Integrated

His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who committed the sin that caused him to be born blind, this man or his parents?'”  John 9:2 (NET)

I was talking today with a church leader about the implications of a person with a Western worldview reading a text written by ancient Middle Easterners.  The Bible, of course, was written by ancient Middle Easterner’s who write from an ancient Middle Eastern worldview.  Most of the people I interact with on a daily basis read the Bible from a modern Western worldview.  And as I’m sure you know, one’s worldview is not an overt aspect of how we perceive and interpret things. Instead, a worldview is very subtle and covert, but it colors everything we see and interact with.

The distinctions are many, I am sure. But in my studies thus far, I’ve become acutely aware of this:

  • A Western worldview is a very dualistic lens. It sees the inner and the outer/external journey as separate and distinct, almost antagonistic against each other.
  • An Eastern worldview, especially and including an ancient Middle Eastern worldview, understands a person to be very integrated, body mind and spirit as one.

As such, many Westerners are perplexed by passages such as the one in John 9.  What a silly question to one with a Western worldview.  But for one with an Eastern worldview, the question is obvious. Physical sickness can and often does begin with the mind and soul.  Even Western medicine is beginning to admit the inherent connection between inner and outer aspects of self.

Try reading the Gospels with an Eastern worldview in mind. Try looking at church history with the overtones of an Eastern worldview. You will see things differently.

  • Like the laws of the Torah that make a person clean or unclean by what they eat and what they touch.
  • Like the woman who only needed to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe to stop a perpetual bleeding.
  • Like how lepers were cast out of cities to survive on their own, not only because of the physical contagion, but also because if their perceived spiritual depravity.
  • Like how the early church was the one to start the concept of hospitals … because they knew that caring for the body was also caring for the soul in some deeply mysterious, God-breathed way.

May we all learn to embrace our God-breathed integratedness and, in the process, come to know and reflect our Creator more clearly.

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Flesh

“And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us ….”  John 1:14a (KJV)

In Christian parlance, the word “flesh” has gotten a bad rap.  Most Christians associate “the flesh” with things sinful or evil or tempting.  But the word used for “flesh” in the Bible actually carries no such connotation.

The Greek word “sarx” simply means “flesh” — skin, meat, bones — whether of men, beasts, fish or birds.  It has neither a good or a bad association with it.  The New Living Translation of the Bible does a better job of keeping the word neutral, in its original sense.

So why & how did “flesh” get such a bad rap?  That’s a long and complicated story, but for now, may God encourage you & renew your mind about how you think about your flesh.

Your flesh was created by God and given to you.  It is a gift.  It has amazing potential for good and for beauty and for reflecting God’s glory.  Your flesh is an integral  part of how God made you.  And He does not ask you to divide yourself against yourself.  In God’s kingdom, there is no separation between the sacred and the secular.  God wants all of you.

Can the flesh do bad things?  Yes.  And so can the mind.  And so can the spirit.  It’s what we do or don’t do with our flesh that constitutes something good or something evil.  The flesh itself is not evil.

After all, the Word became flesh.  God Himself incarnate in the flesh …

… and He did something wonderful with His.  Will you?

Strength-Training

“The Lord strengthen and protects me; I trust in Him with all my heart.”  Psalm 28:7a (NET)

“Will you trust Me in the shadow as well as in the sun?'” God said to me. “Do you not yet know that inner strength comes in and through the struggle?”

Strength comes through the struggle.

Yes, it does. And the same is true for strength-training. In order for our muscles to grow stronger, they need to be progressively overloaded. In other words … to get stronger, muscles need to be systematically and repetitively loaded beyond the point at which the muscle is normally loaded. Plain English? A muscle needs to repeatedly work against resistance to a point of fatigue. Then the muscle repairs and grows.

This is how God made us. As we struggle to lift a heavier weight, our muscle is growing stronger.  It is one of His principles in this world.  And when we struggle to get through trying times, we get stronger in spirit too.  (See also “Growing Stronger” post (8/10/15) and “Growth” post (6/24/14)).

So every time I weight-train these days, I think about growing stronger. I think about all of me growing stronger.  Because, rest assured, the thought and intention I put into my weight-lifting routine is nothing compared to the thought and care God puts into the “shadows” He allows me to go through.

“Will you trust Me in the shadows as well as in the sun?” He asks.

Yes, I will Lord.

And with You by my side, I trust that I can and will come out stronger on the other side.

Abundance

I have come so that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10b (NET)

(Dedicated to Kim)

I spent the first part of the Christmas holiday sick. Just a winter cold, but still sick. And I struggled to get past the sickness of my body to let my mind and spirit relish in the joy of Christmas, As I struggled, I was reminded of what another Christian theologian once wrote: “Sickness makes it impossible to avoid the reality of our bodies. When I am sick, I am not a mind (or soul) with a suffering body; I am the suffering body.”

And then I learned that my dear friend Kim is battling breast cancer. As I listened to Kim and her process, I was again clearly reminded that God made us as integrated wholes. Kim’s battle is much more than a physical battle in her body; it is a battle in her body, mind and spirit. It is a battle that involves all of her.

God Himself is triune — three parts in one indivisible whole. And He made us in His image. Yet many Christians have come to believe that we have bodies … not that we are, at least in part, bodies. But there are times, like when we are sick, when we are reminded that we are integrated bodies. God made us that way. The health of one aspect of myself affects the other aspects of myself. The health of my body affects my mind and spirit. The health of my mind affects my body and spirit (as seen, for example, in people with brain damage.). And the health of my spirit affects my mind and body. An integrated whole.

In the miracle of Christmas, Jesus came to give us life in all of its abundance. And, given the way God made us, I firmly believe that abundant life has to include all aspects of how God made us. Abundant mind, body and spirit.

So as I prepare to have my friend Kim over for dinner tonight, I am hoping to encourage and lift her up in mind and spirit … knowing and trusting that the health of her mind and spirit will help to foster abundance in her body.

And as I prepare for a new year, I ponder anew where God wants to see greater abundance in me.

Anew

“Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord!   Praise the Lord!”  Psalm 150:6

Last night we held one of our Spin Therapy classes.  It’s an amazing cycling class that very intentionally incorporates mind and spirit with the work the body is doing.  Every time we have one of these classes, God shows up big time.

One of the things that I loved was that we discussed how important the breath is to exercise … and how the words the Bible uses for breath can also mean spirit … and therefore, then each time we breathed, we thought about inviting the Spirit in.

I also loved watching how God met individually with each person in the class and spoke to them personally and intimately.  Many came to tears at one point in the class (and not because their legs were hurting!)  God touched each one deeply and uniquely.

And I loved how the whole class erupted with applause at the end of the hour together — not because their instructor was such a good instructor — but because they had met with their Maker and worshipped Him holistically — body, mind and spirit.  They had met with God in a fresh way, and He touched them.  (The truth is that connecting with God in new ways and in new environments can open new synapses and pathways in the brain to truly experience God afresh and anew.  And who doesn’t want to experience God anew!?)

But today, the part that is sticking with me the most was the portion of the class where we all started singing “Jesus” … “Jesus” in appropriate response to the song on the CD.  A room full of virtual strangers, exercising and singing in chorus:  “Jesus … “Jesus!”  It was unprompted and uninhibited … an individual yet collective sacrifice of praise.  Gives me chills right now to remember it.

And brings a new perspective to today’s verse:  Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!

The Air We Breathe

This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Look, I am about to infuse breath into you and you will live. … I will put breath in you and you will live.  Then you will know that I am the Lord.”  Ezekiel 37:5-6 (NET)

Have you ever exercised until you were almost out of breath?  Have you ever had the breath knocked out of you?  If so, you have experienced the preciousness of breath.

Because otherwise, we take breath for granted.  Breathing is as natural as, well, the air we breathe.  And yet, when God formed mankind, He “formed the man from the soil of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7).  Paul reiterates in the book of Acts that God Himself gives life and breath to everything and everyone (Acts 17:25b).   And the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that when these bodies die, “life’s breath returns to God who gave it.”  (Ecc. 12:7b).

Interestingly, the Hebrew word for breath in both Ezekiel 37 and in Ecclesiastes 12 is the word ruach which can be translated either as “breath” or “spirit.”  Also, the Greek word for breath used in Acts 17 (and elsewhere in the New Testament) is the word pneuma which also can be translated either as “breath” or “spirit.”

Hmmmm.

Maybe the Spirit is as essential to our being as is breathing.

Maybe our very being is more integrated with God’s being than we might image.

Maybe God is not closer than the air we breathe; maybe His Spirit IS the air we breathe.

Maybe when we breathe, we invite the Spirit of God in to give us life.

So the next time you are working out and begin to notice your breath, use it as a prompting to notice the Spirit.  And the next time things get hard, and you are tempted to hold your breath — breathe!  Especially then, breathe.

And when the resurrected Jesus appeared to His disciples, “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'”  (John 20:21b-22).

Fueling & Cleansing

“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.” Hebrews 9:14 (NIV)

The human body is an amazing creation, comprised of 11 different systems. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about two of them — the cardiovascular system and the respiratory system. These two systems work together to fuel and to cleanse our bodies. Oxygenated blood is pumped by the heart throughout the body, providing oxygen and other nutrients to the body’s tissues. The body uses these elements to produce energy. Simultaneously, the blood carries away waste from the body’s tissues — waste like carbon dioxide and metallic by-products. Deoxygenated blood returns to the lungs, whereby carbon dioxide is removed from the body and blood is reoxygenated.

Amazing , isn’t it!?

When we exercise, our blood and our breath are increasingly important to continue the fueling and the cleansing of our body and its tissues. The body needs more oxygen to meet increased energy demands, which it turn produces more waste to be carried away. The blood and the breath are critical to our life and to our performance.

Funny how the same is true in our spiritual lives as well. Even there, the blood cleanses — that is, of Christ carries away our impurities and sin — while the breath of the Spirit fuels us for good works. (The same Greek word pneuma is used in the Bible to mean both breath and spirit — see May 13, 2014 post, Breathe.)

So the next time you are out on a walk, think about the work of the blood and the breath … and thank God for providing both!