Jesus with uplifted sword riding a white horseMy sister and I recently discussed her cool epiphany regarding “thief in the night” references to Jesus and his kingdom. Because it can be a confusing subject and her insights made great sense, I did some digging.

I discovered that (1) the NT uses two different Greek words that mean “thief,” and (2) the oldest Bible translations often blurred the distinction. They are:

Kleptes: a thief who steals by stealth, in secret as opposed to openly and/or by violence. This describes the pickpocket in a crowd, the cat burglar who slinks in shadow, and implies clueless victims robbed blind. It’s where our English “kleptomaniac” comes from.

A few usage examples: “Store up treasures in heaven, where thieves do not break in…” (Mat. 6:20, Luk. 12:33) and “The thief comes only to kill and destroy…” (Jhn. 10:10). Judas Iscariot (Jesus’ betrayer) was the pilfering keeper of the disciples’ money. He complained about expensive perfume poured on Jesus’ feet instead of being sold to raise money for the poor, not because he cared, but because he couldn’t steal the money. (Jhn. 12:4-6)

Lestes: a thief who plunders and steals openly and often violently; a marauder, a brigand. The plural describes a gang of bandits or an army that pillages entire communities. Usage examples: “…you’ve turned my Father’s house into a den of thieves” (Mat. 21:13, Mrk. 11:17, Luk. 19:46), the two thieves crucified with Jesus (Mrk. 15:27, Luk. 23:33), and the severely beaten victim who “fell among robbers” in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luk. 10:30).

The idea behind the first word is unexpectedness. When Jesus says he’s coming like a thief in the night, he uses kleptes. This is usually followed by warnings to keep watch, stay awake, and maintain awareness so as not to be surprised. The second word is about fearsome, overwhelming strength. Both involve taking something that doesn’t belong to the thief.

Or does it?

Fast forward now to “the rapture,” a hugely popular Christian theory that I believed for many years. It claims that before Jesus physically returns to Earth in blazing glory, he secretly sneaks back to steal away his followers in stealth mode. It’s also greatly debated because Scripture doesn’t actually say this. People have simply inferred it based solely on kleptes verses (1Thes. 5:2, 2Pet. 3:10, Rev. 3:3 and 16:15).

I rejected this belief about 20 years ago because it presents several problems and doesn’t really make sense. For one, it adds a third visit. For another, it fails to consider lestes verses. And it conflicts with vivid descriptions of the overwhelming obviousness of Jesus’ return.

But a divine marauder—not slinking in shadows, but openly thundering in on a white horse with lightning and a mighty army—lessens the confusion and fits much better. Although Jesus personally used kleptes, such a Thief would bring both unexpectedness and fearsome strength (based on context and other Scriptures), evoking either terror or hope. And if Jesus is both the Alpha and the Omega, the root and the offspring, couldn’t he also be the “kleptes” and the “lestes” who takes back all that belongs to him, which is everything?

I believe that’s what the thief-in-the-night model intends to convey—like a cosmic Robin Hood robbing from robbers to restore what they stole, only on an epic scale. So, for citizens of Sherwood Forest, the thief is great news.

Not so much for the Nottingham sheriff and his impostor king!

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…)

 

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)
us vs them blue

Us vs Them (Photo credit: id-iom)

Progressing through the Sermon on the Mount, you’ve now sampled the first three toxic, universal habits that prevent spiritual well-being and God’s goal for humanity: the ability to love one another as He loves us.

Because each poison fortifies the next, the tainting effect is cumulative. Jesus therefore presented spiritual detox—sanctification, becoming holy—in a specific, necessary order.

Flushing out the most destructive habit (willful anger and contempt) makes the next one (an adulterous spirit) less difficult to flush. If you get rid of both, the next one (the need to swear oaths) is even easier.

Spiritual pollution builds in reverse. Maintain the first habit, and the second is harder to flush. Retain both, and the third is even more difficult. The less we see the masterful wisdom of Jesus’ sequence, the sneakier these poisons get and the blinder, more hard-hearted we become.

Unless you approach it his way, spiritual detox and maximum well-being simply can’t happen. Holiness gets reduced to minimal, random acts of kindness, for which we high-five and pat each other on the back. This is precisely Jesus’ warning to the unrighteous Pharisees who considered themselves spiritual A-listers, but whom he called a brood of vipers and whitewashed tombs full of death.

So today, we’ll sample poison #4: score-keeping and payback. True to Jesus’ strategy, this one loses potency once the first three are less available to fortify it. (more…)

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…)