LIVING CRUCIFIED #4: HEAVENLY BUTS

Photo by Szabu00f3 Viktor on Pexels.com

We tend to say things like: “Today was OK, but I think tomorrow is going to be really hard.” What we really think of as most important, or most powerful, we but after that ‘but.’ Leah was a saint who had a very difficult life. People considered her ugly. Her husband didn’t love her, and it didn’t seem like that would ever change. But (!) she learned to put God’s love after the but. We too, can find incredible life and grace by learning to put eternal truth after the ‘buts’ in our life.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Living Crucified Part 4

LIVING CRUCIFIED #4

Genesis 29:16-35

In order to really grab hold of the riches that we have in Jesus Christ, we need to start talking about your buts. We all have buts in life. (All right, insert whatever joke you like here, and then move on). What I mean is, we all say things like this:

Things are going well now, but who knows what will happen in the future?

I know God promises to take care of me, but things aren’t going well right now.

Generally, I have a good marriage, but sometimes he drives me crazy.

I would love to read my bible more, but I just don’t have the time.

I know God has forgiven me, but I still sin, and I don’t always feel forgiven.

There is something I have noticed – we give the most power, the most credibility, to what we put after the but. What we say after the but is what we think is the dominant thing about our reality. The first thing may be some kind of factor, but what we put after the but is more or less the final word on the subject.

What we need to learn, is to put what God says after the but.  You might say, we need “heavenly buts.” [Sorry if that term brought you’re here on an different kind of internet search, but since you’re here, why not keep reading?] Putting God’s word after the but is an act of will, but before that even, it is an act of faith. Much of what we are talking about in this sermon series will not make sense until you agree, as an act of faith, to put God’s Word after the but.

I want us to look at the life of someone in the Bible who learned to do this. She is one of the least known, least talked-about heroines of faith in the Bible. Her name is Leah. Leah was the  daughter of a man named Laban. Her story picks up in Genesis chapter 29. One day their cousin Jacob, whom they had never met, came from a far country. Jacob ended up working for his uncle Laban (Leah’s father). Laban asked Jacob how he should be paid for his work. At this point, the scripture says something about the two young women:

17 Leah's eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. (Genesis 29:17, ESV)

We don’t know exactly what it means when it says Leah had “weak eyes.” It seems to be a somewhat unique expression. It might even mean she was hard to look at, sort of the opposite of “she’s easy on the eyes.” In any case, we are given a comparison so that the point is very clear: Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. Whatever Leah was, it was not beautiful. Did you notice the “but” there? What a powerful but! “My sister has a beautiful face and figure, but I have weak eyes.” It was probably one of the dominant “buts” in Leah’s life.

This isn’t a fairy tale, or a animated show about ogres. Jacob fell in love with the beautiful one, not the ugly one. That’s generally the way the world works. So, he told his uncle he would work for seven years as a dowry in order to marry Rachel, (the beautiful sister) and Laban agreed. 

Only, when the time came, Laban tricked Jacob.  Brides in those days were heavily veiled, and the wedding took place at night – and there was no electricity. And (let’s be honest) there was drinking.  So Laban gave his older daughter, Leah, in marriage to Jacob, and Jacob didn’t find out until the light of the next morning. Jacob was understandably angry and disappointed. Laban, the father of the women, made some excuse about how there was a custom that the older daughter had to be married first, before a younger sister could get married. Then he said:

27 “But wait until the bridal week is over; then we’ll give you Rachel, too—provided you promise to work another seven years for me.”
28 So Jacob agreed to work seven more years. A week after Jacob had married Leah, Laban gave him Rachel, too. (Genesis 29:26-28, NLT)

Now, think about this. Suppose Laban was not lying about the custom. What did this imply? That no one else had wanted to marry Leah. She was so unattractive that her father had to trick someone into marrying her. Obviously, her father did not expect that anyone ever would ask to marry her. Leah almost certainly knew all of this. It says she was ugly, not stupid. So she had to live with that knowledge. Not only that, but she got to be the bride for only one week before her husband married her beautiful sister, the one he had always wanted in the first place.

Naturally, Jacob favored Rachel. He loved her, not Leah. Leah’s only consolation was that she had children fairly easily, while Rachel went for a long time with none. When Leah’s first son (Reuben) was born, she said, “The Lord has seen my affliction; surely my husband will love me now (Genesis 29:32).” Notice that her focus was on her unhappy situation, and she hopes the fact that she bore him the first child will change it. Applying this to the concepts we have been talking about, Leah was focused on things “below the line,” in the seen, temporary realm.

When her second son (Simeon) came along she said, “The Lord heard I was unloved, and gave me this son also (Genesis 29:33).” Still, her dominant reality is that Jacob doesn’t love her. After her third son was born, she was still focused on her struggles, saying, “at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons (Genesis 29:34).”

Now we know that it takes nine months to make a baby. There was no birth control in those days, but in general, when a woman is breastfeeding, that sometimes helps prevent pregnancy. Back in those days, children were probably breastfed pretty consistently for at least a year. So it is reasonable to assume at least two years between each child. When you throw in the fact that Jacob had another wife, and everything that was involved in the family dynamics, it may have been more like three years, or even more between children. So Leah went at least six years, and maybe as long as ten or twelve, while the dominant fact in her life was that her husband did not love her.

But (notice the but) by the time her fourth son arrives, something has changed.  There is no evidence that Jacob ever changed his attitude very much toward her.  Reasonably, at least eight years might have passed by this point, perhaps as many as twelve or even more.  Say, a decade; ten long years of realizing her marriage will never be what she dreamed it might be.  But listen to what she says when this fourth son, Judah, is born: “This time, I will praise the Lord (29:35).”

Leah is no longer fixated on what she lacks in her life.  She isn’t trying to get Jacob to change anymore.  She isn’t focused on the seen, temporary world, the “below the line” reality. Instead, her focus is on the Lord, and his love and favor for her.  Her struggle had been with God and with her husband.  But when she gave birth to Judah, she has given up the fight – in a positive way.  Her troubles have led her to a place where she looks to God to meet her needs, and can receive his love and mercy with joy and thankfulness.  I’m sure that Leah still struggled.  I think it is only reasonable to assume that emotionally, her situation never changed much. Certainly, the Bible never records that Jacob changed his attitude toward her. But she came to the point where the dominant thing in her life was not her struggle, or her unfilled needs, but rather, God’s awesome love for her.

Genesis 29:31 says that when the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb. In other words, the Lord was the one who gave Leah these children; and even more, he gave them to her because he saw that her husband did not love her. Now, at first, her response was basically this: “Good! This child will change my situation. This child will make my husband love me.” But think about it. God gave the children to Leah, not as tools to coerce Jacob’s love – the Lord gave Leah children because the Lord loved her. He was showing her that regardless of what Jacob thought of her, He loved her. She was not unloved. At first she missed the point. She was still putting Jacob’s lack of love after the but. Finally however, she got it. When Judah was born, she praised the Lord. She finally saw that these children would not make her loved – they showed her that she was already loved.

Sometimes when we pray, God changes our situation, and makes it better.  Sometimes, he leaves us in the same circumstances. When he does that, his desire is that our lives can be so filled with him, that the negative aspects of our situation pale in comparison.  When Kari and I first started dating, I was in a job situation that I didn’t like, living in a city I didn’t care for, with few real friends nearby.  I remember sitting in a meeting at work, filled with joy.  I wasn’t joyful because I was in the meeting. I wasn’t joyful because I liked where I was living, or because I was making much money, or that I liked my work. None of those things were true. But I was joyful because I knew that wherever I was, whatever I was doing, Kari loved me.

Now, I don’t mean to be negative, but the kind of joy that came when I first knew that Kari loved me, does not sustain me in the same way thirty years later. We still love each other. It is still an enormous thing in my life that Kari loves me. But no human being has the power to fill you with joy consistently for a long period of time. Only God’s love is that strong. His love can change everything without changing one bit of our circumstances.

I think that was the kind of place Leah finally reached. Jacob still didn’t love her. He probably never would. But God did, and the fact that God loved her was more important than the fact that her husband did not.

This is the key to “Living after the But.” Remember, whatever you put after “but” is the dominant reality to you.  For many years, Leah probably said something like this: “I know God loves me, but my husband does not. I’m just a third wheel.”  Finally, after the birth of Judah, she started thinking this way: “I know Jacob never wanted to marry me.  He may never love me the way I want him to. But God loves me and cares for me.”  The only thing that really changed for Leah is which thing she put after the “But.”  However, I think it transformed everything for her.

Now, I want to make sure you do hear this correctly. I’m not trying to create a rule for you to follow. “I must always put the correct thing after the but.” Instead this is an invitation for you to dive into God’s grace. There is an everlasting well of the water of life, a cool, clear, beautiful spring of love, joy, beauty and strength. One very helpful way to access that deep well of grace is to put the promises of God after the but. Again, not a rule, but an invitation, a door by which we can access what God is offering us.

Now, I want the Holy Spirit to make this practical for you. What have you been putting after the but? Has your dominant reality been what God says? Or have you given more power and credence to your circumstances, or how you feel, or what your mind tells you logically? Take a moment to think about it. Let the Lord bring to mind what you have reversed right now.

I am not saying that your struggles aren’t real. I am not saying that you aren’t dealing with things that are truly bad, or difficult or wrong. But I am saying that God’s Word is more true, more powerful. It is an act of faith to believe it.

Your dominant reality might be very negative, and very powerful. Leah spent her whole life thinking, “but I’m ugly.” Long years of marriage only added, “and I’m unwanted, and I’ll never get the chance to be with someone who does want me.” That’s powerful stuff.  And it was all true. She never was loved by her husband or anyone else in that way.

 But…BUT – there was another thing that was true. It was true that she was made in the image of God. It was true that God loved her. It was true that God wanted her. She let God’s love become her dominant reality. She let his word be the final word.

So pause for a moment. Think about your own life. What are your struggles? What is bothering you? What is stealing your peace, joy, or love? Now, put the promises of God after the but:

“I’m so upset that my child has gone this direction….but______”

“I feel so anxious and lonely, but _____”

“I want to follow God, and yet I constantly fail, but ______”

“I am so upset about something, but ____”

You get the idea. We need to learn to believe that what God says is more real than what we think or feel. And so, we need to learn what God says. Try reading some of the verses below. Believe that these promises are for you, that God himself loves you!

Zephaniah 3:16-18; Isaiah 43:1-5; Matthew 11:28-30; Matthew 6:31-34; Romans 8:1-39; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 2 Corinthians 5:1-21; Ephesians 1:1-14; Ephesians 2:1-10; Philippians 4:6-8.

LIVING CRUCIFIED #3: LIFE BEYOND THE LINE

Photo by Gabriel Peter on Pexels.com

Elijah was a great prophet, and God did amazing things through him. Yet, like many of us, Elijah fell into deep despair when things didn’t go well. God taught him that real life is not found in external things, in things that can be seen and touched. God’s life is not present just because things going well, and His life is not absent when things are bad. Like Elijah, we need to find the life that Jesus promised, the life that is always present, like a never ending spring of water welling up from our spirits.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Living Crucified Part 3

LIVING CRUCIFIED #3.

1 Kings 19:1-13; Hebrews 4:15; John 4:12-14; John 6:35; John 6:63; Luke 11:9-13

Last time the message might have been a little heavy on intellectual concepts and light on stuff we could “sink our teeth into.” But my purpose in discussing all of it was actually to improve your “teeth” so that when you do have something to “bite into,” you bite further and deeper. Christianity is an entire way of looking at the world, and an important part of that world-view is the concept of eternal, spiritual reality as well as immediate, physical reality. Another important part is the understanding of human beings as having bodies, souls and spirits. Our spirits can access the eternal, spiritual reality. We need this knowledge to understand the Bible properly.

This time, we’ll put this altogether with a practical example from the life of Elijah the prophet. I believe (and hope and pray) that this message will be practical and meaningful for you, and even more so if you have some understanding of the concepts we covered last time. I have preached this message a few times in different places, so I apologize if you’ve heard it before. And yet, I trust that the Lord will use it to continue to do good things in you.

There is a story from the Old Testament that has always fascinated me. It’s about the prophet Elijah. God used Elijah to confront Ahab, king of Israel, and his evil wife Jezebel, who were worshiping false gods, and leading the whole country away from God. God told Elijah that it wouldn’t rain for three years. Elijah had enough faith to tell the king and queen that this would happen, and that it was God’s judgment. This was a great act of faith and courage. The prediction came true. And yet the king and queen did not repent, so soon afterwards, Elijah went into hiding for most of the time of the drought.

At the end of three years, God told him to stop hiding and confront them. In that confrontation, God showed himself powerful, and the false gods, of course, proved false. All the people were ready to listen to Elijah, rather than the king. So, in accordance with Old Testament law, he had them execute all the false prophets for blasphemy.

Next, Elijah prayed for God to make it rain again. It didn’t happen at first, but Elijah persevered in prayer, and a cloud formed, and then a great storm broke. This was an amazing victory for God, and Elijah was central to it.

Immediately afterward, the queen sent Elijah a message. She had already killed many of the prophets of the Lord, and she told Elijah that he was dead meat. She was sending men to kill him.

The great prophet, flush with all the amazing things God had just done… ran away. He went a very long distance away. At first God just patiently comforted him. Elijah went further until he ended up at Mt. Sinai.

9 There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:9-10, ESV)

Elijah is saying basically this: “After all I’ve done, after how hard I’ve tried, it’s all coming to nothing. Nothing I can do makes any difference.”

Then God came and told Elijah to get ready. He said he was about to show Elijah His presence.

And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. (1 Kings 19:12)

Many translations say, “a still small voice,” in verse 12. But it is an odd Hebrew expression that is hard to capture. I’m not much of a Hebrew scholar, so I’m mostly relying on the research of others. A literal translation might be: “a sound, a thin silence.” Another way to translate it would be: “a voice, silent and intangible.” What is a “silent voice?” What is the sound made by “a thin silence.”

There is supposed to be a big contrast between the wind, earthquake and fire on the one hand, and the “silent voice” on the other. The silent voice was God speaking into the spirit of Elijah. It is an example of communication with the eternal world, as opposed to the noise and chaos of the temporary, “seen” world. The presence of God was in a calm silent voice in a way that it was not in all kinds of noise and thunder.

There was a great wind – strong enough to split rocks. Obviously God’s presence was around, but the heart of God was not in the wind. The same was true of the earthquake and the fire.

Now, why did God do this? Why send the wind and the earthquake and the fire. Did he need to impress Elijah? And why send those things, if that was not really his presence?

I think there was a lesson here for Elijah.

Remember Elijah’s recent life. He confronted the king and queen – that was awesome! God was with him. But they didn’t listen That was a real letdown. Then he predicted and prayed for drought and famine as judgment. God was at work again, making things happen – how thrilling. But the king and queen still didn’t listen, and continued in their evil, idol-worshiping ways, and Elijah ran away in fear. That was a bust. After three years in hiding, he confronted the rulers again. God showed up by burning up Elijah’s sacrifice! The people followed his commands! Then when Elijah prayed, God ended the drought. This was amazing!

But the queen remained evil, and killed many other followers of God, and put out a contract to kill Elijah. All the fire and excitement went out of Elijah, leaving him like a wet kitten. He ran in fear for his life.

You see what was going on? Remember the two sides to reality: the “seen, temporary” reality that we call the world around us, or the physical world. Then there is the unseen, eternal reality. Elijah was entirely focused on what was going on in the seen/temporary realm, and was almost ignoring the life that was available to him through the spirit.

He was trying to draw a sense of life and wellbeing from what was going on externally, in the visible realm. When things were going well on the outside, Elijah was doing well. When God was working miracles and Elijah was feeling bold, everything was great. But when things were going badly, Elijah was not doing well. When the king and queen refused to repent, when they threatened him, he was discouraged. He was a coward.

We might say, “So what?” Isn’t it normal to do well when things are good, and to feel discouraged when things are not good?”

God was saying to Elijah: “No. It doesn’t have to be that way. My life is not in the external things. My Life is not in things going well, and my life is not absent when things are bad.”

He says the same thing to us.

And so God sent a storm. Raging wind, splitting rocks, this beats any tornado you’ve ever heard of. It was noise, excitement, huge, awe-inspiring. But the LORD was not in the storm. So he sent an earthquake. Nothing is solid anymore, everything is shaken. There is nothing to hold on to, no security. But the LORD was not in the earthquake. Then came the fire. I’ve heard many people – even preachers – pray for God to “send his fire.” But the LORD was not in the fire.

Now, obviously, God sent the wind, caused the earthquake, lit the fire. So he was in them in a sense – they resulted from his action. But the true presence of God was not in those things that he sent and did. The true presence of God was a silent, calm voice that spoke into Elijah’s spirit.

We look for God in action. We want Him to do external things for us and for others. We want Him to show off His power. And there are times when that is exactly what He also wants to do, and He does it. But we need to understand – the deepest presence of God cannot be found in external things. It is found as he communicates with our spirit. And in the spirit, it doesn’t matter what storms, what fires, what earthquakes are happening on the outside – for bad or for good. In the spirit, where true life can always be found through Jesus, it is calm and still. The voice of the spirit is often quiet and “thin.”

We seek life externally. We try to stop the downs and live in the ups. We try to organize our physical environment. We try to reform our behavior, to learn how to cope. But God is not in the externals, not in the deepest sense.  Elijah’s externals were not all bad. In fact, some of the miracles God did through him were downright awesome. But they were still externals. God did them, yes. God used them, yes. But the Lord showed Elijah that those external things could not be a source of life and power for him. You can’t draw life or hope from Externals, that is from things in the seen, temporary realm. One reason is this: things in the seen/temporary realm are…temporary. So, right after a miracle, things are great. But it doesn’t last. What Elijah needed to recognize (and what we desperately need to recognize) is that temporary things will always let you down.

We keep trying to live like Elijah. We want to maximize the victories, and minimize the defeats. We want it to be all “wow! God!” times, and no “uh-oh, Jezebel” times. But just stop and think about this for a moment. Has anyone, in the history of mankind, ever been able to make that happen? Has anyone ever lived moving only from victory to victory, all ups, no downs? Of course not. Elijah didn’t. Peter didn’t. Paul didn’t. Even Jesus, in his physical life here on earth, had his setbacks. His hometown wouldn’t accept him, and their lack of faith prevented him from working the way he wanted to there. The leaders of the people – including the religious elite – rejected him. His own closest disciples consistently misunderstood him and his message. The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus  was tested in every way, just as we were (Hebrews 4;15). In other words, this is part of the “seen” life. Everyone faces the trials. No one, not the prophets, not the apostles, not even the Son of God is exempt.

Now, when we face the idea that this is just how life is – sometimes good, sometimes bad, and none of it lasts – that can be a daunting idea. You mean the rest of my life, I’m going to go up, and down, and up and down? I’m going to win victories – and then be defeated. I’m going to see God at work…and then I won’t see him at work. I’m going to live a holy life — and then I’m going to sin. And then I’m going to live holy again.

The reason that idea is so daunting to us, is because we are trying to get life here and now. We are trying to get life and hope and goodness out of our behavior, out of the seen and temporary reality. We are trying to get life out of our externals, like money, or success or relationships, or sex or drugs or alcohol or even…religion.

Brothers and sisters, there is no life there. There is no life in mood-altering substances. That’s easy, we know that – even addicts know it, but they can’t seem to stop looking there.  There is no life in money or success or accomplishment. Read Ecclesiastes. It’s been tried. There is no life in partying. There is no life in abstaining. I’m not saying that they are morally equal – but I am saying that you can’t get real life out of either excess or self-denial.

There is no life in “living for God.” That’s right. If you are living for God with your own will and effort, you will not find life in it – not lasting life, not the streams of living water which flow from within and cause you to never thirst again.

One of the problems with living our lives with an external focus, a focus on the seen, temporary world, is that whatever results we get are temporary. Jesus pointed it out to his disciples:

 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  
“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-7 emphasis added)

He says the same sorts of things about other observances. Notice the contrast – the people who focus on the seen, temporary world, get a seen, temporary reward – that is, they get the result of their behavior here and now on earth. It’s over rather quickly. Those who focus on the unseen spiritual reality get an eternal reward from their Father in heaven. When we live our life from externals, then that’s all we get – the external result. That’s our reward. And that is temporary, not eternal. The Lord says the Spirit is what is most important.

Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor 4:16-18)

It is from the spirit – connected to the Holy Spirit through the work of Jesus – that life comes; real life, life that does not change and fluctuate and sometimes desert us. Once we are in Jesus, that life is always there. It is always available, though we often forget it. That is because it doesn’t come from our behavior. We can’t control it by manipulating our circumstances, or even our own actions. It doesn’t come from our thoughts or feelings. It doesn’t come in noise, earthquake and fire and exciting things happening outside of us. It comes from the spirit – a place that Elijah found was still and silent, where the voice of God was a soft whisper.

63 The Spirit is the One who gives life. The flesh doesn’t help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. (John 6:63, HCSB)

The only way we can access the spirit-life is by believing that what God says is true. We receive it only through faith.

Practically, if you want the real, spirit life, the life that lasts forever, and cannot be changed by time or circumstances, you must seek it in the spirit, and do so in the attitude of faith that says: “I believe God is to be found there, and I believe he wants to give me this life.” He does want to give it to us, you know:

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them. “No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again.” (John 6:35)

That promise cannot be true in the visible, temporary world. Everyone experiences hunger and thirst every day. But Jesus was making a promise about eternal, spiritual reality. It is in the spirit where we can be fully satisfied, always and forever. It is in the spirit that we find the nourishment to sustain eternal life.

Seek it through the bible. Seek it in sitting quietly, in God’s presence, waiting. Every time you catch your mind wandering, just softly whisper the name of Jesus to bring you back. Don’t worry if your mind continually wanders. When you catch yourself, just come back to Jesus with his name. Seek the life in beauty, goodness, truth and joy, whenever you encounter them. Listen for the quiet voice that is not the voice of the world, not the loudness that is everywhere, but is in the spirit.

The life is not in your behavior. It is not in your thoughts and feelings. It is in Jesus, and the only way to get it is to believe he offers it to you.

Sometimes it can seem sort of vague, or esoteric, this listening to the soft whisper of God in the spirit. I recommend that you start by asking God to help you find him there. This is a prayer he loves to answer:

9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13, ESV)

Ask him and then actively listen for his soft, silent voice in the spirit. As you practice, it will eventually become easier, and more natural. When Jesus encountered a woman at a well one time, during their conversation he said something. Hear the promise in his words, and trust that he will deliver it you:

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:13-14, ESV)

Believe the promise. Receive the promise as you thank him for it.

LIVING CRUCIFIED #2: WE LIVE IN TWO WORLDS

Photo by Benjamin Suter on Pexels.com

The Christian life can be disheartening and frustrating sometimes. We seem to keep making the same mistakes, and going through the same cycle over and over again. The promises of the bible don’t seem to apply to us all the time. Sometimes, the problem might be that we don’t recognize the way in which the promises of God apply to us. The Bible teaches things about reality and human nature that are very important to understand, if we want to grasp the promises within it.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Living Crucified Part 2

I’m pulling an audible. For reasons which shall eventually be clear, I am renaming this series: Living Crucified.

PLEASE BOOKMARK THIS POST SO THAT YOU CAN REFER BACK TO THE DIAGRAMS LATER.

Last time we talked about the very beginning of following Jesus: turning away from self, and from sin, along with turning toward God in faith. We recognize that we are cut off from God, and God is the source of all truth, beauty, joy, goodness and life. We admit that we often – maybe even usually – turn away from God, when given the chance. We are committed to satisfying ourselves. All of this is leading us toward self-destruction, loneliness, hatred and isolation – that is separation from God and all that we truly need. When we try to do better, it doesn’t last. We continually fail. We can’t be good enough to remain anywhere near the Holiness of God’s presence. His holiness is so powerful, we would be destroyed by it. Even if we could come into holiness without changing, we would spoil it.

Into this mess steps Jesus. He calls all people to repent. Repenting means we turn away from sin and self, and turn toward God. We give our hearts over to God. We recognize that there is no hope within ourselves, and we place our trust in Jesus alone to make us worthy to be in the presence of God. We trust in him alone to cleanse us from sin, and connect us to the truth, beauty, joy, goodness and life that we need and crave.

So far, so good. Usually, when we first become Christians, there is a period of time when everything is wonderful and good. We feel free, and light. We are overwhelmed with gratitude toward God, and that overflows into how we treat other people. We think “this is it!”

But sooner or later, we seem to lose our way again. We find that the old person we used to be is still hanging around, just waiting for a chance to  take over once more. We start slipping a little, sinning again, living for ourselves. We feel bad, and promise to get it together again, but it keeps happening. We get frustrated with ourselves. But we know that what we believe is the truth. We know that God is real, and good, and we believe that everything we truly desire is to be found in Him, and Him alone. Although we often forget even that when we see something else we think we want.

And so, as time goes on, we think. “Wow. It’s really hard to be Christian. I’m not very good at it.” We cling to our hope that it is Jesus, not our own efforts, who makes us able to be in God’s good presence. But we sort of settle for the idea that we aren’t ever going to get much closer to God until we die. We kind of make peace with the fact that we sin all the time, and we live with a low grade of guilt and shame.

Now, if you read the New Testament, it doesn’t seem like the Christian life is supposed to be so…underwhelming.  Whole shelves of books have been dedicated to help people like us pull it together. Some of them are quite helpful. Somehow though, we can’t seem to make the improvements permanent or consistent. Then, we come across a bible verse like this one:

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

It’s tempting to sort of throw up our hands and say, “Whatever.” It certainly doesn’t seem like we are new creations. It certainly doesn’t seem like the old is really gone.

I sometimes think we get hung up because we don’t understand the way the New Testament views reality in general, or human nature in particular. This next part may seem dry to you, but it is really important. I truly believe understanding the following ideas can be of tremendous practical help in living life the way God intends for us. So please consider giving this a bit of concentration and effort. THIS IS FOUNDATINAL, IMPORTANT STUFF.

Let’s start with reality in general. The Bible assumes that there are two parts to reality: The Eternal Reality, and the Temporary Reality.

18 So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18, HCSB)

I have italicized four words above. First, there is a reality that is seen. What Paul means by that is that we can interact with that kind of reality by seeing, feeling, tasting, touching and so on. This is what most of us think about when we think about “reality,” or the “real world,” or perhaps: “the physical world.”

There is another reality that is unseen. We don’t interact with this reality through our eyes, or sense of smell, or anything like that. We can’t measure it, or deal with it scientifically. But it is there. It is part of reality. We might call this spiritual reality, or eternal reality. Almost all of the human race, for almost all of history, has accepted the existence of spiritual reality. Most people have experienced things that they know are more than just physical.

Our verse above tells us that the seen realm (you might call it “the physical world”) is temporary. In other words, it has a beginning and an end.  On the other hand, the unseen realm is eternal. It lasts forever.

Both the seen and unseen are important. We live in both types of reality as the same time. However, Paul tells us the we Christians should focus on the unseen realm, because it is eternal, and therefore greater.

I want to offer two analogies to help us think about these things. First, imagine a line. Above the line is the unseen, eternal reality, or realm.  Because this realm is eternal, it is more powerful. It is, you might say, “ultimate reality.” In the unseen realm things are what they are. Appearance and reality are exactly the same In the unseen realm, God exists in all the fullness of his power and glory. This is one reason God reveals himself to Moses as “I AM.” He is exactly what he is. Nothing can affect him or change him. He continually is.

Below the line is the seen realm, what we might think of as the physical world, or the temporary world. Here, things are changing. Things are not always as they seem to be. We have needs and struggles. Some days are terrific. Some days are awful. Most are somewhere in between.

Now here’s an amazing fact. We know that we live below the line, obviously. But even now, if you trust Jesus, a part of you already lives above the line.

Now all of this is just an illustration. The truth is, the eternal, unseen reality is all around us at every moment. There is no line in the sky, or anywhere else. But it is helpful to understand that there are two different aspects to reality, and the line helps us understand their relationship.

Here’s the other analogy. Imagine a book: a fiction novel; that is, a story. The story has a beginning, middle and end. Inside the book, the characters move from the beginning through the middle, toward the end. But the entire book – the story, with all its characters and events – is contained within the covers of the book. There is also a reality “outside the book.” Someone outside the book could go back to the beginning to re-read a part of it. Or, they could go to the end to see how it turns out.

A character inside the book may live through a storm. That’s part of the story they are in. The storm is terrifying and dangerous. Yet, outside the book, the events within the book have no power. A storm inside the story may threaten the lives of the characters, but it does not physically affect a reader who is outside the book.

The book (everything within the two covers) is the seen realm, the temporary realm. But outside the book is an entirely different, and much greater, reality. This is the unseen, the eternal realm. We human beings are inside the book, moving forward through the story. We can travel in only one direction – forward. We experience all that is going on in this story. And yet, in some amazing and wonderful way, we also have a connection to existence “outside the book.” A part of us is outside, in that eternal realm.

How could it be that we are in “both places at the same time,” so to speak? It is because of the way God made human beings. According to the Bible, There are three essential parts to a human being: body, soul and spirit. Here are a few verses that talk about them all at the same time:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb 4:12, ESV. “Joints and marrow” refer to a physical body)

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your whole spirit soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of your Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.  (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

There are many more verses that talk about spirit without mentioning body, or soul without talking about spirit, and so on. But it is clear that the New Testament views humans as having those three parts: Body, Soul, & Spirit.

We all know what a body is. It has arms and legs and so on. In our bodies we do and say things. When we behave in any way, it is our body that is living out that behavior. Our bodies live entirely “below the line,” or “inside the book.” It is also very important to know the biblical word “flesh.” Flesh means: “your body, under the influence of sin.”

We also have a soul. The Greek word in the New Testament for “soul” is “psuche” from which we get our English word: “psyche.” Your soul is your personality, your emotions, your thoughts and decisions. The soul is, in a sense, the part of you that feels like you.

The third part of a human being is the Spirit. The New Testament word for Spirit is a lot like the word for breath. The spirit is the part of the human that interacts directly with the unseen, eternal realm.

Now, what has all that this got to do with us living in both the seen, temporary, world, and the unseen, eternal reality? Here’s another diagram that might help:

Our bodies live entirely in the seen, temporary reality. Our body cannot see or understand the eternal, unseen, spiritual realm. On the other hand, our Spirit lives entirely in that unseen, eternal reality. Our soul is in the middle: partly in the physical temporary reality, partly in the spiritual, eternal reality. The soul connects the body to the spirit. You might say it is the go-between. Your soul (“the essential you”) is connected to your body. It is also connected to your spirit. It is the “interface” between the seen and unseen, the temporary and the eternal, the purely physical and the purely spiritual.

Now, let’s return to the first problematic verse I shared:

7 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

Knowing what we know now, let’s think about this. Could I accurately say, at this moment, that the entire me – body, soul and spirit – is a new creation? Could I say truthfully, that the whole of the old me – body, soul and spirit – has passed away?

I think not. In the first place, my body is obviously not a new creation. In fact, it gets older every day. So this promise cannot be for my body – at least, not yet. But Paul talks like this is a done deal. Let’s keep going. What about my soul? Is my soul an entirely new creation? Has the old soul with its sinful desires and passions entirely passed away? I’m sorry to say that I don’t think so. But maybe sometimes it seems partly true of my soul.

Now we can see the truth: this promise is made today for my spirit. I do believe that one day – when I step into the new creation with body, soul and spirit, then all of me will be entirely new. My soul will be cleansed and purged from all the sinful influence of my flesh (flesh= my body influenced by sin). My flesh will be destroyed, and I will be given a new body with no sin in it at all. But right now, even before all that, I am already a new creation in my spirit.

Let’s look at the whole of the passage in which our verse is found:

14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

That’s what we’re after. We’ve received forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We want to live in a new way, not for ourselves anymore. But how? Paul goes on:

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:14-17, ESV)

How do we start? By regarding no one according to the flesh. Remember, “the flesh” is our body under the influence of sin. We don’t regard our salvation as a salvation of that flesh. We don’t regard our new creation as happening in that flesh. We look at it a new way. How? By looking at the spirit! Our spirits live “above the line,” in eternity. In that eternal reality, in ultimate reality, our spirits are already new creations. A part of us is already perfect, whole, entirely holy and able to receive all the goodness, joy, love, beauty and truth of God’s presence.

So we don’t keep trying to find life here in our flesh. We don’t keep looking for life in the world that we see around us, the physical world. Instead, we look to ultimate reality, spiritual reality, for newness of life.

OK. So far so good. The promise is true and right. We really are new creations. The old really has passed away. But how to we begin to get that spirit-life into the life we live every day in the world that we see?

I’m so glad you asked. We will begin to answer that question next time.

PLEASE BOOKMARK OR PRINT THIS POST SO THAT YOU CAN REFER BACK TO THE DIAGRAMS.