"Love, it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you. It will set you free. Be more like the man you were made to be. There is a design, an alignment, a cry of my heart to see the beauty of love as it was made to be. "

- Mumford & Sons
Renovation of the Heart Week 12 Recap

Kingdom of God and Grace

This week was slightly different than most because we had a guest speaker: (and a boy! Uh!) Russell Minick! Although, this week was not without tears. He came to speak on the Kingdom of God and Grace and help us define what they are.

He used slides and many of them came from Dallas Willard himself (who Russell knew! AND who graduated from Baylor. Sic 'em.) The lesson was more intellectual than emotional, and I will try to help you understand it. Bear with me because both Russell and Willard are incredibly smart people.

The Bible commands us to walk as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6). And, contrary to popular belief maybe, that is possible. Russell says that we make Jesus to be other from us because we blame everything on his deity, but in reality he did everything through his humanity. Chew on that cookie.

Russell said his goal for this week was to clarify the Kingdom and Grace. Here is what he said about these things (and a couple other things).

The Kingdom of God is, most simply, the range of God's effective will, where what God wants done is done. For God, that is probably literally the whole earth. But, it's less about a place and more about a jurisdiction. And the Kingdom of Heaven is interchangeable. Jesus is first and foremost Lord and King (not Savior as we often think).

"The Gospel of the Kingdom is the gospel". Jesus heard and was baptized not to show us but He did it for him. Ithought that was so cool. It was not something I had thought of before. The gospel announces the King of Kings and asks us to change our thinking to align with him.

Kingdom of Heaven
is a different sphere, not a different place. It is all around us, we just are not in sync. But, there are specific moments in time when the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth overlap (Jacob's ladder, the tabernacle, Jesus, etc). The "end times", or what you will, will be a reconciliation of Heaven and Earth. It is a going back to our original purposes.

Our original purposes
are to Love God, Love others and represent him on this earth. And that's where Grace comes in. We are saved to love well. If we don't love well, we do not understand the gospel. So Church should be about relationships.

We don't contain grace. It is always working around us. It is not a passive thing. It is working in us and through us. It is changing us. It is important for us to not nullify grace so we must work out our salvation. God is not freaked out by our bad habits. But, he empowers our progress with grace.

That's where the Spiritual Disciplines come in. And, according to Russell, memorizing scripture is the most important discipline. So, again, like we've been learning this whole summer, reading the Bible is important.

If you get anything out of this summer, I hope it is a longing to read the Word. Or even just a sense that you should. The longing will come later. Just do it.

Kinda like Russell said about Willard, the truths are actually very simple and what we've known since we began getting to know God. It's just another way to look at it to slightly understand the mystery of God better.

Renovation of the Heart Week 11 Recap

Transforming the Soul, or Gingers Have Souls Too

Hey guys. I'm back from the land of the rich and famous (LA).

So, I went to Sphlashtown yesterday. The kids I was with and I spent a long time at that water treehouse thingy-- you know, the one that has the huge bucket above the playground that is constantly being filled with water until it dumps over and everyone gets soaked. Well, there we are with a huge group of strangers all waiting under the spot where the water would rush down. No one knows when it's gonna rain down, you just have to wait. And then all of the sudden it comes and it is the most water you've ever had poured on top of you. And I was thinking about how silly it is that we would wait for liquid to get poured on us. But, as I was being rained on, I couldn't help but feel like this was one of the best feelings in the world. WHY?! I have no idea. But, for some reason God put it inside all of us to not only need water to live, but to love being in it and having it wash over us. I think he did that so that people for millions of years would have good analogies when talking about God's living water for us. But, it is a good picture of God's living water that he pours into our souls. Our souls cry out to God, waiting for his love to rain down on us. It is our refreshment, our life, our peace, and our joy.

I really enjoyed this lesson. I think partly because Willard kinda takes a break on slamming you down with deep conviction. Instead, this week literally felt like taking a drink of water (my use of water analogies might run dry in this blog........ pun intended..........). I also liked it because it shifted the way I thought about myself and God and the connection between us. Here is the outline of the lesson and what stood out to me:

The soul is a mystery to us all and that is what makes it beautiful. This lesson was not about pinning the soul down, but to give us enough insight into how the Lord uses the soul and to keep us marveling at it.

We have all used the term "soul" about a thousand times. But, I was surprised that I didn't fully know what it was. We all know instinctively it is the deepest part of us. I usually "feel" my soul in my gut. I like the definition I think Stephanie (or maybe Willard) gave us that it is the fundamental, foundational part of who we are. It is your "sim card". The other interesting, important point is that it is not accessible to us. We don't have the same relationship with the soul as we do our emotions, our thoughts, our will, our body, or our social aspect. But, it influences every part of us.

When we think of our soul (the deepest part of us) it would make sense that the soul would be the most central ring in the circle of our life. But Willard actually says that it is the outer ring. Because it is the access point for God. He first comes to contact to us through the soul.

The soul is the access point, and it is also our source for food and drink. One of the analogies for the soul comes from Psalm 1:1-3. We are a tree planted by a stream, and our soul is the roots that go deep under. The roots drink from the water (see, water) and then provide nourishment for the rest of the body. Stephanie shared the analogy of a company as well (the soul is the computer system that allows all the other parts of the company to be able to do work).

Okay so I want to share with you what I understand the soul to be after this lesson. I can't guarantee that I'm right, but here is how I see the soul:

When God created us, He breathed his image and likeness and life into us.* So, every one of us -- whether we believe or not -- has a soul and has a piece of God inside of us. The deepest part of us is the likeness of God. We can't access it, only God can. I think that maybe the soul is the only part of us that was not affected by the fall. It is the only thing in us that can't be evil. It is solely a door way for God to access our spirit and it is a bucket to hold the living water inside of us. We can choose to neglect it and keep the door shut, so that God has no way to pour refreshment and life into us, letting our emotions and will drive us or we can choose to keep ourselves open to the rushing flow of the Lord to take us over. That is why there is a tension inside of us. Our soul and our flesh are literally waging a civil war inside of us.** Our soul is thirsty*** and I think it deeply longs for God, but our mind only feels the longing (which is why we can fill our souls with things other than God). Our soul knows that we need nothing more but a huge bucket of God's peace and love and nourishment to rush over us. To overcome us. Our soul knows it even when our mind and heart do not. Our soul longs for the word like it is a nice bucket of Texas Roadhouse rolls. What we can do is feed it with the word and open up the door into our soul to allow God to come in and keep our soul from shriveling up inside us. When our soul overflows, it will clean out our bodies. And when our soul is healthy, so is everything else in us because we will be submitted to God.

*Genesis 2:7
"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (KJV).

**1 Peter 2:11
"Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul" (ESV).

***Psalm 63:1
"My soul thirsts for you" (ESV).