Tuesday, February 23, 2016

He Restores My Soul

This phrase, from the 23rd Psalm, that psalm that begins with, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not (be in) want,” - this phrase does not describe a typical relationship between a shepherd and a sheep. Not to offend animal lovers, but a sheep doesn’t have a soul. And even if it did, the shepherd could do precious little to restore it.

Most people shouldn’t even believe that there is such a thing as a soul. If you are a naturalist, then all of our human functions should be able to be explained physically and materially. Every decision; every desire - is solely a product of things like neural impulses and chemical reactions. In fact, for the naturalist, or, the anti-supernaturalist, he/she should not even permit the use of the word ‘psychology,’ the ‘study of the soul.’ 

But many of us are not mere naturalists. We believe that there is something more, so that when the surgeon cracks us open and fails to find a soul, we believe that it is there anyway, immaterial and spiritual, similar to when she goes in to look at your brain and fails to find a mind. His failure to find it does not prove its absence. He/she needs to look with another lens.

And so some, denying the presence of a soul, disregard its need for restoration. And others, believing that there is such a thing, wonder how such restoration can be accomplished.

In children’s Sunday School, where some of the most formidable questions are posed, we watched a digital restoration of great-grandma’s childhood photograph. The photo stock was worn and wrinkled. The image was dull and fuzzy. The color was drab. But with painstaking and detailed work (we watched a time-lapse), that photo was restored so much that great-grandma would have fit right in with the children in the class. Through all that restorative work, she had come, visually, to life.

I do not believe restoring a soul is digital, or much at all like a photo restoration. But what is it like? I picture my soul like a leathery lung, not material, but spiritual. It is the spiritual organ by which we relate to God. And yet, through the pollution of our surroundings, and the pollution of our own person, this lung has been severely damaged. It has become unresponsive. It is not able to apprehend spiritual truth. It does not breathe heavenly air. Until it is restored.

And so, that leathery lung must be made, spiritually, supple and pink once again. It has to be immersed and marinated in a regenerative fluid that will bring back that long-forgotten, oft-forsaken intimacy with a truth and a person that we have tried to ignore.

As far as I know, and this deserves further searching, the Bible does not describe this process of the restoration of the soul. It does, however, speak plainly of the giving of a new (spiritual) heart. This is accomplished as the Holy Spirit applies the redemptive work of Christ to believers. Perhaps, while the new heart is given by grace, the soul is restored by love, as the orphaned and recalcitrant sinner is converted, and as this discovery of the love of God takes place. 

He restores my soul. He immerses and marinates my soul with His love.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Growing into the Clothes of Christ

I don’t share clothes with my son. There’s a reason. He’s 6’5”, and weighs less than me, though I’m half a foot shorter. If we wore each other’s clothes, we would both look ridiculous.
Thankfully, we can all get clothes to fit. We can shop. We can try things on and find what feels comfortable. We want clothes that are suited to us.
I suppose that we would like the whole world to be suited to us - that everything would be fitted to us so that we can remain comfortable, or feel cool. But the world doesn’t work that way. Why? Well, there are at least two reasons:
The first reason is that the world is broken. Everything is bent. Like an arrow that was formed straight, when it warps, it just will not fly straight. And neither does this world - its material parts, and its spiritual parts; its inanimate objects, and its animate, including you and me.
But even if the world were not broken - even if it remained exactly like it was designed by God - and this is important! - the second reason why the world is not suited to us is because it was never designed to be. The reason the world was created, including you as part of this world, was for the glory of God - not for the comfort or convenience of you. And to the extent that this broken/bent world still reflects the glory of God in some way, we will find it more and more uncomfortable so long as we live for the glory of “me” instead of the glory of God.
William Gurnall (1616-1679), in his famous book, “The Christian in Complete Armour,” speaks of the difficulty that we have with God’s ‘prescriptions.’ By ‘prescriptions,’ he means God’s laws or rules. We chafe against some of these, and are tempted to ignore those that are most uncomfortable. We will often hear arguments that they are outdated, and are merely a reflection of an earlier era. But that is not the case. Here is the quote:
(Men’s) laws are often made to fit crooked minds, as tailors alter garments to fit the crooked bodies they are designed for. The commands of God are suited to His holy nature, not to the unholy hearts of men.
We expect that God’s laws, like men’s laws, should have been suited for us. But they aren’t designed to fit us. They are designed to express the holy majesty of God. And if this is true of God’s law,
then it is also true of God’s creation. We, as creatures of God, are designed to reflect His glory, and therefore, we need to be re-shaped to fit His design.

So, the next time you feel the rub of the world against you, stop and think. Yes, the rub could be due to the brokenness of the world. Or, it could be due to the brokenness of you. Don’t ask God to change. Ask God to change you.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

The Swamp and the Sign

There is a saying that goes something like, “he missed the forest for the trees.” Here is a story about hitting the swamp for the sign.

Imagine a sheriff’s deputy on a Monday night visiting the scene of a traffic accident in which a single car failed to navigate a curve to the right on a gravel road. In the curve, leaving the road to the left, the car and driver ended up in the swamp. The driver was not injured, though the electrical system in the car would probably need some work. “Didn’t you see the sign?” asked the deputy. “Yes,” replied the driver. “That is the most amazing shade of yellow.
On Tuesday night, the deputy finds himself at the same place, with the same situation. He asks the driver, “Didn’t you see the sign?” “Yes, of course,” said the driver. “Why do you think they post that sign on an angle, and not flat?” “You’re missing the point,” the exasperated deputy replied.
On Wednesday night, …, well, you know what happened. Another car; same swamp, similar questions. The driver said, “Yes, and do you suppose that sign is made from metal or fiberglass?” He was an automotive engineer.

The subject of semiotics, and especially its subset, semantics, deals with the relation between signs and the things to which they refer, or, their meaning. The word, semiotics, has a Greek root, the word translated “signs” in the Bible, referring to miracles. In the John’s Gospel, the author consistently uses the word “sign” instead of “miracle.” He wants to communicate that Jesus is not merely interrupting the natural order in order to do something amazing (and he is indeed doing that). No, Jesus is using that act as a sign to point to a truth or reality beyond the sign. If we focus only on the sign, and not the reality, you will end up in a swamp.

The seven signs in John’s Gospel are only a selection of Jesus’ total miracles. But seven is enough. Even one would be enough. In fact, many people come to faith in Jesus without witnessing any sign at all. They simply believe, and they are blessed. But there were many others who saw many signs, and yet they did not believe. They saw the same sign as others, but they did not buy in to the meaning of the sign. Perhaps they were amazed. Maybe they were only amused. Some were irritated at this wonder-worker. But only some saw the sign, and grabbed hold of the meaning behind the sign.

The 4th sign of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel is the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Here he provides a meal for thousands of people who followed him out into the countryside, far from the markets. He had compassion for their physical hunger, and used this sign as a pointer to their need for spiritual sustenance, which he made clear, later in the chapter, was himself. “I am the bread of life.” But many who experienced this first free meal only wanted a second. They were interested in supper, not a Savior. They saw the sign, and embraced it. But they failed to embrace Jesus.

You and I are spiritual people who have been trained to live with a materialistic mentality and a temporal time-frame. When a sign points to a spiritual truth, we easily see the sign and miss the truth. When a temporal image is used to refer to that which is eternal, we tend to focus on what is ‘good for me’ in terms of today, or, at best, tomorrow.

Here is one of the saddest verses in the Gospel of John: “But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him.” I hope this does not describe you. Don’t miss the truth for the trees. Don’t land in the swamp because you see a sign and fail to heed its meaning and message.