- Al Michaels
Transforming the Body
I know what you’re thinking: “You weren’t in class on Sunday?!” Calm down*. Actually, most of you probably weren’t thinking that. Most of you had no idea because you don’t ever notice me in the class and some of you don’t even know who I am. It’s cool, I don’t know who you are either. But, alas, here I am: recapping the lesson because I can read minds and see the future (and/or the past).
Does anybody else secretly want to throw this book in your fireplace and stop this series? I hope so so I don't feel like a horrible person. I mean, I thought I was doing pretty well until I started coming to class. Now, I am convinced of how completely totally depraved and heretically I am. (I am using dramatic language on purpose). It’s annoying.
I thought Ms. Shawn did an awesome job with the lesson. She tackled another super lofty lesson and made it relatable and, just like every other lady who has taught, her personality shown through.
We can’t have full, complete redemption without any of the pieces we have talked about so far. The body being one of them. We can be slave to our body just like we can be slave to our emotions, our thought, or our will. We must not give in to our bodies but we must give over our bodies to the Lord to let him begin a deep work in us. A beautiful, but daunting work. Just like every other element, you can’t just simply throw your body away or even ask for a new one. You’re stuck with the one you got. Uneven nostrils and all. But, the body is amazing. It breathes while you sleep! It doesn’t need us to tell it what to do. It just reacts. And to sum up what Shawn unpacked in 23 (20 pt. font) pages… We have to train and program our body to react right. If we don’t train, we’ll never react right in the moment.
Have you ever thought “Okay next time that happens, I will react this way”. I do all the time and when that thing happens I react in the same way I always do. Cause I don’t really train. I just try to have good will power. Which, we learned last week, no one has good enough will power. Our body is a very powerful tool. But it can be trained. And we must train it.
Shawn used Roger Federer and computer programming as her example of training our bodies. Federer has won like a million trophies for his tennis playing but he has also probably spent a minute for every trophy he’s won (that’s a million minutes) training his body to do exactly what he wants to do under pressure. It’s not easy. Nothing about renovating the heart is easy. And that’s why I want to chunk this book against a wall. But it will be worth it!!!!
God is gonna do his part in caring for our body. But we have to do our part too. Take care of your body. Watch what you put in it (both physically and emotionally and spiritually), watch how you use it, watch what you say to it, and let it use its muscles every once in a while.
(That above paragraph needs its own book in expansion because it is easier said than done. But, alas, I am trying to make these slightly shorter.)
There is hope yet. I like thinking of my body as a computer because it kinda calms my angsty ways. My body is just a machine, it is not a monster that is constantly trying to destroy me. It can be trained like a dog. When you say “sit” the body will sit. (Wow, I was using that as a metaphor but that is quite literal). So once I start inputing the program Holiness 3000, I will output gold and doves and peace and love. Your body is just a machine. You can transform it.
How do we train it? Heck if I know. But, you gotta use it to train it. Journaling is the example Ms. Shawn brings up. The actual act of taking your thoughts through your veins to your fingers through the pen onto paper is a powerful thing. And, it slows you down. (which I hate but I try to do it). Write down Bible verses, say them till your blue in your face. And get on your knees. Make your body low. Pray, pray, pray. And wait. God is faithful to answer.
Also, service. Using your body for someone else’s gain is an easy way to put your body in it's place.
Jesus came down and put skin on his deity and that is more significant than we’ll ever realize. If we want to transform our body, don’t you think we should look at what Jesus did when he had one? Ms. Shawn says that to train our body we have to follow Christ’s overall lifestyle and take on his disciplines of prayer, solitude, fasting (denying the body), etc. And I love that Ms. Shawn says the difference between Federer and Jesus is that Jesus comes inside of us and transforms us from the inside out. Don’t we all wish that Federer’s spirit could maybe come inside of us too? Give me some body coordination please!!
I didn't really do this lesson justice. This just barely touches the surface of the complexity of the body. But, hopefully it will get you thinking and will lead you to the truth. Or hopefully it just makes you laugh.
The will. A much more abstract and wide-ranging topic than I first thought. Also, a more important topic than I first thought. Thankfully for you, the reader, this topic appeals more to my logical, practical, thinking side so it won’t sound like a 13 year old emo kid who just discovered what a diary was (although, as Marilyn pointed out, your thoughts, feelings and will are all connected. So this week is not void of emotion). Marilyn spoke this week and it was a simple message, but a powerful one.
So what exactly is your will? Words that were thrown out were: drive, desire, determination, stubbornness, and control.
Letting go of your own will and giving into God’s will requires trust. You have to trust God to want to follow him. And for someone who is a control freak, like me, I only trust myself. (Who is the LEAST trustworthy person cause I deceive myself like a boss). So, to give up the will is to give up control. For me, at least. But, as my mom said, I am not alone in this. Getting off my chair is really acknowledging that I’m not in control. And saying that I am okay with whatever happens. But, control freaks aren’t okay with “whatever happens”. They want to know what is going to happen. Even if it’s not what I would want, necessarily, I want to consciously decide to do that thing and know exactly the outcome. But, that’s not how God works. And there’s the rub. Giving in to God is supposed to bring you peace but it literally causes me to shake.
I remember my freshmen year of college I had to make a big decision (it was actually pretty petty) and I was kinda new to walking with God through my decisions so I really wanted to be super holy and spiritual and just ask God and whatever he says I wanted to do. But, I was completely riddled with anxiety. The second I would open up my Bible I would start shaking and my heart would pound because I was afraid of the answer. I was “hearing” all these weird things that were probably the devil messing with me. I couldn’t see straight and I ended up making the decision that I would have wanted to make. I think that it was the right decision- for that time- but I never came to a “peace” that that was what God told me to do. But, I thought my heart might actually explode if I prayed about it anymore. That happens to me more than I would like to admit. I want control. I want God to bend to my will and bless me through it all, but I don’t want to bend to his. If I knew the answer to how to fix this, I would. And I would share it with you right here. Alas, I don’t.
Marilyn said that it isn’t about “will power”. It’s about the “want to” factor. Our will, when aligned with God, is our desire to do what God’s will is. And God’s will is the things he wants to see happen in this day and age.
There is a timeline for conquering the will: Willard states it as Surrender Abandonment Contentment Participation.
Surrender: Losing control. (See above).
Abandonment: Living life with open hands as I like to say. Knowing we deserve nothing so being thankful for everything. And living like we know the end of the book (which we do). One of my favorite lyrics in a worship song is from the song Strong Love by Jon Thurlow (everyone admire my hipsterness). He says: “I know the end of the story I come up from the wilderness, leaning on my beloved.” I love that so much. That’s all I wanted to say about that.
Contentment: Peace with God and peace with ourselves.
Participation: God is cool and gracious and loving enough to let us take part in his will. It’s much better than ours.
Marilyn made a good point that it’s not about getting past step one and never returning. You will go in circles with this. You will have to start over. And… I say that to be comforting. To better explain these points, Marilyn made her own timeline: I don’t want to I have to I want to want to I want to I get to.
What would your life look like if you were completely abandoned to the will of God? Think about that. Me? I’d probably have more peace and more joy, which is ironic because those are the things I desperately want. If I am honest, right now I am in the “want to want to” stage and about some things I am in the “I don’t want to” stage. But the first step to freedom is admitting you have a problem, right?
To be honest, I don’t remember where this fit into the lesson because I take really vague, horrible notes, but it’s an important point: We’ve got to talk about what is going on in our head. (Which I hate doing). We have to get it out, we have to process, and we have to not believe that we are the only ones thinking these thoughts. So, start talking about your thoughts (no matter how scary, dirty, awful, crazy they are). Do work today and don’t let this lesson collect dust on the shelf.
Spiritual Formation and Our Feelings.
You know, I give Jeannine major props for tackling this lesson. Trying to just dictate what she said has been days of anguish and rewriting and thinking and reading. I’m gonna go out of order for this recap, if you will let me. To begin the lesson, Ms. Jeannine stood behind a decorative chair and delivered a scripted, but not lacking in honesty and meaning, monologue urging us to climb out of the chair of our hearts and place God on it for he is the only one worthy. But I wanna save that for later. (Hopefully my 1am brain will get there and will make sense.)
I read the chapter. And I would say that, if you read only one chapter in this book, you should read this one. (I am saying that only having read this one and sorta the first one). And, like I said, props to Ms. Jeannine. Willard does such a great job at unpacking feelings and emotions that it’s kinda overwhelming. But, I think Jeannine captured the essence well. I will try to capture the essence of the essence somewhat coherently. Though I filled up about 5 pages in my journal, my notes aren’t that great.
Feelings are important. We got ‘em. We ain’t getting rid of them. We have to understand that. Feelings are powerful. They will carry us into sin if we are not careful. We can’t deny they are there, repress them, or try to starve them. We have to reorder them and let God renovate them to be the healthy, beautiful gifts he made them. (Just like everything else). Faith, hope, love, joy, and peace are the key to a spiritual transformation. Faith and hope give us the confidence in Jesus and his word. Love is the foundation. And it is a circling flow. God first loved us so we love him which in turns makes us love others and those other’s love us because we are the other’s others. Make sense? We don’t have to worry about being loved. We already are by God. And if we focus on loving our brothers and sisters we will be loved if the body is the body. Joy is our strength and our anthem that shouts “all is well” in hard times. We gain joy through thankfulness and meditation on the goodness and love of God. Then comes peace. We have peace with ourselves, with God, and with others. And that helps us love more. Thus the cycle continues. All we have to do is let go. Loosen the grip and let go.
That recap is short and sorta shallow and for that I do apologize. But I can’t go into any more depth without a) my brain exploding and b) being completely overwhelmed with feelings. Talking about feelings makes me have a lot of feelings and those feelings usually start with ‘a’ and end with ‘ngsty’. But, honestly, her lesson was less about feelings and more about God. And that’s how it should be.
So what I really wanna talk about is the first five to ten minutes of the lesson. Like I said, Ms. Jeannine used a chair to illustrate her point of us being on our own throne. She encouraged us to get off of it. I remember tracking with her and doing the holy-agreement-moan, but I also thought it was a strange place to start. What does this have to do with feelings? I mean, sure, sometimes (all the time) we put our emotions on that chair, but that's not the only thing we put on the chair. But I realized it was the perfect place to start. For every single lesson. Because if we don't get that part right we might as well stop. Close the books and go home. God cannot renovate our heart with us still inside. No one is going to bulldoze a house with the former owner still inside. They cannot renovate it. No one’s gonna cut down the tree with Butterfly staked up in it in protest. When we are on the "chair", we are in constant protest of what God wants to do in our hearts.
And that’s when it dawned on me. I’ve been focusing more on changing my behavior and less on just walking out of the stupid house or getting up off the stupid chair. It’s so simple, right? But, that’s the thing. We always act like surrendering our lives to Jesus is simple and easy. That’s why we get so defeated when that doesn’t work. If I knew how to actually literally surrender my life to Jesus I would do it. Because I have prayed the prayer, I have stood up in countless sermons and shouted, whispered, prayed, or raised my hand in surrender so many times. I have again and again fully committed my life to Jesus. I have sang "my life is yours" “take my life” “you’re all I want” probably a million times. And some of those times were truly moments of myself walking out of the house. But, it’s annoying how I can feel like I really learned something or took a step forward and then I walk out of the room and it all just fades. Honestly, I’m not worthy to write these recaps. Because how many times have I listened to my own words? About 0 times. It’s like in the movie Father of the Bride. (I think it’s in the second one but I can’t remember exactly). (if you haven’t seen those movies please stop reading and go watch them.) They sell their house to this couple who wants to demolish it. They have the bulldozer and they are about to bulldoze the house down when Steve Martin’s character runs in front of the bulldozer to save the house. How many times have I done that? I walk out of the house and give over the keys, and God finally begins the renovation process. But, at the last moment, I run in front of the bulldozer- almost destroying my life- to protect the house. And the work stops.
If we were just honest with how hard it is and how much work it takes… maybe more people would begin to see transformation. Spiritual transformation and surrendering to Jesus is gonna be hard. It’s gonna take time. But, it’s work that has to be done. And God is doing all the hard work! We just have to stop digging our finger nails into our palms. Literally, Jesus is like “dude, come chill at my super cool party 24/7” and we’re all like “it’s too hard! Wahhhh”.
But who can really blame us, right? Life is confusing. Our hearts are deceivers. Our emotions are stealthy. They protect us so we trust them and then they attack us from behind. And so many sermons tell us that God gave us our emotions, so feeling isn’t bad. And that’s completely true. But I can’t keep straight was is good and what is bad and everything in moderation and take your thoughts captive to the Lord and so forth. But my thoughts are kind to me. On a good day. Yeah, they can be kinda harsh sometimes… but they never lie… right? And what can I trust besides my thoughts? I can't trust my circumstances. I most certainly can’t trust in relationships. Because they'll leave. And that's not fair. Most of the time I don’t even know if I can trust God. He’s the only one with a perfect track record of faithfulness but he is the least trustworthy. (I seem to believe).
But I know I don’t actually believe that. Because I am sitting at my kitchen table feeling empty and lonely for the umpteenth time. I don’t consider myself a lonely, depressed person until someone I care about leaves or just simply doesn’t care as much as I do. God has been so good to constantly provide a group of friends in my life but I use them to mask the loneliness I feel in my heart. I don’t know where or when or why the loneliness began but I think I’ve felt it most of my life. I won’t try to explain it away because it doesn’t need that power. Anyway, I’ve been shaking my fist at the sky and succumbing to cynical ways about how nothing in this life is safe and I can’t trust anything but my pain and blah blah blah when God simply, in his goodness, whispered to me to stop using people as Band-Aids. No one will fill the deep holes in my heart the way God will and no one was meant to. But, I have gone from person to person to temporarily fix my aching and I have continually ignored God’s call in the morning to let him love me. I have pushed it away for years. And I always thought it was just because of laziness or business or some small excuse that I could easily fix tomorrow. Like, I really do wanna accept his Love but I gotta run out the door. But, honestly, I don’t want to be satisfied in God alone because it’s scary and it’s not secure because it’s not based on feeling. And feelings are all I know. They are all I have listened to my whole life. They are my false sense of security. God will definitely give you feelings, but he will not let them master you. Because there is only one master. So, when it boils down I am more afraid of not feeling than I am confident in the goodness of God’s love. And that is the ruined condition of my heart. I won’t let God take away my feelings. But, still, despite my doubts, he’s so freaking good. (pardon my language, mom). Because he just lets me go and lets me make dumb mistakes. But he’s always ready to run to me when I come crawling home. So, at 2 in the morning I know in my mind that he is the only trustworthy source. I do know it. I just hate it sometimes. Because, God is risk. He is a safe refuge. But he is a risk. With God, your life is a hard-hat zone. (that metaphor I just came up with sounds brilliant in my current state of mind.)
So, for me, I have to raise my white flag. And I am learning more and more through this book and this class that I don’t think I truly have. I still sit on my chair. And I’m stubborn. So, my simple prayer this week has been: “Jesus, teach me how to live.” I just need him to teach me what it means to live this life with him. Because, I don’t know.
“Transforming the Mind, 1: Spiritual Formation and the Thought Life”
Ah, the mind. What a strange, scary, complex, irrational, amazing place. Everything that has been created – both good and evil – started as a dream or a vision or flash of brilliance in the mind. The mind is the kindest and cruelest thing to you. It is the best secret keeper, but it never lets you forget. It has no limits and no boundaries to the things you can achieve, giving you your dreams and telling you to follow them. But it also spews at you the worst insults and makes you swallow the most dirt, telling you to never believe in yourself. All in about .2 seconds. See: Scary.
It is important, then, to talk about the mind. And to work out our thought life. And that is why, I’m assuming, Dallas Willard spent not one but two chapters on our mind. (The next one is next week)
“As we first turned away from God in our thoughts, so it is in our thoughts that the first movements toward the renovation of the heart occur. Thoughts are the place where we can and must begin to change” (p. 95). I think this quote sums up perfectly what Willard is trying to get at in the sixth chapter in the book. We must get our thoughts right. We must think rightly about God, ourselves, and our faith. And that takes working out our salvation (cue last week!)
Now, to recap this week’s lesson: It was taught by a vulnerable and open Stephanie Tipton. The lesson sorta unpacked how we think. Willard calls it the Four Factors of Thought: Ideas, Images, Information, and Our Ability to Think. Ideas are the general models of or assumptions about reality. Images are the concrete perceptions that occupy our mind (like symbols i.e. the cross). Information is kinda self-explanatory. And Our ability to think is “the activity of searching out what must be true, or cannot be true, in light of given facts or assumptions” (p. 104). So, basically, this means actually thinking about and dwelling on the other three categories. Stephanie kinda rearranged the order to show the flow that they go through. We receive information (in all different types of ways) and that filters through our ability to think. We form ideas about what we just thought about and then an image solidifies our abstract idea.
Stephanie said that the thinking portion is key but the most neglected. We too often just take things for granted and become a sponge taking on whatever it is whoever we happen to be listening to at the moment believes. I know I do that like crazy. That’s probably why my mind is a mess. It doesn’t have much to stand on. We, as Christians, sometimes act as if we believe that our faith will take a hit if we think. But, that is so false. I love that Dallas Willard says on page 105: “We too easily forget that it is great thinkers who have given direction to the people of Christ in their greatest moments: Paul, John, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley…” These guys were scholars. Thankfully, you don’t have to even go to school to know the depths of God and his word… but you don’t have to fear knowledge or thinking. How freeing! We don’t have to fear our questions or our doubts or our general curiosity. A song I really like says “all the doubts I’ve faced, I continue to face them/but nothing is a waste if you learn from it/ and the sun, it does not cause us to grow/ it is the rain that will strengthen your soul” (“I Have Made Mistakes” by The Oh Hello’s). I love the powerful, simple, and sorta angsty truth of this song. Doubting is not bad. Doubting can bring you closer to the truth. It can and will strengthen your soul. Asking tough questions should never be shameful. It is shameful to NOT ask tough questions.***
Stephanie shared how she, through circumstances, has discovered some false views of God that she has believed. And she was honest that it’s hard not to continue to believe them. But, identifying our false views of God is the thing. It forces us to go back to the word and seek out what it really says. It is all a part of the process. It is our sanctifying. It is taking back the thing that has been stolen from us through the fall of man and it is the renovating of our heart.
We have to take note of our thoughts. What do I think about God? What do I think about myself? Is that the truth? I don’t know. But I do know where I can find out. And it ties in so wonderfully with last week’s lesson… KNOW THE WORD. Read your Bible! I cannot stress that enough to myself. Read. Read. Read. It can be boring. It can be dry. But, hey, Stephanie found a big answer to a big question she had in her life in Leviticus. And I have had many revelations through reading Numbers. (Talking donkeys!) And think about what you read. Figure out what it’s saying. Read other books. Pray. Talk with people. And don’t fear when people have different views from you. Listen. I think we’ll all surprise ourselves with how we come one step closer to the truth every time.
And I loved how the lesson ended. Thinking will always lead us to worship. Cause when you think… you think “man, God is awesome.” or “Wow! God thinks THAT about me?” or “I didn’t realize God promises this!” or “Look how faithful God is to those stinking Israelites” or “Wow. God is the most creative person ever I wanna go paint something” etc.
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably scared of what’s up there. What’s inside of you. What you’re about to start thinking about. But, a good friend (Paul David Tripp) once told me: “do not be afraid of your heart.” (or, in this instance…. Your mind.) (He’s not really a good friend… I just read his book). And, more importantly, don’t be afraid of God. He’s not surprised or thrown off by ANYTHING you do.
This week was more about the thinking processes and next week Willard continues with the mind and talks about feelings (Jeannine is speaking!). And, just like we have to reorder our thought life, we definitely need to reorder our feelings. I have to remind myself about 20,349,170,283 times a day to not let my emotions run me. I can’t satisfy the insatiable feelings I have no matter how hard I try. So, I must give in and let God satisfy my feelings and change them to be the beautiful thing they should be. But, I am getting ahead of myself. Can’t wait for Sunday to hear this lesson.
*** Willard makes a solid point that I want to clarify. When we think about God we begin to think about him more steadily. Meaning: we’re not gonna be doubting Thomas’ forever. When we think, we get a right view of God. And that, again, sanctifies us.
The lesson was on chapter 5 of Renovation of the Heart, which, honestly, I didn't read. (I was hoping to be really good with the readings and keep up every week but I'm still on chapter 2... but that's okay.) The chapter is called Spiritual Change: The Reliable Pattern. The lovely Marilyn Maddox spoke. She shared her story which intertwined nicely with what she wanted to teach in the lesson. She spoke about running from God in her earlier years and how he continually pursued her. It was when she had to face her beliefs and began to question her faith that she began to turn to God. She began to let God work in her and to go to scripture to figure out what it said about God and about her beliefs and that changed her. (I hope I didn't completely butcher your story, Marilyn.)
The lesson was about obedience and working out your salvation to really know what it is you say you believe. The book gives an acronym VIM which stands for Vision, Intention, Means. To undergo spiritual change, we must have a vision that aligns with God's vision. His will and our will are one. And that does not mean that our will is the way, but it is God's will that will prevail. (How many times can I say "will" in one sentence?) That, honestly, is the hardest part for me. Which, when I think about it, I will say that for each part. Marilyn, and the book, talked a lot about how if we don't work at it, we won't get change. It is an active decision on our part to begin the change. It is through the grace of God and he does the changing, but we daily have to work out our salvation. And part of that is reading the word and figuring out what the heck it is that we say we are aligning ourselves with. That is the Intention part of VIM. The Means is how God changes us. And how we go about working out our salvation.
I've never been good at obedience. I like to think I have a delayed obedience to the Lord. I usually (sometimes) do what God asks me to do but it may take a couple days or couple of months. So any lesson on obedience usually makes me slightly uncomfortable. (Conviction is hard). But, even though we have to have the mindset of "duty to delight", it' not always about willing your way into it. It's about working out your salvation and getting in the word and really getting to know the God we confess to follow and know the things we believe. And through that-- my favorite phase-- "beholding is becoming". We behold the Lord and his word and we become more like him- if only slightly -day by day. And that is encouraging. I think it's important to realize that we do have to work. We do have to do something with our faith. And I fully believe that if I am 1% faithful, God will be 99% faithful. He will close the distance because he is THAT good. Way too good for me. I don't deserve the grace he has bestowed upon me. So I just have to bring the very little I offer and let him take that tiny thing and make it a kingdom. I won't begin to try to explain why he chooses to do this or why he chose to walk with us and give us his spirit and work in us for transformation but He did. And that is awesome. If I can get this first part right, then I will start to see the obedience be slightly easier. And I will want to because I will be so in love with Jesus and I will know fully that his ways are best and he is a safe hiding place. I just wish I wasn't so fickle.
Marilyn mentioned that when she counsels she looks for biblical thinking and how there is a lot of unbiblical thinking in people. That is why she really encouraged us to question whether we really believe what we say we believe. I was talking this morning with some friends that we know the truth in our minds but we don't feel it in our hearts. So we are plagued with doubt, fear, and uncertainty. And it's true. We have to look within and say "do I really believe this?" and, if I don't, why not? Why am I not convinced? And then go to the source. The breath of God. Man, I need to do that more. I am so weak in my mind. I just let it sway back and forth. We need to have a firm foundation (and we do in Christ), but we need weapons to fight off the enemy. I too often run on my own strength or on past seasons of plenty. Honestly, right now I am living as if I don't need to refuel and learn more about Christ. I am living on what I have built in Christ these past 5 years. On a shallow surface that might seem like it would work, but it doesn't. I am swayed. I want to lean on my own opinions. I am fearful. But, starting in his word and letting that be my daily bread will a) give me a firm faith that, when trials come my way, I will know that I know that God will be good and will work it out and b) I will be more willing to lean into his will and obey.
So, get your weights and treadmills and cute workout outfits on and don't sit back. Let's be women who build our muscles to fight off the temptations and trials with a knowledge of Christ and who seek to obey him in all that we do. I hope you didn't hate my awful metaphor.