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Posts Tagged ‘sanctification’

I haven’t thought about these two terms as “entities” in a long time. Are they same or different? There are unique Hebrew and Greek words for them and I am aware the Bible uses them both in a variety of ways. As I read a variety of contemplative books, I see a score of variations. But, right now, I want to know what I believe or experience. Do I need to “know?”

Webster’s doesn’t help much, defining spirit as “an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organism,” or “the immaterial intelligent or sentient part of a person” while soul comes up as “the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life.” Both of these definitions like the words “animating” and “immaterial.” Of course, I already knew that.

When I look up diagrams, several pictures bubble to the top: concentric circles with spirit in the middle, Venn diagrams with overlapping circles, individual circles with arrows between them, and stacked circles within a body. Take your pick.

 

I can remember sitting under some pastors along the way who made this all sound conclusive, but it felt unattainable, as though holiness was a magic ring on a merry go round that I had to reach for, every time I went around. As a young believer, the message was “accept Jesus and boom! you’re good.” Later, “ask for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and you’re completely covered.” But then, along came “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” [Philippians 2:12-13] or “consecrate yourself to God,” [Romans 12:1], or, “you have been chosen through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and to be obedient to Jesus Christ,” [I Peter 1:2]. Obedience, discipline, commitment, long-suffering. And all because I was wondering about the soul and spirit.

Here’s the end result of all this cacophony according to me . . . today.

Soul and Spirit dwell together and they inform each other. They can be small or large, luminous or dusky. They can operate autonomously or as one. They can sing. They can work with the Holy Spirit when they are open. They are not gender specific all the time. My soul can be a curmudgeon. My spirit never is. My soul can be goofy. My spirit waits. They both exult at the Presence of God. They both worship. They both need rest under the wings of God. [Are those really wings? Of course not, but my soul finds comfort there and my spirit is succored there.]

For this reason, I know, the ways of God are a mystery. And my soul dwells there in Spirit.

milky way soul and spirit

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Icon: John the Baptist

To wash ceremonially in ancient Jewish times was to participate in a mikveh (or mikvah). For rituals, particularly washing from impurity, required “living” or flowing water such as a river or mikvot (the mikveh place) fed by a natural spring. It constituted the washing away of the old impurities and to mark the beginning of the new.

Matthew 3:1-2,
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” . . .  “I baptize you with [or in] water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with [or in] the Holy Spirit and fire.

John the Baptist treated sin as the greatest impurity of all and called everyone who wanted a new start to celebrate a mikveh with him, right there in the desert, in the river Jordan. While priests, via the regulations in the Torah and other rabbinical writings, performed the mikveh for a variety of circumstances (after sexual relations for men, a menstrual cycle for women, after the birth of a child, upon declaring someone healed of a skin disease or leprosy, prior to Yom Kippur, and so forth), this may have been the first time that a mikveh was performed without a traditional priest.

John’s message was clear: prepare the way (prepare yourselves) for the coming Messiah. Release the old and make room for the new.

The water submersion was a ritual meant to mark a moment in time. And yet, John promised another moment, a time that would be marked by something more permanent than water: the Holy Spirit and Fire.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit came after Jesus’s resurrection, the gift was given (and promised) to all believers — the in-dwelling of God [Acts 2]. This in-dwelling changed everything and everyone. We tend to minimize this deeply motivating presence today.

There is so much “Jesus Junk” (Tchotchkes) and pat phrases like “Jesus loves you brother.” But it’s more than that. It’s not just that Jesus loves you; it’s that Jesus is you [Philippians 1:21]. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one. And once Jesus has been invited to occupy us, then the process of true sanctification begins, fusing me and the Christ. And with sanctification, unnecessary elements must, like chaff, be cast away and in some cases, burned away through experience, pain, persistence of motion, and repetition. We are all intended to “get it.”

The occupy movement from Wall Street to Washington, D.C., has nothing on the potential power and change that comes from the occupation of a human being by the Holy Spirit. This is the most authentic change of all.

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I know there are people who claim an anointing, a powerful experience or presence of power, usually attributed to the Holy Spirit who then manifests miracles, signs, and wonders. And I’m not debunking these exploits. Instead, I am more intrigued today by John’s insistence on authenticity.


I John 2:27
As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

The anointing is a direct reference to the Holy Spirit. But John’s emphasis is on the Spirit’s authentic presence–not a counterfeit one.

In several of Paul’s passages (Romans 9:1; II Corinthians 11:31; I Timothy 2:7), he specifically states that he is not lying. I remember, as a young Christian, reading those words for the first time and how deeply they struck in my heart. I don’t really know why, but there was something true that resonated in those simple words: I am not lying. I believed.

Many times in a life, we must decide between a truth and a lie. To accept the Christ Spirit is no different. In that moment, it is a decision for truth: I believe God is real, Christ is real, and the Spirit can indwell. And from that point on, the inherited Truth (the anointing) is working to crowd out the lie.

The indwelling cannot be taught, not by human. It is personal and intimate and unique to me. And from that point forward, the path is different as well. For some, the path is a straight line, for others, it’s hilly or even mountainous, and for still others, it’s an ancient meandering river, twisting and turning through the landscape of the heart.

To remain “in” Christ is to remain “in” the Spirit. I in Christ and Christ in me. I in Spirit and Spirit in me.

Of course, I can make things more difficult. I can give power to the lie, give it root and nurture it: the lie can emerge in the form of unforgiveness, bitterness, judging, anxiety, fear, and even doubt. Truth cannot live inside any of these manifestations.

The Anointing is real. I am not lying.

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I am in the talking business. Honestly. Whether it’s in my current line of work serving the library public or my other life as an actress and presenter, or my private life of pure chatter, my mouth is in constant motion. How often has the flow from my heart been distorted without my knowing it?

James 3:8, 10 – 11
. . . but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. . . . Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?

As I contemplated these verses today, I kept going back to the birthplace of the tongue’s motion. After all, the tongue is but a tool; it’s not like training an animal that has some personal will, the tongue is a medium. No, the message is born in the mind and heart and whatever taming is done must begin there.

The mind bears the content but the heart carries the emotion. They work in tandem and can equally obliterate the results.

For this reason, the impetus comes across as a restless evil, with a range of anxieties and uneasy moments, with unexpected impacts like a meteor shower of the soul, the heart and mind react. They form a thought or feeling before it is registered in reason. They are the knee jerk of the patellar reflex.

The hardest thing for me to remember and to accept is the inevitable damage of the reflexive, restless discharge from my mouth as it colors everything else. Like the salty spring that salinates fresh water, so my ill-conceived words distort even the best message.

I am believing, as the heart and mind are transformed by the presence of the Holy Spirit, the tongue, poor stepsister, will respond to sanctification as well. But it has to be organic. Anything else will be a fake out and the words and intent will expose the truth within.

“By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” [Matthew 7:16]

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Photo by Charles C. Ebbets, 1932

Are there people out there who actually like taking tests? Not me. Conceptually, I understand the reason for them, they inform me and reveal to me what I know. But I have contorted this process into a performance: good score, good girl and vice versa, or worse, pass/fail. That’s not how it works.

I Thessalonians 2:3-4
For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, . . . We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.

It’s unlikely that God’s intent is to grade Paul on his experiences in Thessalonica in the process testing his heart. Bible translations slightly differ on how they interpret the Greek word, dokimazo. The long definition would be “I put to the test, prove, examine; I distinguish by testing, approve after testing; I am fit.” So, in this context, heart testing is a way to reveal what is really there. It’s an authenticity gauge.

Unfortunately, but most of us don’t really know or understand our hearts. Generally, we get a vague idea based on our behaviors, our decisions, and subsequent fall-out. Sometimes, we create a scenario to see inside. I remember how that turned out a long time ago when Mike and I went to a marriage retreat and were instructed to discuss with each other what we would do if either one of us was trapped on a very high beam that was stretched between two skyscrapers. Would we, despite our fear, go out to the middle of the beam to save the other one. This exercise, I suppose, was to show our sacrificial love for one another. Of course, Mike said he wouldn’t come out. “What ifs” are dangerous games.

Bottom line, heart testing has to be the real thing. It’s the only way to exercise an authentic response to a situation. This is where courage and fear wrestle, where practice becomes second nature, where our progress can be reflected, straight out.

When Captain (pilot) Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger successfully “ditched” U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River with no loss of life, he was sorely tested. And yet, he responded with all the practice and all the experience he had. He assessed his situation, he evaluated all the choices, and he acted.

I must be willing to do the same. I cannot know in advance how I will react in a situation. I can only work on responses and the health of my inner life and relationship with the Christ Spirit within me. I may need to be more conscious now in my choices as a way of building up my heart’s understanding so that I can respond instinctively to the next situation.

Another word for this sanctification.

Test me, O LORD, and try me,
examine my heart and my mind;
for your love is ever before me,
and I walk continually in your truth. [Psalm 26:2-3]

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Sometimes my computer is so messed up, the only thing left to do is reboot: shut it down and restart it. And I’m thinking this was God’s plan as well. Humans needed a a restart, a clear way to reboot the system, a specific point in time to begin fresh. Christ is grace personified.

Ephesians 2:4-5
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Of course, a reboot will take care of the current glitches but it doesn’t erase all the old stuff. Right now, my computer is running really slow. I kept thinking it was the Internet connection or the router, but I finally had to go poking around the “C” drive to determine what else might be the cause. Since I’m not a computer expert, this investigation is always a little daunting.

As I scrolled through the “Add/Remove programs” section, I found a number of old programs I no longer use. They were just taking up space. They weren’t hurting anything, they were just memory hogs. As a Christian, there are the same kinds of things that are no longer part of my daily life. I don’t need those rule-sets for anymore. So why hang on to them? Click on remove program.

A second place I looked for memory wasters was the files themselves. Since my family sees the desktop as a “family computer,” I have discovered they leave a bunch of unnecessary files on the hard drive. Many of those were easy to dump since they weren’t mine. However, many other files represented special times in my life. But how much is too much to carry around and store? In our basement, I still have my files from graduate school. OK, that was ten years ago. Isn’t it time to take these boxes of old homework, term papers, and dated books to the landfill? Same for the old computer files.

The biggest file folder turned out to be a music folder of my daughter’s (3.5 gigabytes). I vaguely remember trying to help her salvage her I-tunes from a damaged (trojan/virus infected) laptop. In the end, we put them on the desktop for safe keeping, a holding tank. I was reminded of the times I’ve tried to help other people emotionally and taken on their stuff. I’d forgotten that I had to pass that stuff along to the God who is willing to carry it all. Click on delete … empty the wastebasket.

After I did all this deleting and emptying, I did another reboot, a refresh. Computer is running better.

Same for me. First reboot at accepting Christ was life-changing. But I still need to refresh my system along the way. Sometimes I need a technician to help me ferret out the problems, but sometimes, I just need to delete the old stuff: prayer, confession, thanksgiving.

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How do we know? Isn’t it highly presumptuous to imagine I can actually know the deeper things of God? The answer: I can’t know, except in one regard, the mystery of a Redeemer given for humankind . . . given for me.

I Corinthians 2:10
” . . . but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.”

So many mysteries in our world: some live while others die; some are weak while others are strong; some are rich while others are poor; and some are sensitized to the Spirit while others are not.

Why did it all make sense to me back in 1979? Why did words/ideas from the Bible suddenly jump out to me that day and speak to my inner being? I stepped over the line from unbelief to belief. At first it made no sense and the next day it did. My inner eye was opened. My mind was reset. My spirit found connection.

That place is the first step toward the deep things of God. That was my first mystery revealed. I couldn’t answer any of those other questions for anyone else. I only knew that moment was real for me. I encountered a real God: a real Spirit.

Where is reality? For my work, I just read a book that received the 2009 Printz Award for distinction in young adult literature called Going Bovine by Libba Bray. It’s not a particularly easy book to read nor is it particularly spiritual. But there is a current of thought through it about the world within. The boy is quite ill with Creuzfeld Jakob’s disease (Mad Cow disease) and is confined to a hospital bed and mostly unconscious. During that time, he lives through a great adventure, a quest. Was it real?

And so it is with the deep things of God. These things are also real and beyond our three dimensional understanding of time and space. We must let go to know. We must let go to live that bigger life within.

That which is redeemed is within.

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