House I - Roy Lichtenstein

House I – Roy Lichtenstein (Photo credit: Ukenaut)

We continue this week to explore the body’s part in renewal of the whole person. Unlike novels, facial expressions aren’t specified in Scripture. But they’re implied in dialog passages. For example, I picture the Lord grinning, as if up to something, in this scene:

“Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t realize it was Jesus. He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered. He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” (Jhn. 21:4-6)

I see raised eyebrows when Jesus explained new birth to Nicodemus. “‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and you don’t understand these things?’” (Jhn. 30:10)

Of course, his entire body is central in crucifixion and resurrection passages. Even his ascension occurred in a body. My point is that spiritual concerns alone aren’t the whole story.

Treasure Houses

“Don’t you realize that you’re a temple and that God’s Spirit lives within you?” (1Cor. 3:16) As the outer man, your body houses and expresses your inner essence. Paul uses several body analogies to illustrate spiritual realities. Other passages about houses, temples, or tents are often about people. In the field of dream study, houses represent the self.

Then there are collective bodies/houses. Passages about cities are about groups of individuals and their way of living. Of course, the Body of Christ is the collective body of Christian disciples throughout the ages.

Scripture describes New Jerusalem, the Bride, as a “great city” of people united in Christ who rule and serve in love. The Harlot, Babylon, is also a “great city,” but her people aren’t governed by love. Both are characterized in terms of a female body; both are beautifully and lavishly adorned; and both are about a collective mind-set and resulting life-style.

Just as your mind, emotions, and will are valuable and worth taking care of, so is your body. That doesn’t mean we worship the body, as hedonistic societies do. This god causes relentless obsession over how it looks to others, or dictates behavior aimed solely at satisfying some physical sensation like lust or gluttony. This is “fleshly” living.

But don’t trivialize your body, either, as others do. Because you have a physical form made of flesh doesn’t meant it should be mistreated. To regard it as worthless is a blatant disregard for all that God created and continues to create. Your flesh is fearfully and wonderfully made, something to be treasured. If God thought otherwise, would Jesus have manifested as human flesh?

Powerhouses

In filling up and learning to obey, rightness must move into the body as action for transformation to become complete (perfect). Without love and goodness inhabiting your thoughts and will, your body becomes a means to carry out ill will, manipulation, force, and abuse against self and neighbor.

“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luk. 6:45)

Treating your own body well affects how well you treat others. Our bodies, like emotions, should serve us, not master us, in the safe, trustworthy use of power. So we’re to offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), which doesn’t mean they’re forfeited, but simply devoted to and organized around God and good will.

Practice

1. Students of Jesus are with him in all dimensions of personhood—mentally, emotionally, in choices, and in action. Immanuel is God with man, God’s Word in the flesh. The Spirit dwells increasingly in your household if you’re learning from Jesus how to do everything he says to do.

So, watch how he used his body in daily behavior with neighbors. What did he do with his hands? What was his tone of voice? Where did he position himself when walking with people? Did he avert his eyes or gaze directly at people? In every way, and especially on the cross, his body spoke the character of his whole being.

2. That said, be careful of “lifting up the Lord” so far that it puts distance between you. Obviously, it’s meant well, but it’s hard to get a sense of walking and interacting with the Lord if he isn’t close at hand, or only watches from afar.

There are enough forces working to separate you from God, so don’t inadvertently contribute by widening the gap! Pre-condition and position yourself for intimacy by regularly practicing the presence of God. “And lo, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mat. 28:20)

3. Contrary to common belief, consider the biblical notion that your body isn’t temporary. Yes, your spirit will one day shed its current form, but people who are prepared (“worthy”) get the same body back in glorified, fully restored form just as Jesus did. (Exactly how that happens, no one can be sure. We don’t have enough detail.)

But even before any resurrection, Scripture seems to imply some sort of body after physical death. Paul hints that if there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body (1Cor. 15:44). In The Revelation, when John sees the souls of people who were beheaded for holding to the Word (Rev. 6:9, 20:4), I believe he sees actual people complete with arms, legs, heads, and torsos.

At any rate, Jesus is the first-fruit. Human bodies are an eternal part of our essential being—the soul—in both heaven and hell. If you understand “soul” as “person,” and as something of substance rather than a disembodied, nebulous thing, life as God defines it—whole and integrated—makes more sense. Even in everyday earthly activity, the body is much more than something to hang clothes on.

Juggler

Juggler (Photo credit: anadelmann)

Continuing from last week, transformation from death to life starts with the realization that we’re jumbled, broken souls, but not worthless souls.

You and I can humbly acknowledge our ruined condition without self-contempt, for that’s a seed that lays deep roots and grows into a spirit of contempt for others.

It creates double-mindedness and a divided heart instead of an undivided one. How can you love neighbors consistently or be spontaneously kind to enemies when you’re not even prepared to love yourself?

The person you are inside is the person you are when your guard is down—like after you’ve had too much wine. Everyone knows the happy drunk or the belligerent drunk, and it’s common to hear, “That was the alcohol talking last night.” But it was really the true person sneaking out when alcohol put the guard to sleep.

A member of my family was married years ago to a charming guy who became verbally and physically abusive when he drank. When he was sober, he was always deeply, genuinely, terribly sorry. He tearfully pleaded for (and received) forgiveness. But he never changed.

The fact is regret alone has no transformative power. Forgiveness alone won’t move you into the promised land of wellness. While these are necessary components of Christian repentance, the driving force behind transformation is a clear vision of who you can become, the willing choice to change, a sensible, knowledgeable way to do it, and then following it. God supplies everything but the willingness and the following. (more…)

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…)

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…)

 

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)
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…)

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

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

Many people, including me, have equated the gospel with the doctrine of justification. We’ve been taught that to be justified (forgiven) is God’s entire redemptive plan.

But I’ve learned that using “justified” interchangeably with “saved” is much like using “page” interchangeably with “book.”

So, what makes a person right with God?

Two Human Views

Is it justification? In this view, God simply declares us right, provided we confess various doctrines of sin and atonement. Redemption is thus about future eligibility to reside in heaven  rather than where we live now; and it leaves the soul still fragmented, conflicted within itself and at odds with God’s character and nature. It saves some vague piece of the person, leaving the “real” person stuck in ruin.

It also bypasses judgment as if forgiven people are exempt. The danger is that when we all stand before God on Judgment Day, He won’t merely check our minds for agreement with certain doctrines. He’ll look at the whole person—the inner and outer self—because He’ll look at the soul. (more…)