Looking Within Your Soul

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by D. Brent Sandy

Ready for scalpel? Not so fast my friend—how did you come to the awareness that surgery was needed and might be helpful?

Preparation: In our lives many of us have made a visit to a health-care facility for at least one of the following tests.

  • An X-ray: beams of energy are sent through the body, which, when blocked by bones or other body parts, partially reveals what’s inside.
  • CT scan: X-ray beams rotate around the body, creating 3D images, which provide another insight into the composition of our bodies.
  • An MRI: strong magnets and radio waves affect atoms in the water molecules within the body’s tissues, making it possible to detect various issues.
  • An Ultrasound: sound waves are sent into the body and, because different tissues reflect sound waves differently, add to our understanding of what is inside.
  • Nuclear imaging: injections of tiny amounts of a radioactive material release radiation, providing another internal picture of the body.
  • PET scan:radioactive sugar is injected into the body, and when cancer cells take up the radioactive substance, they expose themselves.

These impressive tools permit medical staff to see what is inside us. Might there be something equally valuable in revealing what is spiritually inside our souls?

The sharpened scalpel: Scripture reveals itself as a wondrous spiritual tool: “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than a two-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit…it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

Keeping a medical based analogy for contemporary readers, perhaps we may paraphrase the passage this way: “The word of God is a two-edged scalpel.”  With this scalpel a soul is uncovered, and “laid bare before the eyes of [God]…” (Hebrews 4:13b). 

Startling paraphraseThe word of God is a two-edged scalpel.

Life Application Questions

  1. When you look inside your soul (preparation) what do you see and, what would you like to do (the sharpened scalpel) about your vision?
  2. When God looks inside your soul (preparation) what can be seen and, what would God like to do for you (the scalpel)?

D. Brent Sandy, Ph.D., is the author of Plowshare & Pruning Hooks, Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic. InterVarsity Press Academic, 2002. Available on Amazon.com.

The Spirituality of Clothing

Scripture Resource Passage: Colossians 3:17

                  The Johannsen family consists of Roberta who is a single mom and three adolescents. Rachel is thirteen, Ron is fifteen, and Robert is seventeen years of age respectively. Roberta acknowledges that encouraging spiritual values with her teenagers is a challenging process. 

                  Insightful and helpful spiritual wisdom for adolescents may come from parents or peers. We also know the power of market-place advertising and the significance of peer pressure. Teens (and each of us) can benefit from spiritually appropriate input, when it is delivered at precisely the right time.

                  Believing in seizing a teachable moment Roberta continues making solid investments of time and conversation with her children. Following a church-youth-group encounter Roberta wisely listened and talked her children. Part of the weekend emphasis had included a discussion of appropriate clothing styles.

                  Roberta asked a friend, “How do I help my daughter, who faces the pressure of adolescence, think through decisions about her appearance?”

                  She continued, “I want to do more than say ‘No, you can’t wear that!’ I want her to think about the spirituality of clothing.”

                  She asked her friend, “Did I really say ‘the spirituality of clothing?’” 

                  She explained, “I also have to find a way to include my boys in this conversation. I’m not sure how to work this into our family time.”

                  Individual families and the family of nations often choose to ignore fundamental spiritual instructions. The disaster outlined in the classic book The Lord of the Flies by William Golding gives a clever account of events which occur without maturing spiritual guidance. Likewise, the challenge of early (or late) adolescent years is not lessened simply because a family chose the spiritual values of Jesus.

Life Application 

  • As Roberta continues to be a single mom, what encouragement would you give her in conversations with her children?
  • What do you think of Roberta’s identifying: the spirituality of clothing?

I See Clearly

Scripture Resource Passage: John 12:1-36

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Disastrous—catastrophic implications. You see his chest rise and fall with every breath, the banquet’s food and drink passing over his lips. Sitting so close you see his sunburned face, the color of his hair and the concern of his countenance. 

Strong startling words are recorded; they are wrapped in poetic imagery. An old prophet makes a brief appearance as his words are remembered. A very real and enlightening Divine presence—a spiritual power encounter

                  Spiritually based macular degeneration afflicts some attenders. Possibly it is the drop-down curtain of a torn retina afflicting their ability to see the sacred One. Blinding truth should project through any cataract impeded lens. 

                  The blindness was true in the first century and now. Imagine sitting in the Judas-seat and not seeing Him at all. Make no mistake— discernment is a spiritual gift; but at times our visionary optic nerve fills with spiritual fog.

                  Everyday life is made of up moments when discernment—the ability to judge, to see with understanding—has the ability to bless us. Or, if we’re literally not seeing who is in front of us, produces poor discernment leading to injurious outcomes. Vision and discernment are among the most practical life-skills asking, “What do you see?”

                  I stumbled over the curb and tore open my knee! 

                  I did not see your car! 

                  I did not see that the blemish would be something more than a freckle. 

                  When did we start going to this store? 

                  Where in the world are we going? 

                  Where in the world have we been? 

                  There are times when physically and mentally seeing would be helpful. John 12:1-36 is the historical record of individuals afflicted with lousy spiritual discernment. Surprisingly perhaps, there are a number of times when crowds of people seem to understand precisely who is in front of them — “for on account of him [Lazarus] many…were going over to Jesus and believing in him.”

                  Missing Jesus is the obvious consequence of poor spiritual discernment. We could be forgiven for missing an old prophet’s imagery (Zechariah 9:9). Spiritual vision with discernment, will be the reward of those whose determination leads them to seek understanding in his words. Zechariah wrote: 

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Life Applications

  1. What sharpens your spiritual discernment?
  2. Have you discovered strategies which improve your spiritual vision?

Unlikely to be Chosen

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Scripture Resource Passage: John 1-7

Joachim the Extrovert and Roberto the Introvert

            Yelling and screaming for three hours at the game—no wonder his throat feels like a rough-shod shoe. Words spoken evening’s after a game come out in a basso-sounding rumble. Before the 2020 pandemic shut down the game, Joachim stood with thirty thousand close friends almost every weekend. 

            With one hand on his throat and one hand in the air he whispers, “I love it!” Joachim the extrovert pours out his soul like a heavy rain marching across the field of play.

            The morning after a game his speech scratches with the graveling sound of 40 grit sandpaper, “I would not have missed it for the world!” God was watching and listening to Joachim.

            During a game Roberto had different experiences. His crowd-filled game-time was at least annoying and at worst, tormenting. Roberto seldom attended in person. 

            After the league’s final weekend of play and while shaking his head side-to-side he said, “Yes, I went. No, no, no it was miserable. I stood up for almost three hours with those crazy people yelling and singing. They wore me out. I’d have rather stayed home and watched on television.” 

            Roberto the introvert: his comments clearly affirming portions of his personality. God was also watching and listening to Roberto.

            The same event—two contrasting outcomes. Thankfully, even in crowds God deals with us in formative, particular and precise ways taking into account our soul’s identity.

            Reports in the first seven chapters of the Gospel of John describe Jesus meeting many people. Some choose to be publicly identified others choose to avoid public scrutiny. Wedding guests appear as well as members of Jesus’ family and newly called disciples. 

            What may surprise you is the individuals—the unlikely to be chosen—to whom Jesus reveals the truth of his identity. He speaks with individuals who are not spiritually, culturally or in terms of gender supposed to be sophisticated listeners—the unlikely to be chosen. A variety of clear examples are documented in John’s record—please note three.

            Among the unlikely Jesus selects the Wildman—John the Baptist, the secret disciple-in-training Nicodemus and the scandalous unnamed woman of Samaria. None of these are on a humanly created list of people designated most likely to succeed. None would be selected as favorites to become disciples. 

            After reading the Gospel accounts at least one truth insistently arises: each person, each one a missing piece, each one with extrovert or introvert tendencies experiences Christ’s presenceGod is watching and listening to you, searchingthe unlikely to be chosen.

Life Application Questions

  1. Do you find yourself attuned to spiritual encounters in a crowd or when you are alone?
  2. Is there at least one person in John 1-7 who most resembles you?

An Amputated Soul

Scripture Resource Passage: John 21:20-24

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            Disconnected. An amputated soul—as in a cut-off arm or leg. If the limb is gone, it is gone—disconnected. 

            Peter (a close follower of Jesus) disconnects himself, when he presumes to know more than he knows—thinking he understands more than he understands. Amputated—please read today’s Scripture Resource Passage with care (John 21:20-24).

            Personally, I am very glad God saw fit to include the startling encounter, because I find myself thinking ‘Hea brothers and sisters, I know what’s happening.’ Actually, I seldom know what’s happening. An example? Sure.

            I thought I knew there was a nearly unstoppable positive and seismic-like shift occurring in the world’s economy. February, 2020 and businesses world-wide and the United States were booming. Corporate profits were up. At some levels there were good beginnings for a national debate of caring for disenfranchised people. Additionally, employment numbers were at all time high levels. 

            Moving forward to June, 2020 there are now reports of profound unemployment. Will it stabilize at 20%? Even asking the question tells us—not good; and our national focus now moves to social distancing. Washing your hands has become more than your mother’s gentle reminder before dinner

            Small businesses are crashing—employment layoffs and furloughs are being reported hourly. We long to see indicators of non-amputated souls even as additional tragedies occur which reveal continued racial bias and discrimination. 

            I thought I knew what was occurring—turns out, I did not. 

            There is a miniscule presence, maybe you know of it—Covid-19? Very very small in size. Joining the corona virus, a recent incident issue of social justice denied is demanding to be acknowledged. Has a heart amputation occurred?

            I, like Peter, may have thought I understood the grand scheme at play, obviously I did not. I was focusing elsewhere when I should have been paying attention. Here’s the transition from my own foolish heart to Peter—as portrayed in John’s Gospel.

            Peter seems caught up in the issue of what is happening with someone else—whose name was John (check the Scripture Resource Passage if you have lost the thread of the story). An amputation of Peter’s heart has occurred. 

            In the story Jesus speaks to Peter’s disconnect (his spiritual amputation). Jesus asserts that Peter’s focus should be on Peter’s own issues. Directly to Peter Jesus says, “You [must] follow me” (John 21:22).

            Jesus continues, “What is it to you if I want him to remain alive?” Peter, close companion of Jesus for nearly three years  presumed to act as if he was in on the inside game of God. Jesus simply reminds him that he may be a rock, but he (Peter), is not the Rock.

            God have mercy on us. Correct me, correct the nations as you will. We hear the words of Jesus— ‘You, pay attention. Follow me—don’t live an amputated-life.’

Life Application Questions

  1. How would you counsel Peter to continue developing as a disciple?

What feelings were evoked in Peter’s soul when he heard the words of Jesus?

Recovery When Life Tumbles

            “Even though I know words about the Bible, and have investigated Bible-words, I am always like the prodigal son coming back to the Father after making poor choices.” Painfully aware of his troubles Richard sorrowfully spoke these words (Luke 15:11-32).

            Satan means such awareness to be a stone over which he would stumble. God intends Richard’s awareness as an invitation to step upwards in spiritual maturity. Come back to the Father. 

            Acknowledging the truth of your soul’s condition can be a pruning experience (John 15:1). Recognizing himself as a person in need of a Spirit-led-true-pruning means Richard is spiritually developing, becoming aware he has been producing woefully foul tasting fruit. 

            Today’s passage (John 18:28-40) is record from the long ago for those who encountered similar growth opportunities—those opportunities were lost. Jesus stood in front of many, and the many, never saw him. Unlike earlier times no one wanted to stand alongside him, for if they had seen him a decision was called for (Matthew 4:23-25).

            As the season of the cross approached Jesus spoke of ultimate concerns (in 2020 Good Friday was April 18). The word ‘truth’ appears twice in John’s accounting. Truth is a serious matter. Truth is a cause of concern whether it involves a virus-led epidemic or the abrupt picture Richard received of his soul’s condition.

            [Jesus] “always takes individual human beings as seriously as their shredded dignity demands, and he has the resources to carry through with his high estimate of them.” Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy,(HarperSanFrancisco: Fount of HarperCollinsPublishers), 1998, 22.

May the truth of Jesus be found among us.

            Lord have mercy.

May the thankfulness of God’s people resound to the highest heaven.

            Lord have mercy.

May I as a prodigal find a welcoming embrace at my return.

            Lord have mercy.

May our search for a vaccine be blessed by the Spirit.

            Lord have mercy.

May the tumult of our day encourage us to seek God’s truth.

            Lord have mercy.

May those who seek Jesus find him at their side.

            Lord have mercy.

Life Application:

  1. Does the search for spiritual truth involve you?
  2. Are there ways in which you are like the prodigal, in need of coming back to the Father?

Rest, In Response to Fear

Scripture Resource Passages: Matthew 11:28-30

American poet Barbara Veech graciously consented to share these words. I am honored to provide them through the site.

Pause and rest
And notice shadowed patterns
            On a leaf.
Listen as the delirious mockingbird
            Delights in each day.
Breathe breezes blown
            From far away.
And… 
Stop and rest
And sway with the timeless rhythms
            Of dark and day.
Taste sweet salt air clinging
            To your lips.
Close your eyes. 
Let life’s burdens lift.
Then…
Linger and listen
And feel the deep sorrows
            Of today’s and tomorrow’s
Weeping, tired workers giving
            Life and health and living
Back to souls struggling
            For life and breath and being. 
So…
Mindfully measures your days
And treasure life’s difficult ways.
Rest in God’s power.
This too is his hour.
This part of our story
Will be for his glory.
So, rest. Now rest.

Life Applications

  1. Ponder while you may with moments of experiencing the wind of the Spirit.
  2. Are there special places where you find rest-filled life?

Maturity Looks Like

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            If Bill is a maturing disciple of Jesus, then we should expect to see Christ-like characteristics in his life. These traits of character would not be confined to his meetings with other disciples (whether in person or via video chats). 

            To Bill it would not make a difference whether individuals are male or female or if they have a skin color different than his own. Neither would it matter if they are HIV positive, dotted with herpes, rich, poor, homeless or have a paid up mortgage. Whatever the problem, whatever the addiction or sexual turmoil, people would experience being around a close follower of Jesus. Life would be an amazing experience, if they were around Bill.

            The maturing Christ-like life also occurs within Bill; a disciple’s challenge is not a mere challenge in the treatment of others. The maturing life also brings Jesus into the internal conversation we have within ourselves, about ourselves—especially during times of spiritual failure.

            The maturing disciple looks at any personal spiritual failure as an opportunity to confess: I need more of the character of the Christ within me. Maturing disciples know that God’s mercy is sometimes best understood when our personal failures assault us and we gasp, “O Lord, please help me.”

            Friends, these are prayers God directs and in grace leads us to the Jesus-life-characteristics of the Kingdom. During spiritual failures Bill is called to return to this very Jesus-life-character—this is the call of the maturing disciple.

            One place in Scripture where God sets out this life-pattern can be found when Christ’s Apostle to the church(es) of Galatia writes: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23aNIV).

            God pictures this Scriptural fruit-truth (an image never to be set aside), as it helps reveal the deep flaws of my soul, my heart, my strength and my mind (Matthew 22:37-39). However, while observing my spiritual failure I ought not dwell in a Satanically devised pit (I John 1:7-10). I seek the maturing-life God intends.

            What might such a life look like? Thanks for asking.

            Imagine being Bill—when life becomes freedom, being less about yourself and more about others. 

            Imagine being Bill—free from the competition to be anyone other than yourself because you know Jesus sees everything about you.

            Imagine being around Bill—you are treated by someone who acts like Jesus the One who welcomes all who earnestly seek Him.

            Imagine being around Bill—for he listens as someone who deeply cares for the sorrows of your soul.

            Bill has the opportunity to become more like Jesus, in spite of his own spiritual failures. Like Bill, to this life, to this discipleship I come impoverished. Hymn writer Augustus M. Toplady once wrote, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling….” 

Life Application 

  1. If you imagine yourself being someone like Bill, which of the words in the Galatians passage are most challenging?
  2. Can you sing some of the words in Toplady’s hymn—Rock of Ages?

Just for you?

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Resource Scripture Passage: John 20:19-29

            Fear marked the gathering. Not everyone made to it the assembly point. They were meeting in the doorway’s shadow to death. Thus, they barred the door (John 20:19). They were keeping a wise social distance. Not because of a virus, though they were each infectious—tainted by the presence of the man from Nazareth. 

            Everyone was present—one exception. To this very day no knows why he was not with them. Perhaps his soul’s strength had been so compromised he could not withstand more deathly reminders. Fear stalked his apostolic heart seeking like a roaring lion to devour him with spiritual destruction. Did anyone think the group should move ahead; after all, how important can it be that just one person is missing (Matthew 18:12-14)?

            A few days earlier (it seemed like hours) Jesus had been crucified in the public arena on the hill called Golgotha (John 19:18). Suspended between sky and earth the Son of Man, Jesus their friend and Savior, was taken. Death is nothing, if not gone. Completely gone. Now, comes the Spirit, even as Jesus is absent and brings new, apostolic authority (John 20:22-23).

            While a virus might take your life eventually, arrest and persecution by skilled politicians could get you crucified—literally, nailed to a cross at the public square. It appears the close follower and friend of Jesus, Thomas the missing-one, knew this fear.

            Our brother John carefully sets the pixels of description into place (John 20:19-29). Please read them now if you have not already done so.

            Previously, in foreshadowing words, Thomas he Didymus the so-called twin, had valiantly committed himself to Jesus with these words: “Let us also go, that we may die with him”(John 11:16). Not a dribble of doubt—Thomas sounds pessimistic but not fearful. He is meticulously committed to Jesus as the Anointed One.

            At the time Thomas spoke those words of commitment and belief Jesus was announcing his intention to travel into Judea (John 11). After Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion he is missing from the group. Thomas in emotional pain, or sick with a virus, is not meeting with the other close followers. Not one of the Gospel writers provide an explanation for his absence.

            Then, there comes a time when Thomas returns for a meeting with the group. At that very occasion, without warning Jesus, fully aware of panic, pain and consuming fear appears and says “Peace be with you.”  

            Will Jesus search out just one person? Surely not just Thomas? Or, might Jesus have come just because of Thomas? Again, the Gospel accounts document the compelling, the consuming, the true and thorough desire of Jesus to show mercy and grace to those in need. Why, that would be me.

Life Applications

  • Do you believe Jesus would come just for you?
  • What helps you believe in Jesus without seeing the wounded side or the nail pierced hands?

Inquisitive Child to World-class Philosopher

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Scripture Resource Passage: Acts 17:16-34 

                  God uses scientific, philosophical and spiritual education in establishing pathways of communication. Perhaps, long ago and once upon two times it happened, just like this… 

                  Ara was a child prodigy. He was always talking about the stars. Many nights his family would find him sketching stars onto a smoothed section of soil. Family members who were up at the start of day, would find small stones as companions to the stick-drawn stars. Footprints left no doubt that Ara had been constructing the heavens, again. His mother told a neighbor, “Ara has a regular voice but he also has his star-voice. He almost sings when he starts talking about them.”

                  Another child, we would probably think him a nerd, was Epi. Epi was fond of word games and from an early age enjoyed the twisting of words into puzzles. As an adult, all those on the Island of Crete (his home town), loved to recite Epi’s most famous puzzle: “All Cretans are liars.” Do you see the puzzle? Simple and clever: If all Cretans are liars, then Epi—full name Epimenides, cannot be trusted to tell you that all Cretans are liars. Lovely.

                  After their childhood days were long past, both Epimenides and Ara—actually Aratus, became Greek philosophers whose followers often gathered in the geographical center of Athens. They assembled, with other philosophers who liked word games (it was known as sophistry), at a place named the Areopagus. Our brother Paul (yes, the Apostle) walked into this place of public debate to present the good news of Jesus Christ. 

                  Acts 17 records Paul’s presentation as he begins speaking of an apparently new male god (Jesus—a name masculine in grammatical form) and a new female god (resurrection—a name female in grammatical form). Pointing toward a statue Paul gathers attention when he refers to the idol of the unknown god saying, ‘I am going to speak to you about the unknown.’ 

                  Later, Paul—God’s wisdom permeating his speech—demonstrates awareness adding to his presentations, quotations. Have you guessed? His quotes are from two child prodigies who had become sophisticated philosophers—Aratus and Epimenides.

                  Paul speaks to the nations—the ethnos—in the Areopagus, to those who consider Aratus and Epimenides brilliant. Paul speaks, fulfilling in part, a long ago prophecy found in Isaiah 42:6. Check it out for a greater perspective on God’s strategy for providing the whole earth with Messiah’s voice.

                  If God used the training of the Apostle in the long ago, and carefully set out the record of how Paul’s training worked out in real life (Acts 17), it might be possible that God makes use of carefully trained messengers in 21stcentury. Is there a need for messengers?

  •  Perhaps it happens just like this:
    • check out a podcast from The Reluctant Theologian, Dr. R.T. Mullins for a contemporary plunge into deep waters and lofty heavens—available on many podcast platforms.                   
    • Former editor of Christianity Today, Mark Galli has http://www.markgalli.com. Well worth your time—online subscription is free.

Life Application Question—what is the task of churches in joining God’s desire to proclaim Christ as Light for the nations?