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…)

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Fist Fight

Fist Fight (Photo credit: iantmcfarland)

First, we need to clarify the biblical term “enemy.” It doesn’t have to be someone who’s out to destroy you, though it can be.

But more often, it’s simply the rude driver who cuts you off, the co-worker who talks trash behind your back, or the incompetent salesperson who screws up your order. In short, it can be any neighbor, whether a spouse, family member, friend, or stranger.

To put it another way, enemies are born out of a conflict of ideas and expectations. Any person you’re at odds with, no matter how major or minor the issue, is at that moment your opponent, your adversary, your enemy. And you are theirs.

Because we deal with adversarial situations in the course of normal relationships, it’s easy to think that loving enemies is about occasional, dire circumstances, when, in fact, it’s about ordinary, day-to-day living.

Consequently, we don’t realize how often we deal with enemies and thus fail to apply Scriptures about loving them because it just seems irrelevant. We can hardly love enemies if we think we don’t have any.

The Alert

Now the sure-fire way to recognize when you’re facing an enemy is (1.) the presence of anger or irritation, and (2.) thoughts of “idiot,” “scumbag,” or similar terms of contempt (Raca, “you fool”). The mere arrival of these thoughts and feelings isn’t sin, but simply the God-given, human spirit’s way of alerting us to an enemy. The sin is to deliberately feed and retain those thoughts and feelings as habits.

That’s why Jesus links them to physical and spiritual murder (Mat. 5:22) and addresses this before anything else in his Sermon on the Mount. Therefore, as Christians, we should immediately take notice when it happens and consider it an opportunity to seek and find new life, renewal of the mind, the mind of the Spirit, and similar biblical terms of abundant well-being.

His Not-So-Secret “Secret” Way

With this in view, we can now thoughtfully consider the strategy and tactics of Jesus. If, indeed, he’s Counselor and Lord, the Master of life, and the smartest Person to ever walk this Earth, surely he knows a thing or two about what makes relationships tick. The secret is to gain self-control (in step with God’s Spirit) as opposed to handing it over to others.  

1. Don’t engage in endless debates or insist on proving your point. This form of pride is the opposite of love and neutralizes it every time. It’s also exhausting. Instead, you can relax and just let your Yes be yes and No be no (Mat. 5:37) and let neighbors do the same. This is a way of love that doesn’t manipulate others and also doesn’t sucker you into The Enemy’s game, regardless what others do.

2. Lend without expecting anything back, whether it’s money, a power tool, time, or a pair of jeans. The trick here is to lend whatever you can afford, according to what you have, not what you don’t have. So if you can’t afford to lose it today, then don’t lend it. You’ll have plenty of lending opportunities tomorrow and the day after that.

Fewer expectations reduce entitlement mentality. This automatically reduces demand for return, which makes room for a generous spirit to grow. If you adopt this strategy, you’ll find relationships much improved because it’s another way to love enemies (or potential ones).

3. Closely related to entitlement is payback mentality, returning evil for evil or insult for insult. The world lives by a one-good-turn-deserves-another strategy, but it often backfires into angry frustration when that doesn’t happen. James observed that we quarrel and fight because we don’t get what we want (Jas. 4:2).

By contrast, a rich, healthy spirit doesn’t need payback because love doesn’t keep track of wrongs (1Cor. 13:5). So, another way to love enemies is to simply stop keeping score. This reduces the need for willpower to treat people graciously, and empowers a more genuine, cheerful character that can shrug off insults and offense.

We have much more biblical instruction, of course—blessing those who curse you or going the extra mile, to name only two. Jesus doesn’t command the impossible, but instead, eases and lifts the burdens imposed on us by those who honestly don’t know anything better.

So the point is to practice, practice, practice; the purpose is to become rich in spirit like Christ.

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).

 

Stone ruins on the property of the Stone Barn,...

Stone ruins on the property of the Stone Barn, Stone City, Iowa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, we looked at troubleshooting the soul (Part 1 and Part 2). This week, we’ll explore restoration. To make the soul whole again is to realign four areas of personhood within themselves and with God.

1. Heart/Will/Spirit

2. Mind/Thought/Emotion

3. Physical Body

4. Behavior/Relationships

5. Soul/Total Person/Self

The first two areas are what Scripture variously refers to as the inner self, character, or nature. The next two are what Scripture calls the outer self. The last area, the soul, works like an auto-pilot to integrate the parts into a cohesive whole. Without conscious effort, it causes the outer self to carry out whatever goes on in the inner self.

This is automatic, invisible, and beyond conscious control. We do, however, have control over the first four areas.

Make the Inside Good

So, to restore the soul, we first need to correct the inner self—what we think, feel, and intend (will). The study of God’s Word, for example, helps correct our mind/thoughts. A vision and intention to be like Christ helps correct the heart/spirit.

Once those come more into line with God’s thoughts and will, the practice of various disciplines involving the body—fasting or rest, for example—helps to strengthen the inner self. The result is increasingly Christ-like behavior that doesn’t need to be forced or faked—going the extra mile, blessing those who curse you, loving neighbors as self, etc., etc. (more…)