Blah Blah Blah
Blah Blah Blah (Photo credit: arhezbee)

Last week, I wrote that by God’s design, the will (heart, spirit) is linked to thought and feeling (mind, choice).

This week, we’ll explore the link between those and the body and behavior. If that link is lost or broken, a soul (self) degenerates into ruin; and when you separate them all from God, the self descends into spiritual death.

The reverse is regeneration—that is, restoring the individual elements of the soul to a cohesive whole, and bringing that into harmony with God. This is new life, salvation. “He restoreth my soul.” (Psa. 23:3)

Christians talk about lostness or brokenness, but in my experience, it’s mistakenly confused with worthlessness. However, if you lose your wallet, does that mean it’s worthless? If you break your leg, do you throw it away? The biblical concept of human ruin doesn’t mean worthlessness.

Jesus emphasized this with his parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin (Mat. 18:12, Luk. 15:8). He also said, “What good is it if you gain the whole world but forfeit your soul?” (Mrk. 8:36, Luk. 9:25) These describe the tremendous value of people even in a ruined condition.

Dysfunctional Training

The term “flesh” generally refers to an unbalanced fixation on body sensations or behavior. The focus is external. Paul observed that the mind set on the flesh is death, while the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. The mind-set of the flesh is hostile toward God and simply can’t submit to His Law of love (Rom. 8:5-7). (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…)

Footprints
Footprints (Photo credit: Peter Nijenhuis)

Practicing the presence of God is the preliminary step to all other Christian practices. It isn’t something you do once or twice or just on Sunday. It’s a life-style that facilitates loving God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul—not because God needs His ego fed, but because it sets you up for filling with positive things.

Obviously, if you don’t see the Spirit of God as having qualities you admire and want for yourself, you won’t have much incentive to seek them. (I don’t mean His omni-qualities that no human being will ever gain. I mean love, competence, intelligence, strength, compassion, etc.)

Assuming the desire, it’s possible to develop inner Christ-like qualities (spirit) that naturally result in Christ-like behavior—“Christ formed within you” (Gal. 4:19). But trying to be Christ-like by merely conforming to right behavior short-circuits the spiritual process and you’ll eventually burn out. Jesus compares it to a house built on sand that comes crashing down (Mat. 7:26-27).

Burdens

Two different philosophies set you up for the crash:

(1.) Behavior and obedience are top priority. Don’t break the rules. If you do, the right rituals and prayers will atone for it, so the sort of person you are is of little consequence.

This is the “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” that Jesus says people must get past (surpass). They cleaned the outside of the cup, but the inside remained full of negative qualities (Mat. 23:25-26). Their idea of redemption was that as long as people tithed correctly, got circumcised, or avoided murder, they could be as full of greed or anger, for example, as the next guy.

 (2.) Behavior and obedience don’t matter. You’ll always break the rules. So, having the right beliefs, particularly in forgiveness or gratitude, is top priority. The sort of person you are is of little consequence as long as God finds the correct doctrines in your mind.

This is today’s idea of “right with God” among most Christians. This version of redemption is that people can be as full of anger or greed, for example, as the next guy as long as they believe they’re just sinners “saved” by grace. Instead of avoiding sin, it’s about avoiding guilt and punishment.

In either case, people learn to act like Christ rather than be like Christ; and acting is a heavy burden to maintain. By contrast, the way of salvation is much lighter—a gift from God to develop inner goodness that’ll shine on the outside with much less effort. C.S. Lewis noted, “Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of man he is.” (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)
Sparks
Sparks (Photo credit: Gnal)

Unlike the early Church, today’s American concept of salvation is separated from transformation into Christ-likeness. It probably wouldn’t occur to most modern Christians that transformation is salvation.

Regarding transformation, there’s debate as to whether God automatically does that to you after you’re saved, or whether it’s something that only hard-core believers seek as a desirable, but non-essential dimension of Christian living. Either way, salvation is seen strictly as an afterlife issue; Christian living in ordinary life is seen as a separate issue.

In this view, the definition of salvation is forgiveness of sin so you get into heaven when you die. The only essential connection between salvation and ordinary life is that you must get on the heavenly reservation list before physical death.

Generally, you get on the list by 1.) admitting that you’ll never measure up to God’s flawlessness, and thus need a Savior; 2.) acknowledging that Jesus Christ is that Savior who saves you by simply forgiving sin; and 3.) asking him to “come into” your heart.

If you do that sincerely, you’re immediately placed on the list, and that’s that. You’re suddenly saved and right with God (justified). “I got saved” usually means the end of a sin or merit problem, not the beginning of a process.

Grace is seen as something that happens to you. You contribute nothing to the process but gratitude, and to suggest otherwise somehow steals God’s glory. Even your faith isn’t your own or anything you do, but something God just produces in you. “Transformation” then follows, if at all, as mere behavior modification (Bible study, praising God, etc.) and adherence to various statements of belief. This is considered Christian living, and it’s the extent of transformation for most.

Instead of generating a new kind of life in people, this model creates stone-like passivity that prevents discipleship and passage from “death” to life, the dominant issue in Scripture. American churches are thus full of converts to doctrines, but few disciples to Jesus. (more…)

Cover of "The Me I Want to Be: Becoming G...

Cover via Amazon

I stumbled on this book excerpt on the Zondervan blog page through Twitter. Because it ties to my recent posts on the soul and relationships, and because John Ortberg is one of my favorite pastors/writers, I thought I’d share it with my readers.

So, today I’ll shut up and let him speak about why God allows difficult people in our lives. I hope you enjoy his humor and insight as much as I do!

Read the excerpt, Looking for a Few Difficult Men and Women, here.