul-searching just between you and God. Ask Him to bless and interact with you as you seek His nearness. It may take several attempts if you’re not used to hearing His voice or perceiving His touch. Hence the practice.

  • You can repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near—literally at hand. It isn’t far away or far future, leaving you cut off from God until you die. It’s fully available while you live to guide, support, and provide what you need to live a new kind of life. (Mat. 3:2, 4:17, 10:7)
  • Christ-like transformation and perfection (completion) are possible. You can be filled with the fullness of God and know the love of Christ that surpasses mere head-knowledge to become experience (Eph. 3:19). You not only receive it, you can learn to reproduce and give it. It becomes an all-pervasive presence.
  • “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence…” (1Jhn. 3:19)
  • “And lo, I am with you to the end of the age.”

The Psalms are wonderful reminders of the ever-present God among us. Here are two verses, but you can go to Biblestudytools.com (or any Scripture search engine) to find more. In fact, it’s more responsible and effective to find out for yourself.

  • “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O LORD.” (Psa. 89:15)
  • “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (Psa. 139:7)
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).

 

Sunburst over Earth

Image via Wikipedia

In Part 1, we discovered that the kingdom of heaven “at hand” can be defined as the range of God’s effective will; and the Greek term tou ouranou  means “air” or “atmosphere.” Heaven is the presence of God in our immediate surroundings.

In Part 2, we learned that heaven has “compartments” and that heaven and Earth are distinct, but connected. The kingdom isn’t strictly a dwelling place; it’s a dwelling community and system—on this side of death’s door and beyond.

“The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luk. 17:20-21) Again, Jesus means “in your midst,” among you.

As Jesus illustrated in one parable, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Mat. 13:33) The kingdom is progressively expanding—not larger or stronger, but fuller of citizens as it works its way through mankind. But it isn’t literal yeast, just as its opposite “yeast of the Pharisees” also isn’t literal yeast.

Likewise, heaven isn’t merely a literal, far-off city with streets of gold located on the re-made Earth. Yet it isn’t strictly an ethereal, non-physical thing, either. Neither is heaven just a symbol, or an eternal, boring church service, or a limited place of sinless perfection.

Solid Hope and Assistance

We need hope and a glorious hereafter to look forward to, of course. But Jesus knows we also need a present hope and solid solutions for today. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Mat. 6:34) (more…)

Sunburst over Earth

Image via Wikipedia

In Part 1, we discovered that the kingdom of heaven is more than a location, more than somewhere we go when we die. The kingdom is the range of God’s effective will; and a consistent translation of the Greek term tou ouranou means “air” or “atmosphere.”

 Thus, Jesus’ good news that the kingdom of heaven is at hand means that God’s heavenly kingdom is available to anyone who seeks to live within it—not just after they die, but while they live everyday life.

The idea that heaven is a multi-faceted system and that at least some of it is familiar rather than completely foreign brings an awesome new perspective. Heaven, or, “the heavens,” has something like compartments, regions, or dimensions—call them what you will. “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” We enter by being “born” into it, i.e., choosing to step in.

This perspective is crucial because most people, religious or not, see heaven as a solitary thing, and accessible only in the afterlife. We’ve singled out perhaps the “seventh heaven” to define a place of flawless perfection where evil doesn’t exist, where God dwells, and where His will is instantly carried out. While that’s true, it’s the only aspect of heaven we’re familiar with today.

But, Paul, for example, describes being caught up to the “third heaven” where he heard things he’s not allowed to tell (2Cor. 12:2-4). He says twice that he’s not sure if he was there bodily or spiritually. He doesn’t explain what the third heaven is, perhaps because his early readers already understood it. And the environment must have been familiar enough or Paul wouldn’t have been confused as to whether he was there physically or spiritually.

The “first heaven” is as near as the air we breathe. It’s where God mingles with man and Earth in our region of His beloved creation. We perceive Him with our physical senses—sight, hearing, and touch—precisely because He wants us to perceive Him. So He shares His kingdom right where we are so we can interact with Him in the land of the living. (more…)