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Sometimes, “God loves you” can sound patronizing and meaningless because, in my experience, Christian culture often seems to be on a mission to minimize human value.

For example, suppose you increase sales at work, or write a fantastic term paper, or run a great Sunday school class. Some would say that you had nothing to do with it, that it’s simply “Christ living in you.” Any other response brings accusations of pride and embezzling God’s glory—except when things go wrong. Then it’s all you.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” is the mantra of many Christians. But I rarely hear the rest of that verse in the same breath. “…and [all] are justified freely by his grace” through Christ (Rom. 3:23-24). So it’s easy to conclude that humanity has little value or anything worth celebrating in God’s eyes.

Yet Scripture consistently reaffirms human value, even when we sin. Jesus’ earthly mission was to restore to mankind God’s vision of worth and to give his own life to defend it by abolishing spiritual Death.

You can tell what’s valuable by what people celebrate or the way they behave when something’s lost. What do you do when you can’t find your keys or wallet? Likewise, you can tell what God values. In Luke 15, Jesus illustrates this with three consecutive parables, so it must be an important point. (more…)

Henry unicorn and butterfly

Henry unicorn and butterfly (Photo credit: bochalla)

Many people live by the philosophy, “Love is a commitment [or action], not an emotion.” These no-nonsense types pride themselves on their ability to repress feelings. The Christian versions often say that God isn’t interested in a feel-good gospel; He’s interested in how He can use you. So your problems are trivial.

Then there are those who believe that love is a gushy, be-all-end-all emotion. These hippie types pride themselves on their ability to turn everything into unicorns and butterflies. Like the tough guys, the Christian versions tend to trivialize problems. “Just give it to God” when you’ve lost your job, house, health, or best friend.

I think both views turn an incomplete picture into the whole story. Biblically speaking, love is definitely an emotion, but not necessarily gushy affection. Love is the steady desire for the loved one’s good, whether or not you like the person. It relieves you of having to somehow drum up or fake affection. It is a commitment since commitment comes from passion. And it’s definitely an action, or God wouldn’t have commanded us to love one another.

Obviously, no one can summon or banish emotions, good or bad, on demand. But we can develop positive feelings and undermine negative ones by practicing in our thought-life. If we so readily understand and accept, “The more I think about it, the madder I get,” why would we assume it doesn’t work the other way around—“The more I think about it, the calmer I get”? Or happier, more patient, generous, and Christ-like?

The secret to better self-control is to better understand God’s design of human emotion. The more we prepare in advance, the more we fill with positive feelings that’ll be there when we need them for intelligent, loving behavior instead of bashing one another. (more…)

English: The Human Spirit, a 2002 sculpture by...

The Human Spirit, a 2002 sculpture. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My last few posts have explored the Christian understanding of spirit as heart, mind, will, and character—the essence of personhood.

Spirit can be regarded as a force. I don’t mean an impersonal force like gravity or weather, but a personal force that can know and be known. It can act, interact, choose, and do work as a force for good or evil.

Further, spirit is a force whether housed in an earthly body or not. Paul, for example, alludes to some kind of spiritual body that has substance (1Cor. 15:44). Verses all through the OT and NT consistently describe an active spirit world teeming with angels and other beings who carry out various tasks and deeds.

To put it another way, spirit has power. This is true of God’s Spirit, your spirit, and mine. While God is omnipotent and we’re not, that doesn’t mean we’re powerless. (more…)

Bible Study 1

Bible Study 1 (Photo credit: DrGBB)

The spirit of the Law, as opposed to the letter of the Law, is what matters to God. It’s about heart, will, spirit, nature, or character, which is where the legalistic Pharisees went afoul.

Not all people who keep the Law are righteous. And people who don’t keep the Law are not righteous. But all righteous people keep the Law—not flawlessly, but wholeheartedly in the Spirit of love and joy.

Today, the debate rages on over how the Law, grace, atonement, and faith relate. It’s easy to get confused by apparent contradictions in Paul’s letters, or seeming conflict between Paul and Jesus. The incorrect premise is that through the cross, Jesus abolished the Law. But what he actually abolished, for the joy set before him, was spiritual Death.

God’s Law is Good

This act of grace on God’s part allows us to safely re-learn how to live in the goodness of His ways. But, according to Paul, the sinful mind opposes the Spirit and therefore does not, and cannot, correctly submit to God’s Law.

Of course, the Law by itself won’t make you a good person any more than traffic rules will make you a good driver because no one, including God, can legislate morality. No law has transformative power. But spirit and intent does, including the spirit of God’s Law.

So it isn’t some evil thing to avoid. After all, it’s as much God’s Word as anything else is. Cheerful, willing practice brings increasing competence and blessedness. “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2Cor. 3:6)

Grace and faith don’t kill obedience, but rather, bring it to life, although God expects it to be child-like and clumsy at first. That’s okay, and in fact, necessary; and that’s good news!

Preliminary Thoughts Toward the Mind of the Spirit

As I wrote in another post, and to shed light on the confusion, it’s important to first distinguish between secondary laws like clean vs. unclean food, tithing, circumcision, etc., and the Law, the Ten Commandments. Jesus boiled the Law down to two commands: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Paul boiled it down to one: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Gal. 5:14) And James put it this way: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.” (Jas. 2:8) All three men are quoting Leviticus 19:18, the Law of the Spirit and spirit of the Law.

We should also assume Jesus to be the prime Expert on anything and everything. No Pharisee, priest, prophet, apostle, scholar, or institution overrides him; and he never cancelled the Law. So really, no amount of worship, confession, prayer, “belief,” bible study, speaking in tongues, or witnessing can honor the Lord if his Law is ignored because, according to him, “If you want life, obey the commandments.” (Mat. 19:17) Again, we’re looking at spirit, intent, and desire as opposed to a grim, outward image of compliance.

Enduring Wisdom

Don’t think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Mat. 5:17-18)

“It’s easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.” (Luk. 16:17)

With his fine intellect and wit, Jesus often addressed serious issues with a touch of sarcastic humor, aimed mostly at bombastic Pharisees who imposed heavy life-style burdens. He knew that neither heaven nor Earth would be disappearing anytime soon; so these remarks showed just how serious he was about the true Law, yet simultaneously told misguided Pharisees to lighten up.

Heaven and Earth still haven’t gone away and everything is not yet accomplished. Therefore, if we’re to take Jesus seriously, we should understand that the Law remains in effect today. It’s silly to call him Lord if we’re going to disregard him, and even more ridiculous to pit the cross, the ultimate act of love, against the Law, the ultimate policy of love, both of which come from God who is love.

So when Jesus says to keep the commandments, he doesn’t mean to go get circumcised and make a burnt offering, or be sure to stone your neighbors when they wrong you. He means to become a healthy person who happily thinks and carries out acts of love.

Tomorrow (rather than next week), with these preliminaries in mind, Part 2 will look at what Paul has to say in the book of Romans. You might be as pleasantly surprised as I was that there’s less confusion than most of us have been taught.

 

 

 

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).

 

A Gorilla lounging around.

A Gorilla lounging around. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s post was prompted by an article in Relevant Magazine, “I Used to Be On Fire for God” and the associated reader comments. I enjoyed the article, left my own comment, and elaborate on it here.

I like Relevant’s site (self-described as aimed at the twenty-something crowd) because it’s like a finger on the pulse of the Body of believers.

As a Baby Boomer with roots in the 1970s “Jesus Freak” movement, I like seeing positive changes that younger Christians bring to the Church. Yet some things are no different today than back then.

It’s been my experience in 40+ years as a Christian that a huge segment of the Body still sees Christ’s message of new life entirely as, “Jesus is Lord!” or, “Your sins are forgiven!” or, “God loves you!” These statements are all true, of course.

But for multitudes, new life in God’s kingdom has been reduced to little more than slogans and hype. It’s sometimes called bumper-sticker Christianity. And many Christians define passion, revival, and the Great Commission as saying these as loudly and as often as possible, which is what the article touched on. (more…)

green tree

green tree (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For many who feel they can’t relate to God, there’s wonderful biblical encouragement which, I think, we don’t hear often enough.

For others, who talk much about a relationship with Jesus, I think they’ve missed the full impact of what that means. After four decades as a Christian, I know I certainly did.

It’s almost as if, had it not been for sin, man has no reason to relate to God. Jesus is only good for his blood and gig on the cross; so, other than getting people to heaven when they die, there’s little need to follow him.

At the start of this series, we saw that a soul is a whole person, the self, the essence of personhood and being. God is also a Soul, a Person.

“Soul” conveys a totality of spiritual and physical, visible and invisible components. The Greek word psuche is variously translated as life, self, heart, mind, soul, and person. Even when we shed our mortal bodies at physical death, Scripture indicates that the soul gains some type of spiritual body. “If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (1Cor. 15:44)

For example, those in the afterlife are described as wearing clothes, although this could be a figure of speech. Nevertheless, they do speak and act, which indicates more than a floating, disembodied state of existence or merely telepathic interactions. The resurrection at the end of this age definitely reunites us with recognizable, yet better, physical bodies.

My point is that physical things always relate to spiritual things; and human souls are a microcosm of the unavoidable link between physical and spiritual, human and divine. (more…)