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"… whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, the present, or the future— all things are yours, but you are Christ's…" (I Cor 3)

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Spiritual Life

Types of Obedience To God’s Voice

A long time ago I wrote a post called, “A Different Kind of Obedience” and posted it here.  It wasn’t terribly noticed as a blog post – but an odd thing has happened since I wrote it.   It is the number one “searched for” post on my blog.   For some reason, a lot of people seem to be typing into search engines, “Kinds of Obedience” and “Types of Obedience” and end up on that post because of that search.

I’m intrigued by this – honestly I never thought that people would go searching for those terms all that often, but apparently, according to my blog statistics, they are.   So I say, let’s give the people what they want, and talk some more about different types of obedience to God! 🙂

BEFORE YOU CAN OBEY, YOU NEED TO KNOW HOW TO HEAR HIS VOICE
First of all, before we can talk about types of obedience, the most important thing is to have a relationship with God and to have learned how to connect with Him through Jesus, and to hear His voice.   I am busy writing some blog posts on the topic of hearing God, but until I have them finished, I will point you to another resource, the AKOUO page.   AKOUO has an entire course (for free) about learning to hear God’s voice.   You can’t obey Him if you can’t hear Him, and you need a relationship with Jesus to be able to hear Him reliably (or else it gets very confusing as to whether it’s God’s voice or the enemy’s voice – Jesus is the way through that.)

The blog post I mentioned above I think is probably the best thing that I personally have to say on the topic of obedience to God, so if you’re someone who has googled “types of obedience” then by all means, read that post.   But here is another little bit of thinking I’ve done on the topic –

And that is, that obedience really differs in difficulty according to what is being asked of us according to a few factors.   One factor is whether or not we know how to do what God is asking us to do.  Being asked to do something you are good at and like to do and have the means to do is very different than the type of challenge someone faces if they believe God is asking them to do something they don’t know how to do, or don’t like doing, or don’t know how to get the means to do it.

Another factor is if we know the probable outcome.   Do we think the outcome of obeying what God is saying is something we will enjoy?   Or is it something that seems like it might turn out badly but God is telling us to do it anyway?   Or do we have no idea what the reason or outcome of our obedience might be?

Putting these factors together into a scale, I’ve come up with:

7 types of obedience to God:

Type one:  You know how to obey, and know the results will be pleasant
You are led to do something where you clearly can see the intended outcome of your actions and that outcome is clearly going to be overwhelmingly positive. You also know how to do this thing and it is fully within your power. The only thing at stake is diligence on your end.

Type two: You’re not sure how to obey, but know the results will be pleasant
You are led to do something difficult that you aren’t sure you fully know how to do. However, you can see that it will have a positive outcome on all counts.

Type three: You know how to obey, but don’t know the reason or outcome.
You are led to do something easy but you don’t know why or what it would accomplish. However, you know the Lord is asking you to do it.

Type four: You’re not sure how to obey, and don’t know the reason or outcome.
You are led to do something difficult that you aren’t fully sure how to do it, and you don’t know why or what it will accomplish. But you know the Lord is asking you to do it.

Type five: You know how to obey, but know the outcomes could be both pleasant and unpleasant
You are led to do something that clearly will have positive outcomes but may result in other negative outcomes as well. You may fully understand why, and it is a choice of whether or not you are willing to bear the negative outcomes for the sake of the positive ones.   If you can’t see any positive outcomes at all, it’s probably not God asking you to do this thing – God always has a good purpose, and if there is no good purpose at all then it is usually not God asking you to do this thing.

Type six:  You know how to obey, but don’t know why and know the results will be very unpleasant.
You are asked to do something that makes absolutely no sense to you whatsoever, but you clearly know what it is you are to do. It is also very clear that some seriously negative ramifications will come as a result of your actions.

Type seven: You’re not clear on how to obey, and you don’t know what will happen when you do.
You have a vague awareness of what you are being asked to do but some details are missing and you aren’t sure you fully know what you are to do. Outcomes are also unclear.

Of course, if things are all the way at type seven, you might want to consider that you are just not ready yet to obey this instruction, and ask God for more clarification.   But sometimes, sometimes the Lord’s clarification will be, “Just do what I am telling you.”  Sometimes His clarification will be more conversation on the topic than that.  When all else fails – read the other article! 🙂

And one of these days – I’ll have published the article series I’m working on that goes into the HOWS of even hearing God’s voice.   So, stay tuned!

6 Types of “Prayer-Engagement” with the World

I like to observe trends in the body of Christ and keep an eye out for what God is doing, and since I hang out in and around various “prayer movements” I have been intrigued by what I see happening with prayer when it comes to engaging with those outside the church.

I’m noticing what I think is something of a scale or range in how praying for people outside the body of Christ to know Jesus engages with those very “stake-holders.”  By stake-holders, I mean that “the people the prayers are aimed at reaching or helping know God better”, since they are ultimately the folks who have the greatest stake in how the prayer plays out!  🙂

So with no further intro, here is the scale that I think we are seeing:

(Type 1) Evangelism of some type or another, with little to no specific prayer

I hope this type is somewhat rare, but I know it is out there.    Taking a cue from verses such as, “I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to salvation for them that believe,” there are workers in the body of Christ who consider prayer to be a small trivial piece of their engagement with the world.    “All that matters is sharing the gospel – and since in and of itself, the gospel is powerful, there doesn’t NEED to be any prayer involved in sharing it with people” is the mindset this set brings to evangelism.

While in my experience, people proceeding on this basis often find evangelism to be a lot of effort for a tiny bit of headway, I can’t deny that there is a tiny itsy bitsy morsel of truth here.   I consider the verse to, “preach the Word!  Be ready in season and out of season…” to somewhat describe what is happening here.   Without prayer, it will almost always be something of an “out of season” activity to preach the Word, but hey, even that sometimes helps people.   (And if the ‘preaching’ is done without BEING preachy – with cultural sensitivity, and real engagement with people, and acts of kindness and justice – so much the better.)

(Type 2) Prayer for “workers to be sent” into the harvest field.

This type of prayer has a pretty explicit scriptural basis and takes many forms – whether it is praying for workers to be sent, or praying for workers to have strength or provision or an open door into a culture.   Prayer of all types involving workers comes into this category – praying for safety, praying for strategy, praying for workers to find spouses or ministry partners or have happy marriages so they can be their best while reaching a group of people evangelistically – there are all sorts of ways to pray for workers.   This prayer focuses on Jesus being the Lord of His own growth strategy – and honoring Him in that by asking Him to direct and provide for His body as they are led by Him in this endeavor.

Prayer for the body of Christ itself can often fall into this category – as praying for the body of Christ to be strengthened, equipped, strategic, obedience, unified, etc, is in some way a prayer for everyone who represents Christ in an area, when people who approach evangelism in a mostly category #1 sort of way may also engage in this type of prayer, as even a simple prayer to “help me find the person you want me to talk to today, Jesus” is, technically, this type of prayer – a prayer for the worker themselves as they are sent.  But this type of prayer is only in the beginning part of the range of the evangelism/prayer spectrum, because there is no direct engagement of prayer here with the actual stakeholders – those who are to be met with the gospel.

(Type 3) Prayer in a room somewhere for people but – mostly about peoples’ lifestyles, rather than their ability to believe in Christ.

Now the prayer starts to focus in on the stakeholders, as prayers are actually being aimed on their behalf, directly.   In this case, what does this look like?   Praying against crime in a city, praying for people to choose certain political candidates, praying for peoples’ minds to be changed to something “better” on a specific topic whether political or otherwise.

The word “repent” means to “change one’s mind” so essentially these are prayers for repentance.   It’s hard to find much explicit Biblical precedent for this, as there are not many clear examples of people praying for other people to act or think a certain way – although assumably, praying “for those in authority” per 1 Timothy 2:2 would include prayers for rulers to have divine wisdom to make good choices.   And there are other non-explicit rationales that can be gathered from Scripture that there might actually be some value to praying this way.  1 Timothy 2:1  simply says to “pray for all people” with petitions, prayers, and thanksgiving – which seems to open the door wide to pray for basically anything that might improve their lives.  2 Timothy 2:25 contains nothing whatsoever about prayer, but does mention the idea that God grants repentance – so if repentance comes from God, then it’s not a leap of logic to decide petitioning him to move over people in that way is not beyond reasonable.

Declaring the wisdom of God in the cross of Jesus in prayer and worship also has an effect on the spiritual powers over a region, too, so if a group of people know what they are doing there is some value in tackling the spiritual “winds” blowing over the minds of people in an area.  However, thankfully, most groups that pray in this way tend to mix other forms of prayer into the mix, which we’ll talk about next.

(Type 4) Prayer in a room somewhere – or sometimes at a specific strategic location – specifically for Christ to be made known to those who don’t know Him.

This probably makes up the bulk of prayer that intercessory prayer groups engage in for our non-believing “stakeholders.”   Surprisingly, however, there is again in this category not much ‘explicit’ command or example in Scripture about praying for people to know Jesus.   Most of the prayers about peoples’ minds being enlighted to see or know Jesus better in the New Testament, were not actually prayers for those outside the church, but were prayers for folks who already believed in Jesus to know and see Him better.

However I don’t believe there is no scriptural support whatsoever for praying for nonbelievers – it just doesn’t show up in the Bible with the intensity or frequency we might think it should, and this is worth considering.  Of course 1 Timothy 2:1, the verse we saw in Category 3 which talks about praying for all people, certainly still applies to praying for them to come to faith in Christ in some way or another.   Category 4 here would include prayers for “revival”, and Acts 3:9 talks about turning “to God” as being a step before he sends “refreshing,” there is some evidence here for the idea of believers “turning to God in prayer” being a precursor to something that might end up bigger than the initial “turning to God,” – in this case, “refreshing” – as a result.  Identificational repentance – where believers in God repent on behalf of those in their city or region – would seem to also be in this category.   And anecdotally – and historically – many, many believers testify that they have seen amazing outcomes when they have prayed specifically FOR the people they are trying to reach with the gospel.

Watchman Nee once made a list of all of his friends that he wanted to share Jesus with, and after being frustrated by seeing not one of them come to faith, his mentor advised him to start praying for that list daily.   In a short time after he began to pray, almost the entire list had come to faith in Christ.

(Type 5)  Encountering people and praying for them where you meet them.

This takes things up a notch in terms of interaction of the people doing the praying, with the actual stakeholders that are receiving prayer.  Instead of praying for people in a room somewhere, this is when believers offer to pray for people – nonbelievers included – wherever they have had a meaningful encounter with someone.

The newest prophetic evangelism approach called “Treasure Hunts” often involves people finding people on the street somewhere and striking up a conversation that results in praying for someone’s needs then and there.   This brings prayer TO the people who need it, as well as to God, and creates a bridge between someone who might not know how to pray for themselves, and God.  The people offering prayer are therefore doing a priestly function of ministering both to people and to God in prayer on behalf of those people.  This is where prayer first starts to directly turn into evangelism, as sharing the good news of Jesus with people and praying for them become in some ways one united action.

(Type 6) Creating opportunities where people who are foreign to prayer are invited and enabled to begin praying to Him themselves.

This is a trend that some groups have begun exploring and the beautiful thing in this is that it goes beyond all the other steps in that the medium really becomes the message – stakeholders are brought right into the adventure of engaging with God, and isn’t that right where things need to go at some point?  I was once with a group at the University of Pennsylvania who did something called “Prayer Week” where they set up a tent in the center of campus and posted signs around it inviting people to come inside and explore prayer.   Once inside, they were greeted with gentle worship music, drawing supplies, 3×5 cards and pens to write prayers on and post on the walls, and papers explaining ideas about how to engage with God, as well as other people who were praying or ready to help orient them in how to begin praying.  For a great example of what this can look like, read this story about a prayer space in a school in the Congo.  In some ways this is discipleship, prayer, and evangelism all tied into one – people are given an opportunity to come to God and thus develop a hunger to know Him better, which can sensitize them to a need for Jesus who is the one who provides direct access to the Father’s presence.

So there you have a it – a scale from Type 1 to Type 6 of how prayer and evangelism can intersect.

And even though Type 6 is the most engaged with the people who are the topic of the prayers – because they themselves do the praying – the reality is that all those have their place somewhere along the way as the body of Christ walks out its priestly role to make God and His Christ known to all the Earth.

Being “Unoffendable?”

In various circles that I participate in, multitudes of books and sermons have been coming out lately about the need to be “unoffendable.”   The idea being, that anytime someone feels snubbed, hurt, bothered, upset, overly concerned, or even in some cases, abused – by those in their circle (or particularly leadership in a church), in a word, “offended”- they are told they are exhibiting a very unwanted, unBiblical, and wrong disposition.   Thus the fault lies with them more than whomever they are daring to be “offended” by or with. There is this idea that everyone should treat absolutely everything like water off a duck’s back.

Ok, this idea of being “unoffendable” – I want to call it what it is:  the uniquely Christian version of gaslighting.  I hope you don’t find that too offensive!

woman-65061_640So, if you’re not familiar with what “gaslighting” is, stop here and click through to read about it.   Generally in the secular world, we hear about gaslighting most often in reference to when men belittle the concerns of women with whom they are in a relationship.

But gaslighting is not something that only occurs between men and women – it occurs anytime one person is trying to silence people around them who object in some way to their behavior.  This can be on a small scale where a coworker is ruling the roost in an office, or one person is ruling the roost in a group of friends, and of course can exist where a leader in Christian group does not want to be vulnerable or approachable by people bringing even helpful forms of criticism.

Sad to say that in the short term, it’s soooo much easier to create a culture in a group of people where everyone is conditioned to believe that anytime they feel hurt, bothered, concerned, etc. with someone’s behavior, they have committed a fault in their own souls called, “being offended” – than to do the hard work of creating a culture that holds together and works through managing tension, conflict, and confrontation in a healthy, productive way.

Of course this doctrine of “being unoffendable” doesn’t come out of nowhere.   There are numerous verses in the New Testament where the word “offended” is used in a way that, without really examining the use and meaning of the word, a doctrine can be built that “being offended” is generally a bad thing.   And, there are times when “being offended” is a very bad thing – namely, when we are offended by things that are righteous.   That is one place we really do want to cultivate an “unoffendable” heart – just as Jesus said in Matthew 11:6 “And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”  Ironically, one of the most important things in life to “not be offended” by is when someone else comes and shares with us how we have wronged them!

Misunderstanding the Biblical Word for OFFEND

But most of this, “Do not be offended, ever,” doctrine I do believe comes from a misunderstanding of the way the word “offended” is used in scripture.  For instance, one friend of mine talked about Psalm 119:165 which reads in the KJV, “Great peace have they which love Thy law; and nothing shall offend them.”  She pronounced that people who were offended at her for things she had done were just demonstrating that they had no love for God’s laws!  How convenient to be able to proclaim that any hurt or harm one is accused of causing to others is simply because those others are unspiritual!

stickman-310587_640 But the use of the word “offend” in this verse does not translate easily into our modern vernacular use of the word and other Bible versions than the KJV do a better job translating it to what it really means:  that nothing shall cause someone to stumble and sin.   For a whole long word study of the term “offend” or “offense” in scripture, click here.

In general, also, the Bible says a lot more against people who CAUSE others to “offend”, than against the person who is “offended.”   It’s sort of backwards towards what is commonly taught.  Luke 17:11 – “He said to His disciples, “Offenses will certainly come, but woe to the one they come through! “

So if “being offended” really was wrong (and it isn’t, as we’ll discuss in the next paragraph), the person whom you are offended BY would be much more in the wrong for causing someone to become offended at them!   This isn’t how it really works, but if we were to translate “offend” in a normal English way, that’s what we would end up with.

The Luke 17:11 verse above is translated much better by the ESV, however, which reads, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!”  Here there is no mention of the word “offend” – as it is all about temptation to fall into sin, sin of ANY type – temptation to steal, lie, mistreat others, have immoral sexual relationships, etc. and it has nothing at all to do with “being offended” once the word is translated properly.

So am I saying it’s OK to be offended?

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This duck loves God’s law!

Well, I’m saying it’s the wrong question to be asking.   No one should make an issue about whether or not someone is offended by something, as if it is the fact that someone is “offended” which is the problem.     To concern ourselves over whether or not someone should be allowed the audacity to be hurt, angry, concerned, or upset as if that in and of itself is the problem (which is needlessly meta-) rather than with WHY they are offended is not going to be very productive for anyone involved.

Jesus said that if someone sins against us, we’re to go to that person, one on one, and discuss it with them.   He didn’t say, “Don’t be bothered by what they did to you, just pray about it and don’t let yourself be hurt or upset.”   Never did He say such a thing.   He said to go to them and talk about what you feel they did wrong, one on one.

So if you are the person that someone feels has wronged them, there are some good ways to respond, and some not-so-good ways.

Since Jesus said for people to approach you about how they feel you’ve wronged them, one-on-one, one of the worst things you can do (and people do this sometimes) is to refuse to be available one-on-one.   Don’t insist that you’ll only meet with the offended person with another person present of your own choosing, unless you honestly fear for your bodily safety. (Matthew 18 prescribes a time when you’ll meet with others if the one-on-one meeting doesn’t work out.)   Don’t quit returning phone calls or emails when someone wants to talk something out with you.

pair-707502_1280Don’t belittle the person or use manipulative tactics of telling them they are “too sensitive” or that they have no room because of some sin in their own heart or life that makes you unwilling to hear about your own.   This is back to gaslighting, which I discussed above.   Don’t tell them that Jesus demands they forgive you (because truly it is never the place of the offending party to demand someone forgive them.)

Instead, try to hear where this person is coming from – be humble and willing to examine your own self through their eyes.  No one said confrontation is supposed to be comfortable, but rise to the occasion, and talk out honestly with that person why you did what you did, being willing to admit your own faults in the matter and ultimately hear from them and admit how your actions have affected them.  That’s so basic that it shouldn’t even have to be said – but, unfortunately, it does.

And, if you are the person who is offended at someone, there are good and bad ways to handle that too.  

Do not refuse to allow yourself emotions on the topic – but do not let your emotions flare unnecessarily hot, either.   Keep yourself level headed enough that you can discuss the matter with the person who has offended you in such a way as to win them over – to help them see the problem or pain they are causing, but not to pour out revenge on them by making them feel your wrath.  There is a fine line between showing someone they have hurt you in order to bring them to their senses, and showing them how upset you are in order to get back at them and vent on them.  (I’ve definitely been the venting one at times, in the interest of full disclosure – so learn from my mistakes!)
If they don’t hear you, then Matthew 18 says to return with other people to try talking to them as well.

And a Word to Third Parties…

But finally, if you are a third party – you are neither the person whose words or actions have been “offensive” nor the person who is “offended” – you are probably one of the most important people in this whole situation, believe it or not.  When schools teach about the dynamics that go on with “bullying” they will often talk about the role of bystanders and how bystanders create the environment for people to be treated wrongly.

Unfortunately, we have a lot of bystanders in the body of Christ – who see or hear about people mistreated by others and figure it’s not their place to get involved.  In the beginning, it isn’t usually your role to get involved, other than to encourage people to talk things out, one-on-one.   But in Matthew 18, when one person feels sinned against by another person and they’ve tried to talk things out and that conversation has failed, the wounded person is told to bring one or two others to get involved.

If you’re called upon at that point to get involved, you can be healing balm to both parties by sitting down with the two people in conflict, as Jesus prescribed – and talking things out.   Mediation is held as a high value in scripture.

But you will lose the opportunity to be that healing person if you – 

  • -Insist the wounded person go back and try again and again to work it out “one on one” when they’ve already tried that.
  • -Judge the situation before you’ve heard BOTH sides by telling the victim/accuser that they “should forgive and not be offended” before there has been any resolution or hearing on what has gone wrong
  • -Judge the situation before you’ve heard BOTH sides by letting yourself become a new “offended person” on the offended person’s behalf, who is now launching themselves at the accused, rather than mediating between the two parties (unless you were present when the wrong was done and know what happened first hand.)
  • -Refuse to get involved because it’s “not your business” or you don’t want to lose a friend
  • -Gossip to other people about the situation other than the handful of people who are involved.    In a Matthew 18 situation, the rightfully involved people are 3 or 4:  the person who feels wronged, and the person accused of doing wrong, and the 1 or 2 others that the wronged person is instructed to bring along with them.

Most of the time, Matthew 18  (Jesus’s instructions) never gets carried out correctly because of a lack of willing bystanders to follow Matthew 18 in HOW they get involved.   The goal of Matthew 18 is correction, restoration and healing of all those involved – and when mediation doesn’t happen, often instead of restoration and healing we just end up with more of a mess.

At any rate, let’s stop defeating ourselves from handling conflict in a meaningful and constructive way in the body by saying that people just “shouldn’t be offended.”    In most cases, that just ends up creating an environment that grows more and more dysfunctional by the day.    Let’s deal with offense in a way that helps us all learn and grow from it, in a way that shows we’re a family and what we all do really has an effect on each other.   And let’s stop silencing possible victims of our thoughtlessness or whatever other thing we may be doing by teaching everyone that it is wrong to “be offended” – because, plain and simple – it’s not.

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PS – there are times that Matthew 18 is not applicable – such as when dealing with a public/famous leader.  But neither is the idea of “being unoffended” applicable in such situations, either!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My review of “Free to Love” by Jamal Jivanjee

In my circles, there has been some stir lately over a book, “Free to Love,” by a Facebook friend of mine, Jamal Jivanjee.   I didn’t really know much about this book until another friend of mine, Keith Giles, wrote a scathing review of it, which prompted me to hit up Jamal on instant messaging to ask him some concerned questions – questions which really in my mind were not about his book at all, but just about his own heart and life and what his book said about his marriage – that it had ended.

See, I’ve never met Brandie Jivanjee nor spoken to her, but I knew that such a person existed from having been FB friends with Jamal for so long, and finding out that Jamal had gotten divorced via a scathing book review was somewhat shocking.   Honestly my initial reaction was to feel that I had been a lousy friend to not know this had happened to Jamal and Brandie, that I hadn’t been reading his page often enough or something to be there in even a small way for this huge trouble in their lives, and all what was generated in me was foremost an empathetic concern – a desire to help, if help at all was still possible.   Writing to Jamal however I was met only with defensive irritation and relative coldness – I suppose this was perhaps justly an instance of me feeling my friendship with Jamal was more real to me than maybe he felt it was to him – and he told me he wouldn’t talk to me at all about this aspect of his life until and unless I bought and read a copy of his book.

The iciness was surprising to me, particularly since I knew the book had something to do with the importance of valuing relationships and friendships in the body of Christ (I knew it also had something to do with cross-gender friendships.)  More often than not I have been surprised by people whose message is about love or togetherness who put up walls when their message seems to suggest that walls should come down when relationship is at hand.   I know it was a sensitive issue, however.   My protest was that I didn’t really care about the book, that I cared about him – but he insisted my concern was only because of Keith’s review and therefore that he wasn’t interesting in talking, and that instead I should buy his book.

I did know his advertising efforts – including posting an advertisement for the book on my personal page immediately after our conversation – seemed fairly zealous, to the point of being impersonal.  (I mean, he knew I was concerned and then posted an advertisement to my wall?)   And Keith, who had written a negative review of the book somewhat reluctantly and apologetically, is an incredibly welcoming person whose household had once treated me with the kindness of Christ in a very dark hour of my life.  In a few days after Keith’s review, one of Jamal’s friends had lifted a quote from Keith’s review about the book being “dangerous” and was proudly flaunting it on Jamal’s advertisements on his page.

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Jamal in my initial conversation meanwhile insisted that Keith was out to malign him – and when I asked what possible motive Keith would have for such a thing, he replied that “Keith feels he is acting in good faith as all folks do when reacting to having their paradigms challenged.”   Ok, this answer could have some merit (although again, I didn’t care about the book, I only wanted to talk to my friend Jamal about what was going on in his life) but then, another friend of mine, Dan Brennan, an author whose book on male-female friendships in the body of Christ I had once recommended to Jamal (did I help create a monster in so-doing?), wrote that he could not recommend Jamal’s book either.

If anyone I know has embraced a “new paradigm” when it comes to the importance of cross-gender friendships in the body of Christ – friendships that challenge many people’s expectations of what is appropriate between men and women outside of the marriage covenant – it would be Dan Brennan.    (Dan’s writing style would appeal largely to progressive Christians, while my friend Joshua Jones has also written what I have heard is a fairly brilliant book about cross-gender friendship as well from an evangelical standpoint, although I have yet to read it.)

Thus, a very long preface to why I am writing a review of a book I really wasn’t initially concerned with in all this but which evolved into a thing I was sort of forced to read.   And since I have read this book now, and as a moderator of a discussion group where Jamal has been wanting to advertise and embrace controversy about his book, this thing seems to have been placed into my lap whether I wanted it to be or not, so it seems I need to at this point write a review as well.

SO HERE’S MY ACTUAL REVIEW:

Firstly, I’ll say that Jamal is an excellent writer.   The book is an easy read, flows along smoothly, and warmly dialogues with the audience.  Jamal and I both agree on many things – we have both sought after a true experience of organic church (house church) and ultimately had some disillusioning experiences there – while retaining a passion for true relationship in the body of Christ.   Jamal clearly has a passion for the body of Christ to function like a family – for people to experience the kind of relationships that Christ died and rose again to make possible among His people.

But while the book promotes the value of cross-gender friendships, which I can cheer and appreciate, there’s an entire chapter dedicated to talking about how one spouse can be weighed down with insecurities and thus keep the other spouse from really walking out a life that God wants for them in this realm of oneness with God and others (what Jamal refers to as a “divided marriage”) – and the book hints, sometimes small, sometimes large, of “marriage idolatry” in most chapters.  Jamal expresses concern that the institution of marriage seems to be the only relationship that many Christians seem to prioritize and that often other relationships are only viewed in light of how dangerous they may be to the intimacy between a husband and wife.

As someone passionate about the need for the body of Christ to learn to embrace the beauty of friendship between the sexes, both as Biblically valid and incredibly valuable to the body of Christ as a whole, I am still greatly concerned at Jamal’s tone.  The problem here I feel is in the distinction of approaching this topic as “both-and” vs. “either-or.”   When reading Jamal, I start to perceive that for him, the beauty of cross-gendered friendship is an either-or thing; either one values relationships with the body of Christ, OR one values relationship with a spouse.   Jamal leans heavy on verses and arguments that minimize the marriage relationship to create his paradigm.  I think that is the overwhelming error in his work, as I think the proper order and balance is one of “both-and”; holding one’s spouse in high priority AND, while honoring and valuing them all along the way, also learning how to have healthy, devoted, and wholesome friendships with both sexes in the body of Christ.

The Book I Wish Jamal Had Written

Despite this, Jamal does make some good points about various spiritual things related to the body of Christ and the innocence and value that cross-gender relationships can have, ideas which many in his circle might not have been ready for [according to Jamal’s presentation of things.]   Jamal’s book is rare in that it is one of a very small corpus of reading material on the topic of opposite-sex friendships in the Kingdom, and he tackles the even more rare question of how to view and relate to a spouse who has a different viewpoint not just on that topic, but on kingdom pursuits in a more general sense (in what he terms a “divided” marriage.)   But I have to say that the book Jamal has written on this topic still isn’t the book I’d be hoping to read to gain wisdom about these things.

He does a good job of showing what healthy non-marital relationships can look like without becoming sexual.   But, rather than reading about how living out the new paradigm of inter-relational oneness in the body of Christ even cost the author his marriage (and the subtle but palpable suggestions that the author is copacetic if costs you your marriage too, because as Jamal reminds us, “Jesus came to bring a sword” into families), I would rather read the book that might have been written about how Jamal and Brandie walked through a difficult time where Jamal had one idea of how to live out these things while Brandie had quite another, and how they learned to appreciate each others’ differing attachment needs both learning to respect each other’s callings, insecurities, giftings and weaknesses.

I wish I could read how they pressed through, humbling themselves to each other, and learned to love one another through the difficult process of hearing God in the midst of their various convictions and concerns to break through as One.  But I, and the others alternatively critical of or lauding his book, did not get to read that story, because Jamal and Brandie for one reason or another didn’t get to finish creating it together, but instead ended up divorced.   One might suspect from how the book handles issues of disagreement between spouses, that Jamal might have not fully engaged that process, perhaps feeling that investing too much into that process would have been “marriage idolatry” when there were other relationships for him to invest in as well.  (Jamal also comes down pretty hard on “needy” spouses, and along the way makes me wonder if he has ever read about adult attachment theory or knows how his own attachment style might influence his preferences in what he views as too “needy” in a spouse.)

I can empathize with Jamal’s concern in the book that a husband who simply acts as a martyr and  “dies to self” to serve his spouse’s insecurities may not be walking out the life he is called to – but then again, I’m not sure there are only two choices here – be a doormat for another person’s neediness/fear/insecurity, or resolutely ignore/demean their desire for security or intimacy or attention to walk out a “higher calling.”   Jamal is willing to concede that marriage is about meeting each other’s sexual needs, but does not seem to extrapolate from that that emotional needs should be concerned with nor met as well.  Jamal never does say exactly what the opposite of giving into a spouse’s emotional neediness looks like in his mind, other than that a spouse shouldn’t need to pander to such things.  (I consider the Apostle Paul said sexual needs could be unmet for short times of prayer and fasting but only by mutual consent – as at least a little hint that a wife’s thoughts and feelings and “needs” do indeed count, even when contrasted with spiritual endeavors.)

But it seems to me that a Savior, embraced by two believers, should be able to see them through these things and often when He does so, often the person who thinks or feels they’ve got the higher road doesn’t always have it as much as they thought they did.  This is part of iron-sharpening-iron methinks – that, and that for the most part, when Jesus said a sword would divide families over Him, that he was talking about what would happen when one spouse was a believer and the other a nonbeliever.   While that sword can still show up in a marriage to a small degree where a believer has a different sense of how to run after the Kingdom than the other, between believers it seems that there is less room to not work that sort of thing out over time.   After all, the same Bible Jamal avidly quotes about marriage not being the be-all of existence surely has a few things to say about God’s feelings on the demise of a marriage, right?

“Marriage Idolatry?”

Could we flip the table and say that while marriage idolatry – whatever that truly is – is indeed misguided, that there are other forms of relationship idolatry that one could sanction with spiritual argument and fall into as well?   After all, while there are plenty of things written in the Bible about the woefulness of broken relationships in the body of Christ, none are quite so loud and dramatic as the woefulness ascribed to divorce.  Why is that particular woe so pronounced scripturally if, as Jamal says, no priority is given to marriage over other relationships?  Is a spouse just a sexual outlet and a venue for reproduction, while everyone else in the body of Christ is where real Kingdom relationship is centered?  Jamal doesn’t say this exactly, but his presentation of this is so bad this reader was given the impression that this is a definite possibility.

It seems to me to be all in the framing of it.   It reminds me of a conversation I recently had with some well-meaning folks in ministry who were talking about their relationship with their children, when I asked if their children were excited about being part of their ministry and, they replied, “When we were children, our parents always put us first.  But we realized that that is not what it means to be kingdom oriented, so we are following God and expecting our children to come second to that.”   Regrettably, I have seen many parents with this attitude that is sadly considered “spiritual” in some circles raise kids that don’t grow up to share their passion for the Kingdom, or even believe in God.

I contrast that with some other amazing missionary friends of mine, who have uprooted their lives and done many things that traditional thinkers might not have thought were good for their children – but these parents have never said anything along the lines of “we put God, not our children first, when we make decisions.”  Instead, as a family, they have patiently and creatively cultivated a deep love in their kids for the things they are passionate about, vision-casting together, and have treated their kids as deeply integrated members of ministry team since they were little, developing a true oneness of purpose in their family – and their kids from a very young age have learned to worship with them, pray for, and receive words from the Lord for the people they all minister to.   Even now, the dad often quotes from his 7-year-old’s journal the prophetic realizations she is having about God and their ministry as a family, and how much he learns from his children as they learn from him.

Similar to the child-rearing example above: Do we have to frame things in such a way to say that loving a spouse above all others is the enemy of close relationships with those others?    After all, if love for a spouse has no priority, then why IS sex reserved for marriage, anyway?  Is it just some arbitrary moral duty be exclusive in one’s sexuality and the sharing of their body, or does any form of exclusive love have something to do with it?  Husbands are specifically exhorted to love their wives three times in the New Testament, and despite verses that Jamal quotes about marriage, the body of Christ in all its intimate oneness of fervent devoted relationships is still instructed to hold out a place of honor for marriage.

(I would also add that women were not as highly honored from my vantage point in most of the polygamous examples of the Old Testament as they later were in the more monogamous  New Testament – and onward beyond the New Testament.  The flavor given to the marital relationship in a culture has some parallel to the value and place given to women in a society in general – something Jamal doesn’t tackle at all in his thinking.  However this may be one reason why Moses and Jesus’s feelings on divorce were so highly divergent.  Along this line, an obsession with verses that highlight a lesser view of marriage such as “let those who are married be as though they were not” may be comparable to someone who prefers to emphasize verses about women being silent over those where women had a powerful leading role in speaking.)

If Jamal is right about anything, he is right that marriage isn’t everything – married or single, we are created for more.   But if Jamal is wrong about something, it is in the way that seems to want to get to the “more” by making marriage – and by extension, one’s spouse – a less honorable, less valuable thing than the place God gives them.

It is in this vein that I agree with Keith Giles’ assessment that the book is dangerous – but not in the “good-dangerous” type of way that Jamal wanted to spin it, promoting his writing as that of just some really “spiritual badass”, one who has taken the veritable “red pill that only the fearless dare to take.”

It is dangerous because it seems to promote pursuing spirituality without empathy nor patience for one’s spouse if they have different perspectives or viewpoints or needs than you, and in all the verses that Jamal quotes that are harsh on marriage, I would wish to include the one that speaks to husbands who consider their wives to be lacking something compared to themselves, to live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.”  (1 Peter 3:7) 


Living the “Dream”

Instead, he shares stories of women who were showing some sort of Jamal-identified spiritual weakness (needing financial security, needing spousal attention, etc) in a way that invites husbands to dismiss them as mere impediments to the grand call on their lives.  I’ve sadly seen this in action before: it is the same reasoning I heard from the prosperity-wealth-preaching friend of mine as to why he needed to buy a Hummer while his family was impoverished and his wife was mortified – to prove that he was learning to live in God’s provision and not her concerns about financial security.   It is similar to the argument I just heard yesterday from one of my non-believing best friend’s husbands about why he needs to be free to spend all night away from her every day of the week to smoke pot with his buddies, claiming she is being “controlling” by wanting time with him herself (although he did invite her to come smoke with him, but she doesn’t want to.)   I’m sure Jamal will protest that he’s not advocating lavish spending nor drug abusing, but the same glorification of the dismissal of one’s wife’s concerns and needs are present in this book as in my other experiences of those who turn a selfish and sometimes spiritualized deaf ear to the emotional concerns and pain of their spouse.

And while emotional neediness or spiritual weakness can be found in men as well, Jamal never shares a story of a husband holding his wife back from pursuing a greater calling, thus making me wonder if ultimately the real genre this book belongs to is the unfortunate category of “a cold-hearted book written by a hyperspiritual spouse parsing out why he was right and his wife was wrong” about the ideas that led to the dissolution of their marriage.

We do not know what Brandie truly asked for or thought because he does not tell us,  but we do know in this book that he leaves little room for a spouse who is not tracking completely with their spouse’s desire for opposite sex friendships (or ministry, or travel, or other various lifestyle decisions) to be given much consideration or weight.  (Moreover, he never remotely suggests that one way an opposite-sex friend helps keep a friendship pure is by standing resolutely for the health of their friend’s marital relationship.)  Positively, he does say that even in a divided marriage, where one person is pursuing “the Kingdom” in Jamal-terms and the other isn’t, that the Kingdom spouse still should love the other and not walk away.

But I voice my concerns because Jamal, by writing that the ideas of this book were hard won at the cost of his marriage, implies whether he intends to or not that Brandie must have been a very worldly woman for his marriage to have ended over the things in this book – he the wise and spiritual one compared to her more petty or earthly values whatever they may have been, and leaves no room for her to have any legitimate concerns or voice in any of this.  There is no category in Jamal’s description of divided marriages where both spouses are getting some things right spiritually while both are also having blind spots where they both need to learn from each other – it’s just a totally “one is on target, and one is not,” sort of thing.

It also seems inappropriate to me that in the midst of whatever heartache and disaster Brandie and he have gone through in this, is now something that Jamal hopes to use to bolster his own name and ministry by writing a best-seller about the ideas that were destructive to his marriage.  As nice as Jamal is, truly there seems to be something narcissistic or even abusive about that.   Indeed, almost every chapter of this book on friendship and “oneness” has some mention of how marriage can be improperly viewed and become an impediment to a truly loving life in the Kingdom of Oneness, but sadly there is no “oneness” of which Jamal is so fond of speaking remaining for Jamal and Brandie to share in together.

broken-heart-1207383_1280So that’s where I will leave this.   If you want a copy of this book, contact me on FB and I might be able to find someone who will pass along one that has already been read, so that you don’t have to drive up ratings on something nor provide blood money to a book birthed from a couple’s divorce.

I hope and pray that my words might in any way help any and all that are involved to find a way towards restoring this marriage, rebuilt on better principles than the dogmatism in this book (and anything outside this book) which led to its demise.  I do hope, that now that this thing has been brought out onto a larger stage than the original circle of friends and loved ones who were unfortunately not able to help Jamal and Brandi avoid this outcome, that in my idealized hope for them they would be able to find fresh resources, skilled counselors, and impartial help to come to a place of restoration.   It is in that hope, as well as a concern for others influenced by some of Jamal’s ideas, that I write this post with as much care and diligence as I am able.

Coping with Pain, Theological Preferences

A few years back, when a tornado ripped through Oklahoma killing a bunch of elementary school children and others, John Piper famously came under fire for tweeting a verse from Job about Job’s children being suddenly killed.   The outrage over his tweet, and how insensitive many viewed it to be, took the internet by storm in hours – to the point where Piper himself uncharacteristically deleted it.

As a somewhat neutral observer, I thought then and have chewed on it fairly often since then, that it was interesting to see how people cope with loss theologically – and what ways they are offended theologically at the same time.   The wild thing about it is that it is really completely DIFFERENT from one person to the next, and from one subculture to the next, how we want to, and don’t want to, see God’s role when we suffer.   It’s almost like a love-language thing.

For some people, from some backgrounds, there is nothing more comforting when going through trauma than the idea that God has a plan for it – in fact, that God even sent it.   While I don’t hear this view as often as I used to, it’s still firmly held by many as their source of strength when something goes terribly wrong.   A few years back, some friends of mine were in a horrible car accident and their infant child was killed.   In the days and months following, they spoke passionately about being comforted in knowing that God was sovereign, and that He had a plan for this.   For them, the theme of TRUST in a God who knew what He was doing in the midst of tragedy – either by causing it or allowing it, helped them get through it all and get back on their feet.

For other people, however, the idea that God could behind such a thing, whether actively or passively, just shatters any sense that they have that God is trustworthy at all – so they just don’t go there.   For these folks, if someone attempted to comfort them in a time of tragedy or loss with the words, “God has a plan in this,” that person bringing that word might have to duck and cover.   So where do these folks see God in pain?   More likely, they see God as their ally against the enemy that caused it – whether they perceive the enemy to be a personal enemy, such as satan, or a generalized enemy, such as “the randomness of life and nature” or “the corruption of the Fall.”  For them, God is there as the One who we can take our pain to and find perfect sympathy and encouragement through it.   For these folks, the universe is not operating according to a sovereign plan of God, but it is either broken, or if not broken, just not quite tame – and thus bad things happen that are really no one’s fault.   Yet in the midst of that, God understands our loss – He is there to lean on, and to comfort us as a good friend or parent might.  He is there to help us have the strength to get up, dust ourselves off, and go on to conquer the challenge that the trauma has thrown us.

moore-112783_1280The wild thing is that people usually don’t realize that their agitation at how other people make sense of trauma and tragedy is a preference.   Wars could be (and have been) started over this stuff in theological corners – because there are Bible verses that can be lined up and used to bolster either of these positions against the other.   But I don’t think that’s what this is really about – this is about what makes people feel loved by God.   We tend to cling to the Bible verses that resonate most with our understanding of what love looks like – love either means to me, He’s working everything out even if it doesn’t look that way, OR, love looks to me like He couldn’t possibly plan something awful in an “ends justify the means” sort of way, but His love is there for me to face whatever crazy things come our way.

You can go to war about this with someone and tell them that their understanding of God’s love is lacking and unenlightened compared to yours – and maybe you are even right.   But if you step back for a moment and look at this, the reality is – everyone is trying to understand God and this crazy universe in a way that they can handle.  And what some people can handle ends up being the exact opposite of what other people feel they can handle.   Someone who trusts that God is behind everything would feel very unloved if they suddenly found out that God isn’t controlling the details of their tragedy – it helps them to trust that He is.   And someone who sees God as their ally against freak tragedies would feel very unloved to think that God had actually sent the tragedy to them – it helps them to believe He was not at all involved, and is even upset at what happened to them.   And, the wild reality is that the Bible provides enough material to support a variety of viewpoints on the topic, even as we change and grow through out lifetimes – strangely enough.

Civilized God vs. Natural God

So, I had this friend who was really struggling in his life and was taking steps towards God, and one late night while he and a friend were praying together in my community’s prayer room, he decided that the most authentic thing he could to get real with God was to strip naked and pray his heart out in his birthday suit.   florence-1060040_640Actually I don’t know exactly what he was doing, because I wasn’t there – but it was at an hour of the night when the likelihood of anyone walking in on this…event?…was extremely low (though admittedly not altogether without risk) and thankfully no one did – but his prayer partner thought it made a good enough story that he told a few folks, who told others, who told others, who told others who….eventually told me.

Except by the time it got back to me, it was from someone who wasn’t part of our community, and, the story had taken on a very twisted and shameful tone to it, and had unfortunately come to be used as an example of all that was wrong in our group.   Oy.  And now I’ve blogged about it – double oy.   Realistically, a community’s shared prayer space probably isn’t the best place to fulfill one’s urges to strip naked before God, unless the shared space is a Jewish Mikvah, in which case it is somehow totally sanctioned and even required – but then again, those spaces are not co-ed.

skydiving-270148_640Anyway, I don’t actually know how it played out intra-communally on our turf, whether or not any leaders actually said anything or cared about the fact that this had happened in our prayer room, but, whether it is to our collective shame or our collective honor, or neither, my guess is that not many people in our group cared terribly much, beyond it being a great story of, “You’ll never guess what so and so did!”   The group in that season had a culture of encouraging each other to take risks and make both big achievements and big mistakes, and so my guess is for most it would have been a “no harm, no foul” sort of situation.   Maybe.   (For all I know, everyone might have been horrified.)

But to those who heard about it outside our group and did not have those sensibilities, this was an indictment of monumental proportions.   As our group had other rumored indictments (both true and false), this one just seemed to corroborate with those.  But this is the thing – I think the shock and horror factor of this story would still have been there for most people in our neighborhood even if it included the fictitious detail that the door had been locked and no females could ever had accidentally entered, and all windows were covered, and the male prayer partner had waited outside so no accusations of anything could be made.

statue-5998_640Even with all those safeguards in place, the idea that someone had prayed naked in our community prayer room would have been just as offensive in any regard; of that I’m pretty sure.  And I don’t think the offense was merely about nakedness per se – I don’t think the story would have quite been the same if the story had been that this individual had been walking to the prayer room in the rain and got absolutely drenched, and for some reason couldn’t change in the restroom but asked his prayer partner to wait outside and guard the door while he quickly changed into dry clothes he had in his knapsack and then they went on to spend the rest of the night, fully clothed, praying the way they would be expected to do.

Now, there are all sorts of reasons for this.   I’m not going to dissect all of them, nor seek to justify nor condemn what my friend did.  But there is one specific aspect of this that I want to talk about, and it has to do with the messy confluence of a “Civilized God” with a “Natural God” construct.

What do I mean by a “Civilized God?”   When people form communities, and set apart buildings (such as our prayer room) for the worship of God, and have agreed upon procedures for worshipping that God, they are to some degree or another embracing a Civilized God.  Screenshot 2016-02-01 at 5.44.08 AMThat is to say, they believe that God receives and desires to be worshipped in the context of the social phenomenon we call civilization with all that it entails, and that He is happy to be in some way, a participant in the things of civilization.   What aspects of our civilized social life we outfit His worship with is debatable – but when we produce worship music with state of the art music studios and electric instruments, we have nodded to a Civilized God.  If the music is done with a carefully practiced choir, wearing choir robes, we sing that song to a Civilized God.   When we read the book of Revelation and see things like angels that write (invented by civilization) on scrolls (again, civilization) and play harps (civilization yet again) and blow trumpets (yep – civilization), we may be so civilized ourselves that we don’t even notice the interjection of the human inventions of civilization (don’t forget swords, horsemanship, herbal medicine, and thrones) into the allegorical description of the spiritual realm, but again, we’ve embraced a very Civilized Kingdom of God.   Revelation in fact culminates with the arrival of an amazing – wait for it – CITY. And nothing says civilization better than C.I.T.Y., even if it is a city of God.

the-substance-990771_640But that’s not the only view that people have of God – there is also the “Natural God” mindset.   After all, my friend had some instinct from somewhere, that to really have nothing between him and God, he needed to get all the vestiges of civilization off of his person – which of course, meant his clothing. He’s not alone – many, many people have sought God by heading to the wilderness, or a high mountain somewhere, so it could be just them and God away from any and all signs of humanity and its designs.

Screenshot 2016-02-01 at 5.51.26 AMAdam and Eve seemed to be this way – the closest they got to being civilized was taming a garden.    Moses at some point in his life was one of these folks – He met God on a high mountain and had communion with a very uncivilized, Natural God meeting, in the form of a burning bush.   John the Baptist, filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb, also had a thing going with the Wild and Natural understanding of God, wearing camel skins and eating wild stuff and living far away from the temple worship of his father’s house – instead making the great outdoors his temple.

So you see, when my friend got naked in a prayer room, he was putting two things together that normally just don’t really belong together – the raw, natural, “nothing-but-a-man-and-his-God” sort of worship, mixed with the civilized, industrious, “a community of people got together” and pooled their resources to do something which will be a place in a town for townspeople to meet with God together.

And which God is God, really?

The Bible paints a picture of….
cairn-678422_640– A God who prohibits the use of tools in building him an altar – prefering instead a pile of wild rocks.
– A God who mixed up human languages because the people tried to use their know-how and social organizations to get closer to him
– A God who tells the man who wants to build him a temple, “Heaven is my throne, and Earth is my footstool….where is the house you would build for me?”
– A God who tells a man he is talking to to “take off your shoes….”
– A God who said that people who would consecrate themselves to Him must leave their hair to grow without styling or cutting it, and who may not eat grapes (a heavily cultivated crop.)
– A God who tells a man to lay on his side, outside, for a year, and eat food cooked over animal dung.
– A God who drives people like John the Baptist, Jesus, and Philip out into the wilderness.
– A God who overcomes a king with His Spirit, which leaves him laying naked in a ditch, prophesying.
– A God who is worshiped by a man who takes off everything but an ephod (and no one really knows what an ephod is, so I could imagine it is hardly worth mentioning) and dances wildly before Him.
– A God who does “not accept praise from man.”
dandelion-411756_640– A God who considers a babbling baby’s vocalizations to be “perfect praise.”

– A God whose express image, his very Son, had, “nowhere to lay his head.”
– A God whose Son went to a mountainside regularly to pray.
– A God who desired His Sacrifice to be made “outside the camp.”
– A God who provides for disciples who have been sent out to minister, taking nothing with themselves.
– A God whose Spirit births people of which one cannot pin down their origin or destinations, like the wind
– A God whose Son called his own body, “God’s temple.”
– A God who clothes the lilies of the field with more glory than any king ever had.
– A God of whom it was said, “The Most High does not live in houses made with human hands.”
– A God who met Paul when he conferred with no humans but spent three years in the desert of Arabia.
– A God who thinks has no regard for the fame and honor of this world, but regards as precious what the world rejects.
– A God whose Son Himself was rejected by society.
– A God who is building a “spiritual house” of people.

But, the Bible also talks about a God who is also the one who is…

jerusalem-108851_640– A God who gave the Israelites a code of laws to keep.
– A God who set up a priesthood caste with clear ritual requirements of record keeping, administration, times and dates, special foods and rites to be performed.
– A God who gave extremely specific instructions about the cloth and measurements and objects used for his tabernacle.
– A God who authorized fine craftsmanship in the building of ritual objects for his worship.
– A God who punished people like Korah who worshipped him in nonprescribed ways
– A God who spoke to kings and rulers about the events of their kingdoms, and gave them military and strategic advice on the affairs of their domains.
– A God who showed kings dreams about the rise and fall of their civilizations and others, so that the kings established mandatory worship of God in their realms.
– A God who filled an illustrious and expensive temple with His presence in honor of its ritual dedication.
– A God who was worshipped with harps and cymbals by priests working in carefully prescribed shifts.
– A God worshipped by highly structured acrostic poetry.
– A God who has angelic armies that have order and rank.
– A God that speaks metaphorically about piercing his daughters’ ears and adorning them with fine jewelry and rich linens.
– A God whose Son shows a preference at a very young age for hanging out in the temple, even calling it His Father’s house.
– A God whose Son expressed extremely strict ideas about the institution of marriage.
– A God that honors his servants in a far-off country that engage in ritualized prayer three times a day.
– A God whose Son shows some preference for Jewish nationalism, calling a Gentile woman a dog.
Screenshot 2016-02-01 at 5.54.31 AM– A God whose Son found refuge at His friend Lazarus’s house.
– A God whose Son went to the cultivated garden of Gethsemane to pray.
– A God whose Son teachings his disciples a prescriptive form of prayer, saying, “Our Father…”
– A God whose Son sings a hymn and performs a ritual passover meal, even instituting a new ritual along the way.
– A God whose Son weeps over a city, mourning that the systems and people running that city did not accept His visitation.
– A God whose Son tells his followers to hole themselves up in a room for weeks on end, practicing the discipline of prayer.
– A God whose followers came together regularly on the first day of the week.
– A God whose leaders came up with prescribed guidelines for choosing leaders, and appointed them.
– A God whose leaders issued decrees for ostracizing group members from the tribe who had disagreeable behavior.
– A God whose leaders carefully taught from written scripture truths about Him and His Son, and urged other leaders to “devote themselves to the public reading of scripture” and exhortation and teaching.

Ok.   Whew.    Where does this leave us?

Screenshot 2016-02-01 at 5.56.28 AM

We have a Natural God with no accouterments – the kind one looks for on a mountain.     We have a very Civilized God with a whole structured way of relating to him in society – the kind of God one looks for in a place like Jerusalem – where the Jews had their temple, and where the early church began.  (Yeah, I know – these two concepts play together about as well as a naked man trying to pray in a community prayer room.)

So which God will we worship, and how will we worship Him?   Will we embrace the Wild God, the unstructured, uncivilized God – or will we embrace the God of human institution, the civilized God of religion?   Will we go to the mountaintop to meet with Him or to the place of ritual and artistry and organization and form?

Where’s the living water?  What will we use to draw it up out of the well – our “natural God” tools or our “Civilized God” tools?  How will we drink?

Jesus weighs in, “Believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.   But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.  (John 4:23-24, ESV)


Is that an answer?   Not until it becomes real to you and me as we actually find out what it means for us for in our own experience, not as a doctrine or a theory about the “right” way to do things, but in the desperate try-almost-anything hardcore search to find Him and find how to relate to Him – not until it becomes a place you truly have met with and worshiped God.  And this is the important one – not until you and I, both alone and corporately, find a way to go back and get with Him over, and over and over again, does it mean much either; because let’s face it, a chance encounter with Him doesn’t mean we’ve learned how to drink that water from the well – it just means we had a happy accident.   Although I’d venture that when we start having regular, frequent, happy accidents, we’re heading in a good direction.

utah-440520_1280

But we’re looking for that stability of real communion with Him, and we can, and should…journey to the mountain, journey to the valley, go to the city, and go to the town – worship in silence, and worship with lots of noise – worship with ritual, and worship freestyle – worship with others, and worship alone – sing old songs, sing new songs, pray in tongues and pray in English, draw a picture and dance a dance and reach for Him with our focus and thoughts and hearts – or toss it all out if the only thing that’s giving you or I anything is something not even named here.  But that pursuit must be deliberate and ongoing – it must be given time, energy, and push some other things aside.  Its not a works thing, but a laying hold of the One who has laid hold of us, thing.   And if we don’t seek, we’ll almost never find.

And please, I’ve really had to learn the hard way – it’s really important sometimes to forget anything about the “right” or “wrong” way to do church.  “Natural God” complexes and “Civilization God” complexes are alive and well in our pursuit of fellowship, unfortunately – but really the main issue is Jesus.   Are you finding Him when you’re with your church?  Put your doctrines and church theories aside – your organic church ideas or your tradition ideas or your social issue concerns or Holy Mother church ideas – for Christ’s sake I beg you, put it all aside.    That stuff tripped me up for way too many years of my life, and I don’t want it to get you too.

cathedral-569340_640Despite how much that church you’re at is doing everything wrong in your eyes, are you growing in Him there, or do you at least see potential for that?  If yes, don’t let anything tear you away from there.   But if not, move on – even if the church you’re part of is doing everything “right” and it’s the kind of church you’ve always been looking for or always gone to that has the right teaching and way of doing things – you have no time for that, find Jesus for real or at least find people as intent on real communion with Him as you are, who agree with you on perhaps nothing at all other than they want to know and pursue Him too, whether in the Natural God place or the Civilized God place or neither.   The less answers any of us have, the better, really…  And find, my friend, in the midst of all that, as all of it fades away, where you’ve seen and tasted and experienced a communion with Christ, no matter whether it looked wild and natural or civilized and structured.    Find in it all, despite it all – find the One who has truly made “all things yours.”

Selah.  Amen.

(PS – I usually hyperlink everything I say referencing a Bible verse to a Bible verse program online, but no one ever clicks on those links. So, if you want to know where I pulled something from the Bible, drop me a comment and I’ll let you know.   Otherwise, on this post, it would just take hours to insert links that no one ever uses.)

 

Spirit & Soul – Addressing Misconceptions

I wrote this a long time ago in response to a discussion that was going on in a  community of Christians I was walking with.  It’s a response to a view of “spirit and soul” that is widely taught, and comes largely from the teachings of Watchman Nee, but is found often in other writings from the “deeper life” movement (or somewhat in the teachings of Andrew Wommack.) While I appreciate Watchman Nee’s contribution to the body of Christ through his teachings to a very large degree, I do think after having lived under his understanding of things for several years of my life and finding some of those teachings bearing some not-so-great fruit in my own being, that I needed to look deeper into some of the things I had been taught.  As a result, I came to some different understandings on the topic of soul and spirit than what Nee and others teach.

To begin with, I took a look at the verse that seems to be mentioned most often in conversations on this topic, which is this one:

 “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. ” (Hebrews 4:12 NAS)

Screenshot 2016-01-27 at 7.08.58 AM
This shows how Hebrews 4:12 is generally interpreted.

This verse is often thought of, and quoted as saying, that the Word divides BETWEEN soul and spirit. Those who hold to this type of interpretation often suggest that a person can be moved either by their “soul” or their “spirit,” and that the Word of God somehow sets a believer free from being “in his soul” (referred to in shorthand as “being soulish”), to instead be “in his spirit.”  In this line of teaching, that which occurs or originates from within the “soul,” is thought to be insubstantial and unspiritual; and that which originates from or occurs within the “spirit” of a believer, is believed to be righteous and pure, of God, in concert with His true nature and will, and inspired by the Holy Spirit.

I believe that if these ideas are taken as an entire package, that they amount to an erroneous and cumbersome teaching, because this teaching fails to recognize the essential and rightful role of the soul in our ability to experience and access what flows through our spirits, and it puts a yoke on believers’ necks to perform some imaginary feat of placing their soul on the back burner while their spirit takes dominion over it.  In some cases too, this teaching also contributes to the belief among intellectual theological type people, that that which is emotional (again, “soulish”) is inconsequential and even dangerous to one’s spiritual walk with God. (I’m not saying anyone should base their spiritual life on emotions, either, but when you’re done reading about the spirit/soul topic and want to take it deeper, I’ve been writing about the role of emotions in our relationship with God over here.)

So how do I personally believe this verse (Hebrews 4:12) should be interpreted?
The first clue to me that perhaps the usual interpretation is not correct, is that in no other place in scripture do we find any apostle warning us that it is terribly important to “walk in the spirit, and not in the soul.”  I mean, there’s just no emphasis on anything like this anywhere in any verse in all of the New Testament.  Instead of drawing a dichotomy between being soulish and being spiritual, the epistles of Paul instead emphasize the difference between being “in the flesh” and “in the Spirit.”

The second clue for me is that in the line about the “division of soul and spirit,” there is usually no mention of the word “between.” This is important, because often the verse is quoted and interpreted as saying “piercing as far as the division BETWEEN soul and spirit,” but very few Bible translations actually use the word BETWEEN. For your perusal, here is a list of translations with the way they translate the phrase – and notice that while “between” and other synonyms are occasionally used, most translations don’t indicate such a word is in the verse.

First, versions that don’t say “between” –

New International Version
even to dividing soul and spirit

English Standard Version
to the division of soul and of spirit

Berean Study Bible
even to dividing soul and spirit

Berean Literal Bible
even as far as the division of soul and spirit

New American Standard Bible
as far as the division of soul and spirit

King James Bible
even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit

International Standard Version
until it divides soul and spirit

New American Standard 1977
and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit

Jubilee Bible 2000
even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit

King James 2000 Bible
even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit

American King James Version
even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit

Webster’s Bible Translation
even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit

World English Bible
even to the dividing of soul and spirit

Here are some Bible versions that do use “between” or some similar word.

New Living Translation 
cutting between soul and spirit

NET Bible
even to the point of dividing soul from spirit

Holman Christian Standard Bible
as far as the separation of soul and spirit

Aramaic Bible in Plain English
it pierces to the separation of soul and spirit

GOD’S WORD® Translation
cuts as deep as the place where soul and spirit meet

Weymouth New Testament
even to the severance of soul from spirit, and penetrates between the joints and the marrow

Here are some versions that seem to subtly agree with what I’m going to argue in the next few paragraphs is more correctly indicated:

Young’s Literal Translation
piercing unto the dividing asunder both of soul and spirit, of joints also and marrow

American Standard Version
piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow

Douay-Rheims Bible
reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit, of the joints also and the marrow

Darby Bible Translation
penetrating to [the] division of soul and spirit, both of joints and marrow

English Revised Version
even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow

Now, in and of itself this absence of “between” certainly doesn’t prove what the verse does or doesn’t mean, especially since some versions actually do translate “between” or some similar sense into the verse, but being infrequently used it did seem worth a better look; especially since my premise is that I don’t think it actually belongs there anyway (more on why, as we continue.)

So, the next question to explore is – what sort of word is sitting there in the Greek text that indicates what type of “division” soul and spirit are subjected to by the Word?  It turns out that the word “division” here in the Greek is the word *merismos* (μερισμός).

Merismos (μερισμός) is defined by Strongs as meaning, “a division, partition, or separation.” There is only one other scripture (quoted below) where this exact word is used, and in that particular verse, *merismos* or division, is demonstrated to be occuring WITHIN a spirit – within, in fact, the Holy Spirit – as opposed to division occuring between the Holy Spirit and some other thing:

Hebrews 2:4 reads:
“…God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts [and the word “gifts” in this verse is the word we are researching which is “merismos”, aka, “partitions/divisions”] of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.”

So why not then approach our original verse in question, from two chapters later in Hebrews, the same book of the Bible, in the same way?  Since it is clear that a “spirit” can be divided, then maybe it is reasonable to consider that Hebrews 4:12 is not suggesting that the Word of God divides BETWEEN soul and spirit, but rather that it beneficially creates a division within the soul of a person in some way, and similarly also divides and provides distinctions or divisions within the spirit of a person?

Screenshot 2016-01-27 at 3.12.08 AM
“dividing  [partioning] the soul, and the spirit…”

If this is indeed what the Word does, could it not be described or worded by saying that what would then be occurring here is the “DIVISION OF SOUL AND SPIRIT,” just as most Bible translations word it?

But traditionally, because “soul and spirit” are listed as a pair, we normally have the default assumption that the sword is dividing up the pair, and separating the soul from the spirit in some sense.  Remember however, that the word “between” isn’t found in there at all.  But furthermore, this interpretation of division BETWEEN the soul and the spirit really doesn’t make sense when applied to the remainder of the verse.

Take for instance the next phrase in question, which reads: “of both joints and marrow.” For years I read over this verse and thought it was saying “bone and marrow” but actually it doesn’t say that; it says “joints” and marrow.

2573103_2e2dae35They are both parts of the skeletal system to be sure, but marrow and joints aren’t really a logical intertwined pair that could be divided, like one might think of dividing marrow from a bone. In fact, it would be much like saying that the Word of God divides the tree sap from the acorns…. sure, tree sap and acorns are somewhat connected, but they are not really a complimentary pair that could or would require separation, whereas in contrast, tree sap and a tree trunk would be a suitable example of a logical pair that could be “divided.”.

But the real explanation of this verse seems to be found in the final phrase,which contains one more “pair” of things that are divided, in the idea that the sharp sword “judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Here is where the type of “division” that I (and others) am proposing as what this verse describes seems to be revealed as the most reasonable – for why would we suppose that the division would occur BETWEEN the thoughts and intentions of the heart, as if the thoughts need to be somehow separated from the intentions.  Does it not seem much more harmonious with the rest of scripture and even your own spiritual walk, to understand that this verse is saying the Word of God divides – aka, judges – both the thoughts AND the intentions of your heart?

And isn’t this what the Word of God does? It helps us understand which of our thoughts are of God, and which of our thoughts are not of God? And doesn’t it similarly help us discern …or judge…. or divide…. which of our intentions align with God, and which of our intentions are not aligned with God?

But aside from all this, there is more contained here in this verse I think to help us truly understand what the soul and spirit of a person are, and how they form what and who we are.  I believe that the actual literary style of this verse is meant to draw a parallel between the three pairs I just explored, and that they correspond to and help explain one another.  The three pairs are:

Screenshot 2016-01-27 at 3.31.14 AM

1) soul and spirit    2) joints and marrow    3) thoughts and intentions.

If you line them up like this, it is at least highly conceivable that these three are all somewhat congruent, things which are either all the same thing or at least which correspond to one another pair by pair, and as I’ll continue to discuss, they seem to match up quite nicely.  So, if these three are taken as corresponding pairs, then we could conceptualize that in this verse, going across you get that “soul = joints = thoughts”, AND that “spirit = marrow = intentions.”

Now, what on earth does the author of Hebrews mean by corresponding the “soul” with the idea of a “joint?”  Here are my thoughts on that.  Adam was created from the Earth.   He was a lifeless sculpture, a mere body, until in Genesis 2:7 reads that God breathed His breath (hebrew: neshamah, spirit) into Adam.  When this happened, the rest of Gen 2:7 says that “Adam became a living SOUL.”  From this we see that a body, plus a spirit, equals a soul. 

Screenshot 2016-01-27 at 4.48.29 AM

 

The soul is essentially what forms as your physical being (your brain and your nervous system and hormones, which all affect how you think and who you are) come together and intersect with your living spirit (which comes from God and returns to God.)   This then is the mystery as to why Hebrews 4:12 parallels the word “soul” with the word “joints,” because a joint is the result of the coming together of two things.

(For my scientifically inclined friends: It is important to note that this is not a truly biological description of how life works, but it is a metaphysical description of our physiology as beings which have both a physical and spiritual existence.  And I might write a blog post to delve into that more at some point!)

head-70186_960_720The word “soul” in Greek is the word “psuche,” from where we get the English words “psyche” and “psychology.”   It pertains to your awareness, your consciousness – with all your thoughts and emotions and perceptions as a self-aware living being.  In a word, your soul is basically “you.”   The word soul in some verses can only legitimately be translated as your “life” – your existence.

As Descartes once famously described “the soul” when he said, “I think, therefore I am,” and similarly the writer of proverbs wrote, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” – the soul is Biblical term for the experience of being a person, of having thought, of having feelings, being aware of and participating in your own existence, of being a living being.  The scripture in fact makes mention of God Himself having a “soul” – and since we know that nothing evil dwells in God, it therefore stands to reason that the soul is neither inherently unspiritual, (since God Himself IS Spirit) or even a merely fleshy thing.

It IS true that it is the faculty of a human’s spirit which is most directly in union with God’s Spirit; and it is true that it is the human spirit which most directly receives from and communes with the Holy Spirit.  But it is the SOUL – your mind, your self awareness, your heart – where you and I become aware of what is occuring in our spirits.  You cannot readily perceive anything of your own spirit without doing so through your soul, because your soul is your life, your self, your thoughts!  And there is verse after verse which confirms this – take for example the verses in Romans which speak of the “mind” (which is an aspect of the soul) being either “on the spirit” or “on the flesh.”

The soul is the gatekeeper: this is why it is impossible to realistically speak about someone being “in their soul rather than in their spirit” – because the soul is simply the place where either the flesh or the spirit is being expressed.  Either one takes place through the soul.

As long as we are alive in a body, our souls become a fulcrum, because they are able to focus on input coming from both the flesh (body), and from the spirit (which can also be joined to Christ’s spirit through believing in Him.)   The more one focuses on what the flesh is experiencing and wants, the more the soul is flooded with feelings, thoughts, and emotions based on the flesh.   And the more one focuses on what the spirit is experiencing and wants, the more the soul is flooded with feelings, thoughts, and emotions based on the spirit.

spiritual-1141681_1280So then, if our soul is our mind and feelings and self-awareness, what then do we experience our spirit as?  The Spirit, as the deepest God given life and breath within us, refers to the deepest part of our being, and this parallels marrow because marrow is the innermost part of the bone, and is then also corresponded to our intentions, which are the innermost part of the counsel of our hearts.  Our intentions are the aspect of our hearts where, if we have received Christ into our innermost beings (hearts), God is at work to cause us then to “will and to do according to His good pleasure.”

In people who have not received Jesus into their spirits, input from the spirit is limited to earth-bound spiritual realities.    Thus, people who are attuned to their spirits without Christ may still be acutely aware of their own life energy which God gave them in His breath, and they may use their spirits to connect to the general energy of life surrounding the creation, or in more spiritually developed individuals, they may be able to perceive other peoples’ souls and spirits, and encounter angels or in some cases demons.   Everyone has some limited spiritual awareness even if they do not know what it is that they are perceiving.

angel-1099908_640In general, advanced spiritual abilities were not meant to be used apart from the safety and power of a vibrant spiritual connection to God afforded by imbibing Christ’s Spirit into our Spirits, and have been forbidden as witchcraft.   When Christ is indwelling, spiritual abilities are meant to be developed almost exclusively as an outgrowth of intimacy with Him and His indwelling power within us.

One’s soul can be sensitized to spiritual input of the wrong type and care must be taken to cultivate sensitivity to God’s Spirit first and foremost – which tends to grow along with the soul growing in sensitivity to the love of God and the soul growing in its love for God. Love (and other emotions that are various shades of love) become a bond that connects our existential awareness to the Spirit of Christ and God in our own spirits, and which makes us more and more fixated on our spirits in the right way, thus subduing sinful inclinations coming from our flesh.

Intentions and emotions that originate in our spirit eventually make their way to our souls; and so our souls, if tuned to the Spirit, can be incredibly powerful instruments for the Lord’s use. On the flip side, our souls can be ensnared with input from the flesh, whether natural desires like hunger, or sinful desires like self-righteousness.  The goal then is to see the spirit triumph over the flesh in the war for the soul’s attention – but once again, notice the issue isn’t soul vs. spirit, but rather flesh-oriented soul vs. spirit-oriented soul.

Screenshot 2016-01-28 at 6.52.39 PM

 Now, it should be stated that the flesh in and of itself is not bad – we need to care for our flesh and “nourish and cherish it” as Paul says.   But our flesh is not hooked up to God’s Spirit the way that our spirits are, so we need to make sure we learn to drink from His Spirit via our spirits so that our flesh’s needs and wants don’t dominate us more than His do.  What’s best for our soul is best for our flesh as well – because as we learn to walk by and receive from the Spirit in our spirit, our flesh receives good things from the Spirit as well.

If God’s Spirit within our spirit is given dominion in the soul, then the soul will carry out the Spirit’s desires and enslave the flesh to its whims.  But if you, or rather, your soul gives the flesh provision to dominate attention over the spirit, then the soul (you) will carry out the flesh’s desires and enslave the soul AND spirit to its whims, until the spirit is strengthened by the wooing of God’s Spirit within with grace, love, and power, to set the soul (you) free from the deception of sin to repent and choose agreement with the Spirit once again.    When our hearts are single upon Christ, our flesh is “reckoned dead” by an attitude informed by the Word, we give no place to the enemy, and then all of our thoughts and emotions – whether in our souls or in our spirits – are in tune with and proceeding from cooperation with the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 4:12 then is basically saying that the Word of God goes deep within us and reveals everything, from the shallowest to even to the deepest parts of every faculty of our being. It divides up our soul, showing us whether the various aspects of our soul (our mind, our emotions) are loving our flesh or loving God. And it divides up our spirit, showing us at what points our spirit is moving in harmony with His spirit, or contrary to Him.  This is why another verse talks about keeping our spirits blameless – our spirits have been joined to the Lord “as one spirit with Him,” sort of like a marriage.   IF our souls – our minds and emotions – tune into the Lord’s spirit in our spirit, the fulcrum of our souls allows the presence and substance of Christ to flow across it as a bridge and flood even our flesh with His glory and love and power.   But it works the other way – if we tune into the sinful inclinations of the flesh, those types of thoughts and desires flood across the fulcrom of our souls and quench, subdue, and inundate our spirits with opaque earthly input that blots out the light of Christ’s Spirit shining in our spirits, and taints our spirit with the dust of this realm.

sunset-691848_1280So the point here is that it is not really all that important to know whether or not what you are “feeling” at any given time is occuring in your spirit or soul.  We don’t need to go around doing some sort of internal gymnastics to figure out if we’re operating out of our soul or or spirit; but we do need to be pierced and divided by the Word of truth so that in every area of our being, whether spirit, soul, or body, that all three are blameless (aka, working in conjunction with God’s will and for His glory by functioning in cooperation with HIS Spirit. )  If you embrace and connect with an awareness of the Holy Spirit within you, your soul is latching onto the Spirit within your Spirit and things are heading in the right direction.
Via our souls, we can either walk with God’s Spirit (like a harmonious marriage) or start to turn our spirits away from Him (thus grieving Him – like a disharmonious marriage.) Our spirits are permanently joined with Him – but when we have allowed via our soul for our spirits to become tainted by our flesh, we may sense that defilement the more we then turn our attention to Christ in our Spirit.  It is important to keep our spirit blameless before Him by receiving His Word into us which is able to separate, cleanse, and wash us from all unrighteousness as we receive and yield to it, and finding where to be agreeing with that Word as we confess our sins to Him.

So there you have it – my thoughts on this subject.  It makes no sense to “stop being soulish” in our efforts to be spiritual, as everything spiritual about us only is accessible to us in our souls.  But if we are truly spiritual, our souls will be places of His glory every bit as much as our spirits or our bodies, and there is no reason to disregard our souls as somehow unspiritual, for they work in complete cooperation with our spirits when we seek to walk in the Spirit.

Jesus never condemned the “soul” as being inferior to the Spirit, as many often teach.  What He did teach is that if we seek to find our life (the Greek word is for life in this verse is also the word psuche / SOUL), we will lose it, but if we seek to lose our souls, we will find them. Somehow I think we get wrapped up in the part about losing our life (souls), but the reality is that as we give our life (souls) over to Christ, we FIND them.  And this is a good thing!  He WANTS us to find our life (souls) in Him!  We are commanded to “love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”   Some of those areas are the domain of the Spirit; and some are the domain of the soul, and some pertain to your body: regardless, we are to LOVE the Lord with every facet of our being.

People thoroughout scripture are recorded as pouring out their “souls” before the Lord in prayer; they were not criticized for praying soulishly or emotionally.  And many of us experience physical manifestations when we are praying; and many of us experience emotions and visions and ideas and all sorts of things that would normally be thought of as belonging to the body or the soul, rather than the Spirit.  But the fact is that the Spirit of God tends to want ALL of us; His aim is to have every part of us for His use!

Post Script:
Many times people preach that the soul is the realm of emotions, and that the spirit is something else. The soul and the spirit both can have “feelings” of one sort or another.  But the fact is, that scripture is FILLED with examples of people and even the Lord Himself having emotional type things in their spirit, although the emotions of the Spirit feel and are different than emotions that are the normal workings of the soul, even though they all flood into the soul in order to be perceived. Feelings are not inherently unspiritual or insignificant; neither are they necessarily spiritual or significant.  A few verses about emotions in our spirit:

1 Sam 1:15:

And Hannah answered and said, “No, my lord, I am a woman of

sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink,

but have poured out my soul before the LORD.”

Job 7:11:

“Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish

of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”

Luke 1:46-47:

And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has

rejoiced in God my Savior.

My Theory on Life After Death (part 1)

221996093_63f7dc8a50_oIt’s been over a year and a half since my mother died.   I’ve definitely moved on to a different stage of grief than I was during the first few months after her death – but as two friends mine have just lost loved ones, and another friend at lunch asked me at point blank range, “Do you believe in an afterlife?” I think the topic is still very much on the table.   So let’s talk about life after death.

First of all, there are a LOT of different viewpoints out there in Christendom about what the afterlife holds.   Debates rage about whether or not there is a hell, for instance, and who would or wouldn’t go there.   I’m not even going to talk about any of that in this post – sticking at least for this discussion to the side of the afterlife that would be termed Biblically, “Eternal Life.”

But even there, you don’t have to look far to see controversy.   Some people hold firmly to the adage, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”   Others consider that a wrong concept and believe that people who have died are “asleep,” waiting for a physical, bodily resurrection where their Earthly body will get up from its actual gravesite and be changed into something more enduring.    Others believe in hybrid scenarios, which involve immediately going to be with the Lord and also being resurrected at a later date, and there are other renditions in the hybrid category besides that, but I’m not going to field all of that, (even though it might make a great blog post sometime.)

Instead, I’m just going to talk about what helped me get through my mom’s death, and what helps me sleep at night knowing the horrifying reality that any person (including me) at any time, could die at any moment.   Death is pretty dern scary to me, I’ll admit, probably more so because of the depths to which my analytical sciencey side has compelled me to consider it – and in the week after my mom’s cremains were handed to me for burial, I barely got any sleep without waking up shaking all over in abject terror.    (I’m better now, but thanks for the concern.)

Of course, the existential fear of dying is a very self-centered thing, and on the other side of that is the mourning associated with losing someone you love.  That’s an altogether difference side of the ugly death coin.   My friend who inspired this post asked if I knew any really good books about people who have visited Heaven and came back to talk about it because she wanted to know what her loved one was experiencing.   After my mom died, I watched the movie, “Heaven is For Real” and admit that I found it mildly comforting, even though I am always a bit skeptical about the reliability of such accounts.   Nevertheless, I’m not going to go into why – in the first few months after losing a loved one, reach for whatever is helpful for your own grieving process.

Nevertheless, there are a few thoughts I want to share that I personally find helpful.   My friend Rob just lost his brother and told me a couple days ago that he was walking through a park, looking at a beautiful sunset, and broke down crying as he considered that his brother can no longer see this beautiful sight.   I reminded him that we know everything that is beautiful in this material realm is only a shadow, a hint, of what real beauty in the Heavenly places actually is like – and that his brother may be walking through whatever the heavenly fulfillment of the human concept of a “park” is in God’s realm, looking at a sight more beautiful than anything any of us have ever seen, and thinking, “Wow, I am so excited to get to share this view with Rob when his time on Earth is finished.”

sunhandBut I have to admit – there’s so much I don’t understand about life after death.   There are a few things that hold me together.   At my mom’s funeral, some friends asked if they could sing some worship songs and so I thought about what I would want sung – the song I ended up having them sing was Jason Upton’s “In Your Presence.”    That’s because there’s one thing I know about God – nothing and no one is out of the reach of His Presence.

Psalm 139:8 says,
If I ascend to heaven, You [God] are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol
[translated sometimes as “the grave,” sometimes as “hell”],
You are there!”  

I knew that while I had no way to really be with my mom anymore, that God’s presence was wherever she was – and that His presence was with me as well.   And thus, His Presence was the one ‘thing’ still tangible to me in this world that was connecting her and I together.

Other verses that really helped me were this one:

“And Jesus said to them, ‘….they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.”  

(Luke 20:34-36)

So, along these lines, my thoughts tend to go in one of two directions, that sort of lead back to the same place.   The one stream of thought is all about how these verses all are about relationship – and how it’s not some abstract, “afterlife” where it’s just about a soul departing a body in some sense and going…somewhere.   Rather, almost every verse I can think of about life after death involves some sort of relationship to God Himself.   And ultimately, that’s where my fearful hopes tend to come to rest.

Screenshot 2016-01-05 at 1.08.16 AMWhen the thief who was crucified next to Jesus on the cross said, “Lord, remember me, when you come into Your Kingdom” and Jesus promised to meet him in paradise that very day – the hope is in relationship.

When Jesus showed up at Lazarus’s tomb and cried because his friends were crying – and then raised his friend up from the dead – his tears and his voice ringing in Lazarus’s dead /then/ no longer dead ears – his tears and voice speak of relationship.

And when I think of the Christian picture of joining with Christ in His death and resurrection: going with Christ down into the waters of baptism, and being risen up again with Him out of the water – I think of the intimacy accorded of that shared and unifying experience with Him – and thus, relationship.

My science mind asks the other of the two directions of thought, “How can the dead be conscious and alive when their brains are irrevocably and completely damaged and dead?   How could brainless consciousness work?”   After all, if someone gets in a car accident and part of their brain is damaged, they will be severely hampered in their ability to think and function as they had before.   And death is unfortunately, essentially, “total brain damage.”

A friend once wisely reminded me that God thinks without having a physical brain- and speaks to me without a physical mouth – and having experienced hearing His voice and known a few of His thoughts I think my friend is on to something.  I can consider God’s nonphysical ability to exist in the whole “ergo cogito sum – I think, therefore I am” dimension of things.   I can’t begin to say how, but I can admit that He is and does.

2000px-Elementary_particle_interactions.svgUnlike material organisms that need to take in chemical energy from physical food to have energy and processes happening in a nervous system, God is Spirit – and thus it is not a stretch to assume He functions as a being by some other means that physical matter and energy beings like us.  Spirit is not matter nor energy – spirit is something not that does not seem to be included in this universe’s physics – in fact, if any of my atheist friends read this, they’ll probably call me out for making an unproven assertion and consider the very concept of “Spirit” to be mythical.

But if you’ve encountered the Lord’s Spirit via your spirit, then the concept that God is Spirit will not seem strange to you. So the most I can guess at with my tiny understanding of God’s hypothesized Spirit ‘biology’ is that we can roughly say that His self-existent nature would mean He exists of His own self-existent means.  This has a huge bearing on what “eternal life” then might be.

The ‘energy’ that powers God’s life is generally considered to be God Himself – there’s a generally understood belief that He is self-sufficient for self-animated existence, eternally. This undying power or life force that consists of His own being powering His own being eternally, also goes by another more recognizable term in the Bible -life, or “eternal life.”  (Gene Edwards in one of his better books talks about this.)

 I would venture that “Spirit” is comparable to a pattern, an informatic – except in God’s case, His Spirit is comprised of a self-sustaining, living pattern.   But what about you, me, or any of our loved ones?  As I think about it – all it would take really for me or anyone else to go on existing and thinking without a physical body – is for God to remember me – just like the guy on the cross asked Jesus to do for Him.  Our own Spirits may not contain the self-sustaining power that God’s does, but that is where Jesus comes into the picture as the bridge – the imparter – of God’s life force to us.

Screenshot 2016-01-05 at 1.05.02 AMIf my thought patterns are preserved in His memory somewhere – or if a my “spirit” contains that pattern and then just goes to Him – He can definitely work with that.  He can reboot me.  He can run that data in His already-living program of His own substance.   In short, He can share His own life-force: the eternal, undying, sustaining Being that He is, with my pattern – my Spirit.   IN fact, the promise for us who have believed in Him is that we have already been joined to His essence – His eternal life – within our own beings, and thus we cannot die.   Him in us (the power of life) and we in Him (our pattern – our minds and beings) results in our existence being settled by being one – in relationship, with Him.

And so – I wonder – is life after death really a matter of living IN, and BY Him?  If it is, we’re right back at the place of intimacy – connection – relationship – as the operative element in obtaining “resurrection” and life after death.  In the book of Revelation at the end of the Bible – instead of the light of the sun we have the Lamb’s light – instead of energy derived from chemical reactions from food we have God as our energy source, our life – which is what Jesus said we could receive from participating in His own being.  He called this partaking of His flesh and blood.

Animating and Energizing our own inner Spirit beings – both while we are here in physical bodies, and then once we no longer have a living physical body – is it really just all about connection with Him in the most profound, interconnected, integrated, Spirit to spirit and heart to heart sort of way?   What does it mean for the faith to be made sight, anyway – unless everything we experience as beings becomes completely summed up in knowing Him in the most tangible, everything-is-part-of-Him, sort of way?

walking_on_water1These are the ideas that keep this sciency charismatic gal in a place of hope despite the impending reality that my complete physical reality will one day be destroyed – and the hope is that when that occurs,  death will be defeated in each of our lives by Jesus’s power.  Even though I admit I still wrestle with fear at times, my hope is that in relationship with Jesus the Son of God, He  who Is Immortal Himself will cloth Me with His own immortality.   And also you.  And anyone else who looks to Him as the way, the truth, and the Life.

After all, if you’ve entrusted yourself to Christ – you’re already dead in some sense, and the real living-forever part of you is already on deposit with Him.

“Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.…”  (Colossians 3:2-3)

 

The never-end.

Amen.

 

 

Non-historical Adam and Eve, and original sin

I got in an unplanned discussion with a friend today about Adam and Eve and not taking Genesis 1 and 2 literally.   I’ve written about my views on that before but there are some rubber-meets-the-road questions about how the gospel segues with that viewpoint, that I am asked pretty routinely.   The difference is that today I took the time to write out some replies, which I thought I would share here.

My friend asked the million dollar question (or posed the million dollar objection, whichever 🙂 ) which was:

When you remove the idea that there was a literal Adam and Eve from the picture, you set up a scenario that says Original Sin does not actually exist. In other words if there were other human beings who had been born before the Fall, then there’s still a race out there that hasn’t fallen potentially and therefore does not need a savior?”  

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My first reply to my friend was thus:

“This is somewhat off the main topic of what you are bringing up, but just for the record: “original sin” is a term that is somewhat modern compared to antiquity, and postdates the break of the eastern church from Catholicism – the entire Eastern Orthodox church doesn’t believe in “original sin” but something called “ancestral sin” which is a somewhat different spin on the topic – not particularly relevant to a discussion of whether or not Adam and Eve are the first humans, but worth mentioning nonetheless. (http://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/articles/ancestral_versus_original_sin)

Since that has next to nothing to do with the main discussion here but is offered just as an informative freebee, I just thought I’d throw it out there, hit send, and then reply to what you’re actually writing about.   I’m not mentioning this because I believe in the Eastern Orthodox perspective per se, but simply to point out that there are a lot of unexamined ideas that we inherit as Christians about something even as seemingly straightforward as our belief in “original sin” which turns out to be not so straightforward as we’d like it to be, after all.  ”

Then I hit send, and wrote my next post, the one that everyone wants to dig into anyway: 

I personally don’t believe that removing a literal Adam and Eve from the picture sets up a scenario that original sin doesn’t not actually exist, at least, not in a way that would deny the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice – because I think the Adam and Eve story is parable, it’s meaning is to reveal truth – truth about Gods reasons for sending His son. Just as like 2 chapters later in Genesis we read stuff like, “Jubal was the father of all who play the pipe” and “Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock” I don’t take to means that anyone who ever played the pipe, or lived in a tent and has livestock, is literally the descendants of one of these two guys (and why? because when the [literal,  proportedly worldwide]  flood came, everyone would have been wiped out except Noah’s descendants, and unless Noah was descended from all three guys…this isn’t talking about NATURAL descent, but spiritual descent. )

If we’re going to interpret scripture with scripture, then we need to look about how scripture interprets what it means to be “the father” or “the mother” of someone – and if two chapters after Adam and Eve, we see scripture speaking metaphorically about what it means to be someone’s descendent, that should give us something to chew on. Sin is transmitted through spiritual descent, just as righteousness is transmitted through spiritual descent. Sin resides in the flesh, but so also can righteousness reside in the flesh (the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.) Just as in Christ, “all are made alive” through yes, “one man” – one is not a physical descendant of Christ in order to inherit His righteousness. Neither does one have to be a literally physical descendant of the “one man Adam” to inherit his spiritual unrighteousness. This is one of the reasons that Jesus could rail at the pharisees and tell them that they weren’t children of Abraham when push came to shove:

John 8 38-39, ESV: “I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.” They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. “But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do.…”

Sure, they were physically literal descendants of Abraham, but what counts in the spirit realm is who one is spiritually descended from. To be a descendant of Abraham is to descend from the faith of Abraham, not from the flesh of Abraham.  Likewise, Adam *means* man, Eve means *woman*: He represents the condition of the flesh which is not choosing the tree of life (Jesus) to eat from but rather the knowledge of good and evil (earthly morality/the conscience without the Spirit of God.) – the Adam and Eve story, among other things, is revealing the condition of a human without a vital connection by the Spirit to the life of God in the Heavenlies.

So, there was my answer.   I didn’t really get into the issue of whether or not there were other people around before “Adam and Eve” although I think the age old question of “Who did Cain marry?” hints at that.   But it wasn’t important to go there, because the main idea of why it even matters is in the above material.   Of course, I find that I learn the best as I discuss my viewpoints and others viewpoints together, so feel free to add or question or tweek or say anything at all as long as it is respectful and civil, below 🙂

For more reading, I appreciated this post:
http://tamedcynic.org/do-you-have-to-believe-in-original-sin-to-be-a-christian/

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