Surrender Dorothy written in the sky by a witch.For several weeks, we’ve been looking at the movements of transformation, the process of re-integrating mind/thoughts/feelings with heart/will/spirit to create a new inner person who surrenders to good will and abundant well-being. The result is love for God and self that overflows to even the most obnoxious neighbors.

Normally, I’m not a fan of the word surrender because, for me, it conjures an image of raised hands in a do-nothing stance. You surrender your wallet when you’re being mugged. It carries a negative vibe: “powerless,” “defeated,” or even “violated,” and implies being stripped of your will. It’s hard to embrace because it just doesn’t feel right. Maybe that’s because this is the usual human experience when people surrender to other people.

Then again, handing your wallet over at gun-point isn’t true surrender.

A Life of Its Own

By contrast, surrender to God is a positive thing because, unlike a mugging, it conveys genuine consent and cooperation. No one surrenders to God against their will. In the Christian context, true surrender brings participation and increased activity instead of waiting on the sidelines for things to just happen. And life takes on a whole new texture and energy.

Now and throughout human history, the ongoing movements and grace of God are active rather than passive. He invites participation and involvement in an adventure bigger than difficult neighbors. A surrendered heart is actively and willingly engaged with God, intent on passage from inner death to life here and now. (more…)

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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…)

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…)

 

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…)

An blue icon with a graduation cap and tassel.

An blue icon with a graduation cap and tassel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eve came from Adam’s rib; Adam came from the earth; and the earth came from God. Through marriage, Eve reunites, or goes back, to Adam, her origin.

Jesus also said that he came from the Father and would go back to the Father. As first-fruit, he’s the first of multitudes to follow. The Christian faith came from Jews and spread to Gentiles. And through unity in Christ, mankind goes back to God, our origin. He invented marriage to foreshadow this glory.

Mankind is God’s child, and, despite sin, we’re already like Him in many ways. We’re creators with a lower case “c”— inventors, dreamers, builders, artists, healers, and child-bearers like our Father. We’re rulers and providers, like our Father. We’re persons in community, just as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are a triune Person in community.

God doesn’t reveal every detail of eternity, but He does reveal what we need to know about it right now. And I’m sure He delights in keeping many juicy surprises in store for us!

Therefore, once we get past the idea that heaven is (1.) strictly a destination after death, and (2.) a holding place where the righteous dead wait or sleep while God does something to the earth and humanity, we can get involved in what God is doing with them.

We do know that God wants His children with Him—not to float around or sing perpetual hymns, but to be co-creators with Him, just as we are now on a smaller scale. We’ll be very much alive and active with meaningful, exciting work on a huge scale. It’s why ruler-servanthood with personal virtue like Christ is so central to eternal living.

We also know that God will share His happiness and put those He can trust in charge of much more on the renewed earth. “Well done, my good servant! Because you’ve been trustworthy in a small matter, now take charge of ten cities.” (Luk. 19:17) Or ten acres, ten schools, ten sunrises, or whatever you can imagine and have a knack for.

If that sounds far-fetched, remember that people who are considered worthy (prepared) to take part in that age will be like angels, according to Jesus; and angels are always in charge of something because their will matches God’s. For example, four angels have charge of “the four winds of the earth.” (Rev.7:1)

God doesn’t want to control us; He wants to set us free so He can trust us to do what we want to do. It’s the grandest, most outrageous idea ever. But it isn’t safe or sound until we’re more like God, and what we want to do aligns with what He wants to do.

Therefore, Jesus, the Master of life, is happy to teach us personally. One life at a time, through this partnership, Adam and Eve transform into noble ruler-servants who don’t create the disasters we do today. The day is coming when we really shall not kill, lie, covet, steal, manipulate, consume, or harm. If even Sodom will be restored (Eze. 16:53), nothing is impossible in God’s ongoing adventure with mankind.

If God removed limits, what would you like to be in charge of? What would have to change for you to be trusted with it, and what would you practice to help the change along?

Man with log in eyeBen Franklin said, “The proud hate pride—in others.” Most of us understand pride as stubbornness, egotism, or boastfulness; and, as a Church, we’re quick to condemn all the pride in the world. At least we’re trying to be humble, so Ben’s statement doesn’t apply to us, right?

I like the following definition because, to me, it’s a real eye opener: Pride is the pre-disposition to insist on having your way. And everyone does that, some more than others, especially in the religious arena.

By contrast, love is the pre-disposition to not insist on having your way. C. S. Lewis noted, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” Paul’s famous line that love doesn’t envy, doesn’t boast, and isn’t proud (1Cor. 13:4) thus makes perfect sense.

Paul didn’t mean romantic love (eros), since romantic love does these very well. Poets and songwriters like to say that eros is noble and all about the other person, but it’s actually rather insistent on having its way. (Just watch what happens when marriage or romantic relationships go bad and egos are so terribly wounded.)

Paul was talking about agape love, the opposite of pride. Agape is precisely the great “beyond” that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, and the life to the full that Jesus offers to those who repent (change). (more…)