Body, Soul and Spirit

photo of white and brown cardboard box toy figure

Photo by Matan Segev on Pexels.com

Working among the dying, changes things. Working as a hospice nurse, easing the transition from life to death, I am developing a filter for my own life. What is really important? Will this matter when I am gone? How am I spending my precious hours of life?

As the oldest child of seven, I have always been introspective, even morose at times. Haha! Having six brothers and sisters under me made for some VERY morose (or should I say scary) times! My folks used to escape to my grandmother’s country cabin on weekends sometimes. I was 16 at the time, and was left in charge of all six siblings. If they were late coming home on Sunday afternoon, I remember thinking (with horror) “how will I care for these six kids?”

Fast forward to will-my-life-ever-slow-down adult life, I wonder, what is my soul? Where does my soul end and my spirit begin? I found a thought-provoking article this week that was so well-written, I thought I should share it. I was meditating on:

1 Thessalonians 5:23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Body, that’s easy. Seeing the shell that we know as our “body” after death, I see this very stark picture. Mouth agape, eyes blankly staring, limbs frozen in position, the body is nothing without a soul and spirit. Nothing. As I helped load one of my decedents onto a gurney last week, I was struck with the contrast. Nothing was left, except the housing for my patient’s soul. Her smile, her voice, the light in her eyes all gone. The only thing left was the “box” that had carried them.

“Dividing soul and spirit”, now that’s tougher. Soul is described as our mind, our will, our emotions. It controls where we go, what or who we respond to, and how we respond. I had an idea that our spirit is the part of us that lives eternally. Great, does that include our personalities, our feelings, whether we like cats or dogs? Jesus talked about our spirits…

John 3:5-6 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

John 4:23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

Jesus is speaking to two different people in these passages. In one, he is chiding one of the leaders in the local synagogue for being a teacher, but not understanding spiritual concepts. In the other, he is gently explaining to the woman at the well, what God is looking for in a relationship with her.

So, this question I have been pondering for years, came up again this week. Wow! God in his Bible, says he will reward those who diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:6) I guess this was the week I was going to get closer to my answer to an understanding of soul and spirit. I will just quote a little of this article I have shared below. I think it will whet your appetite for more.

If you are soulish, you will preserve that which is earthly, and your honor and your heart will make plans as to what you should do with such a person and you will also seek the opinions of family and friends. Rather let God’s Word in to pierce and divide between what you are absorbing through your senses – especially through your feelings – and the wisdom that is from above, which you absorb through your spirit. Live by faith and not according to your human reasoning; then you will enter into rest.

Soul vs Spirit

My Heart’s Desire

My Heart’s Desire

I decided to let God into my life when I was 22. I could see that the activities I was engaging in, and the activities of the people I hung out with, could very possibly one day cause my death or incarceration…a sobering thought. Nothing answered this quest in my life for relevance. Why was I here? What was the ultimate use of my life? Was the pursuit of good times a reason for life?

My own up-bringing included Catholic grade school and high school. Somehow, I reasoned that the God of the Bible was irrelevant to the 20th century world. It didn’t look like the people who made the trek to Mass on Sunday, lived any differently than I did. It seemed more productive to spend Sundays doing laundry and recovering from Saturday nights. And, I wasn’t at all sure the trade-off was worthwhile…following rules and suffering through religious services would produce what exactly?

I visited Mormon church services, I read Eastern religious books, I even let myself be picked up by some Hari-Krishnas for transport to their meeting place. (I bolted before we arrived. They discussed their philosophy with me in the car. It was so denigrating to me as a woman, it was easy to eject that research project.)

When I finally tested everything (including hallucinogenic mushrooms), I thought I would give the God of my youth another chance. By now I was 4 years past high school and mandatory church attendance. My reasoning: maybe I missed something before, that my inexperienced mind didn’t grasp. (Because now I was really experienced…and knew what I didn’t want.) I just knew I hadn’t found peace, or satisfaction in relationships, religion, work, or drugs.

Even though I had been trained in faith-based schools, my prayer was pretty simple. “God, help me, I am a mess. You can’t do any worse with my life than I am doing right now.” Maybe it sounds corny, but right then I had a picture in my mind of one of those “zippy slates” we had as kids. You know the type. It has a waxy surface with a piece of heavy gray plastic over it. When you write on the plastic, and then pull up on it everything disappears. It seemed like an answer to my prayer–new start Vicki! With this picture came another startling idea. What if God created us, and His rules would help us live in harmony? After all, if He created us, He would know the best way for us to live…right?

My life was radically changed. It wasn’t overnight. My vocabulary gradually cleared, so that I didn’t have to manually filter the words I spoke in public. I had peace in my life without drugs. Reading the Bible helped me realize the standards God required were easy. Jesus himself said it “Love God with your whole heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39 NLT) Not easy if you hang on to your selfishness, but attainable if you abandon yourself to Him. The cool thing about God, it wasn’t a race to fix me, just one small thing at a time. The “fixes” are all about truth, wisdom, patience, kindness, self-control. They’re not repulsive.

Now, finally, the punchline. What is keeping you from looking for the God of the Bible? He’s real. He cares. He’s gotten a bad rap from some. Those of us that follow Him are pretty lousy followers sometimes. Take some courage from that though, He doesn’t hold grudges, He’s always willing to accept an apology or a wayward child. The Bible is full of stories of normal people with normal struggles, and they are still called friends of God.

John 3:16-17 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

The Hound of Heaven

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; francis-thompson-254x300

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind…

Francis Thompson, The Hound of Heaven

Francis Thompson was a young man in search of himself. His family wanted him to be successful. (Who doesn’t want that for our kids?) He himself wanted the same. More than that, he wanted to earn a look of pride from his father, his mother. But steady work, a wife and family were not in his cards.

I heard a woman speak once. She said, “no one sets out to be a drug addict.” No one chooses a life of waking up in the morning only to be met with that gnawing hunger, every single day. One thing leads to another and it just happens. Francis was addicted to laudunum. Prescribed in 19th century medicine for a variety of ills, no one really knew the devastation it’s deceptive claims would bring.

I set out to read The Hound of Heaven, because it was one of those things I have heard about for years. I didn’t realize I would find a man so broken, so devastated, that he sold matches to passersby on the streets of London to keep from starving. However, his passion for writing didn’t succumb to the same fate his body suffered. He carried his manuscripts with him. He had no full suit of clothes, but he had his papers, pen and ink. When he dropped a package off at the printer’s shop one day, a note of introduction accompanied the manuscript. In it, he apologized for the condition of the offering. He noted the pages had been his constant companion and therefore also bore the ravages of his life.

Sometimes I am struck by the similarities of our cultures. Across continents, cultures and races, we bear the same passions and hurts, the same needs and desires, the same, the same. We are more alike than not. And, it seems, we have the same problems over time! Shouldn’t we have drug addiction licked by now? How about slavery, and the enlightened 21st century version called human trafficking? How about racism? I thought we had that one put away for good. After the peace marches of the 60’s, I thought that baby had grown out of its diapers. One thing I have seen for myself, we each have to learn the truth. No one can beat it into you. It is a common theme at my workplace to have diversity training. Really. That seems like a no-brainer to me. If I want to hang on to my prejudices and biases, is training going to change that? And, if I have already dealt with the reality that people are different from one another and I respect and uphold their right to express themselves differently, how is training going to help me? Sorry, I’ve been holding that one in too long…

So, maybe you’ve guessed, the “Hound of Heaven” is Jesus. Thompson realized everything he has sought, that would bring him love, peace, acceptance, only brought emptiness, chaos, and rejection. The fear of losing himself (to God) was replaced with love so intense and full, it could accept him exactly as he was. The Hound of Heaven pursued him in all his squalor. He need not clean up first.

The “wise”men, were complaining that Jesus spent his time with notorious sinners, even eating with them!

“So Jesus told them this story: ‘If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’” (Luke 15:4-6 NLT)

Jesus doesn’t have a problem with us…we have a problem with Him…we keep running away.

 

 

 

Stop the World I Want to Get Off

Sooooooo…I’m a Baby Boomer. Our kids are Millenials. None of us fit the stereotypes perfectly, but there you have it.

I admire the younger generations. For the most part, the ones I know are more concerned with being healthy, doing things outdoors, and not collecting as much “stuff” as we have. The downside is they can’t go anywhere without their phones, which they don’t use to talk on, and their penmanship is nonexistent.

My generation has spent the first half of our lives collecting stuff, and now in the second half, trying to figure out what to do with all of it. I never wanted a big house…growing up I loved my great-grandma’s house. By the time I knew her, great-grandpa was gone, and she lived in an old farm-house alone. The rooms had high ceilings, and heavy old drapes that made the rooms seem dark and musty. She had a creaky iron bed with a fluffy down comforter. I got to sleep with her in her bed when we visited.

She had hurt her ankle years before in a streetcar accident and still kept it wrapped in a bandage. I don’t remember anything she said to me, but I remember her warmth. By anyone’s standards, she was poor. Nothing lavish in any part of the house, in any meal she fixed, only in her love for us. I suspect that was why my mom took us to visit her. It wasn’t for us, or even for great-grandma, it was for my mom. My mom hurt, a lot. She still hurts. Growing up with pain, living pain, running from pain…that’s my mom’s life.

I realize now that each woman had pain. One woman chose to ignore her pain, and love. The other chose to bury herself in it, and suffer.

Great-grandma had the greatest screen door from her kitchen to the outside yard. screendoorThat sucker had a spring on it that made it slam with the greatest bang you ever heard. The door had seen better days, part of the screen was detached from the frame, the paint had worn off, and even some of the wood was splintered. But that spring! I want one of those doors someday. That’s my dream. I want to hear that sound again, on a hot summer day, banging away, with kids running in and out.

That screen door reminds me to be tough when the pain of life tries to take over. NOPE! Not my heart! Get out! Let the fresh air in. Let my kids, and anyone else run through with laughter, with surprise, with a fond memory.

No reason to stop the world…I have my screen door.

Stop the World I Want to Get Off is a play written in the 1960s

Prodigal Father?

The translation of the Bible I am using, the New International Version (NIV), calls the story in Luke 15:11 the “Parable of the Lost Son”.

I can identify with the pain of this story on some level, because my daughter is on her way back to her adoptive country Australia today. You may have someone you love dearly, and because of circumstances, are not able to be with them as much as you would like. When you do get to see them…all that matters is what is right before you. Old problems are insignificant. Current issues must be resolved quickly. Time is short. Each second counts. Forget personal needs like sleep. When our kids are home, the focus is on them.

So, when I read this story in Luke, some call the Prodigal Son, I understand the father’s love.

If you don’t know the story, Jesus tells about a man who had two sons. One of the sons comes to him and wants his inheritance “early”, before his father passes away. He takes the money and runs off, to another country. He picks up some scurrilous friends along the way who help him spend his money on whatever they can imagine will give them pleasure. When the money is gone (along with his friends), he has to find work, any work, to feed himself. He ends up working as a farm-hand feeding pigs. He’s so hungry, he dreams of eating the pig’s food, but can’t even have that.

The way Jesus words verse 17 is so interesting, “When he came to his senses”. It suddenly dawns on the son, that his father would treat him better as a hired man. So he goes back to his dad.

The use of the word “prodigal” can be applied to either the son or the father. The word prodigal is defined as lavishly or extravagantly doing…either in a negative sense such as the son, or the crazy love of the father.

The son must have looked dreadful. His life was living with pigs. When we lived in Iowa, the farmers would fertilize with liquid pig manure.

hogmanurespreading

For miles around, the aroma would fill the air in the spring, as the farmers would “shoot” this delightful substance across the fields. I can’t imagine what this man smelled like after living with pigs! The other piece of the puzzle is the Jewish culture. Not only were pigs an unclean animal not fit to eat, but to be around this animal and their waste material would require a cleansing and purification period prior to engaging in any physical contact.

Contrast this with the father. Men in those days wore flowing garments. He was also a landowner, a man of distinction. None of that matters as he gathers up his robe, maybe tucks it into his belt and RUNS to his son as he sees him coming. 220px-Pompeo_Batoni_003Now, remember the smell, he could have stopped ten feet away and said “welcome back, let’s get you a bath and some clean clothes!” Instead, he “was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20 (NIV)

The son blurts out his well-rehearsed apology, “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” Luke 15:22-24 (NIV)

The father fully accepts his apology, probably a long time before he even hears it from his son. He immediately restores his son to the family. The robe, ring, and sandals restore his position as son. The meal seals the relationship. Totally undeserved, the wasteful son is restored into the family.

As Jesus was telling this story, “I wonder if it was so quiet in the crowd, you could hear the wind blow, as the people understood the connection. The heavenly God we have been worshiping is this same loving father who is running towards his child.”[i]

Do you need for a loving father to wrap his arms around you today? He will. He has already forgiven whatever it is you think is too “prodigal.” Your heavenly father already paid the price to restore you to his family. He allowed the blood of his son Jesus to be poured out as payment for our rebellion.

 

[i] Mitchell, Victoria L. Thicker Than Milk. Pittsburgh, PA: HyeINK, 2017, Kindle 1088-1089

What would it take…

What would it take…

To give Jesus another chance? Did you grow up with religion? Were Sundays a day of “be still”, “pay attention”, or “wait ’till we get home”? Or, maybe your experience was more entertaining, but the novelty has worn off, and now Sundays are for sleeping in, doing laundry, and watching sports on TV.

Maybe you think Jesus is just not relevant. Your life is going great. You have a job, a sweetheart, plenty of amenities. Or, just maybe…it’s not going so great. You want to quit…but you just can’t. You know someday it will kill you, but for now you’re OK.

At one point in my life, all of these situations fit me. When I could, I left home for the chance to do things my own way. I finally had control of my life. After a few years, I had to face the fact that I was on a pathway that was self-destructive and would probably end in prison or death. Talking to myself one night, I thought, “God you can’t do any worse with my life than I have done. Maybe it’s time to give you a shot again.”

I told my boyfriend at the time, that I needed to be a Jesus-freak. That’s what we called crazy, sold-out believers in Jesus back-in-the-day. Little did I know, but my boyfriend was reaching the same conclusion about his life! So, we did it. We said yes to Jesus. Yes meant we would leave our old stuff behind, and try to live like he said in the Bible. I had no idea Jesus intended to help us. Grace and mercy were just fuzzy concepts to me back then. Jesus really meant it when he told his pals in the Bible, “I am with you always.”

That was a long time ago. I can’t imagine my life without the love of God. I don’t want to. He has always been there for me. He has given me love when my own mom and dad couldn’t. He has given me courage when I went through cancer. He has given me wisdom when our kids were smarter than I was. He has given me a purpose for living. He has used whatever I offer to him, money, time, talents, to help others, all the while making my heart glad that I accomplished something good. You can’t have a better life than following Jesus. It is not even possible.

I finished writing a book in October. It is the story of the way God has reconciled wayward mankind to a perfectly restored relationship through Jesus, His own Son. Take a look, maybe it will help you get started on the road to a restored relationship with Him.

Book link: Thicker Than Milk

All royalties from book sales are being donated to “Waterboys”, to bring water wells to Africa.

Perfect Relationships Demand a Choice

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16)

To a Muslim, his Quran is a sacred text. To a Jew, the Tanakh or Mikra contain his sacred writings. To a Christian, the Bible contains the Jewish sacred writings, and the writings following the birth of Jesus through the end of the first century A.D. The passage above, written by Paul the Apostle in the first century A.D. confirms to his young disciple Timothy, that ALL scripture comes from the very breath of God and is useful for us in some manner. In fact, the original word used here was the Greek word “theopneustos” or “God-breathed” and eventually became the foundation for our English word “inspiration” and meant to “infuse animation or influence…especially by divine influence.”

The Bible never takes the position of explaining the existence of God. He is. The Bible is his way of explaining himself to his creation. Across centuries, the text of the Bible has been been preserved with crazy accuracy. You see, like the Muslim and the Jew, the Christian also believed his sacred writings needed to be precisely preserved.

Read Genesis 1:1 – 2:2, some parts are excerpted here.

Listen to the description of the creation of the earth:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2 NLT)

Let your imagination picture what it was like. How long did the Spirit of God hover over the waters? Think about how peaceful and calming water can be, or how strong and awesome. Which do you think it was?

The book of Genesis has several lines that begin with “And God said.” Dwell on those words for awhile. Is it possible for you to just speak a word and something happens? Maybe, for some, a spoken word will force others to spring into action. But when God spoke our known world was formed. He has enough power in his words to create, to give life, where there was only formlessness and void.

And God said, “Let there be light”…And there was evening, and there was morning–the first day…And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from the water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. And God called the vault “sky.” And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.”…And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:3-10)

Nine times in the first chapter of Genesis the words “And God said,” are recorded. What comes to mind when I ask you to imagine a “beautiful day?” The sky? Birds singing? A waterfall? A herd of wild animals grazing on an open plain? Enjoying these situations alone or sharing them with someone you love? None of us were there in the beginning. But, God wanted us to know what it was like. Have you ever made anything, fixed something, or written something? You want to share it with someone who can appreciate it, right?

The book of Genesis is attributed to Moses as the author. How did he know what to write? Who told Moses how everything we call “creation” happened? Did God show these pictures of creation to Moses like a movie flashing before him? Did he allow him to dream the scenes? Why did Moses leave out these details? It seems like it was just something everyone understood, why explain how God delivered the information? It would be like explaining “evening” and “morning.” Everyone knows what they are, no need to go into detail. Other Biblical passages describe Moses in direct conversations with God. This is an example of their conversations.

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name? Then what shall I tell them?'” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I am has sent me to you.” (Exodus 3:13-14)

Conversations like this lead us to conclude Moses knew God personally. Interesting isn’t it, this passage sounds like we have a personal God, a relational God. Maybe this helps us believe it was God that gave the earth and all living creatures to Adam to rule over (Genesis 1:26-28).

Wow, six times God steps back and calls what he is creating “good”. Finally, on the sixth day, he says “it was very good”. He had just created mankind in his own image and put them as stewards over the earth and everything in it. God doesn’t stop there though. What happens next? Creation wasn’t complete, not yet. One piece was missing. Watch what happens in the next chapter.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:15-17)

God put a condition on Adam’s existence in the garden. Why? Why did God draw a line? Why did God mess up a perfect situation? Or, did he? God created Adam in his own image. God is in relationship with Adam. He has given him the position of authority over all creation with one caveat: Adam must respect God’s boundary. All creation depends on this fact: Adam must remain in harmony with God. This harmony rests on one condition. Adam must not eat of this one single tree in the garden.

God is simply saying to Adam, you may have supremacy over this place. It is yours. I put you in charge. But, just so we are clear, just so I KNOW you will honor our commitment to each other, there is a condition. You must not eat the fruit of this one tree.

Early in my career, I was working with a company, where I held a data entry position. I was curious, and figured out how to get into the back-end of their software to see if I could make it run more smoothly. When I proudly let them know how they could increase the efficiency of their software, I received a stern response. They reminded me, in no uncertain terms, that I had violated our agreement. This agreement, that I had not read very closely, stated that I was not to alter the software in any way. I had violated an agreement, even if I had not intended any harm; I had still broken my word. It was a barrier the software engineers had established to maintain security, and I had broken it.

An agreement with a condition in the Bible is an oath covenant. An oath covenant requires at least two parties. It is entered into by choice. There is some sort of understanding with at least one condition. Also, with the breaking of the covenant comes a consequence. Adam’s covenant with God required Adam not to eat of the tree God chose. The consequence of failing to follow this condition would be death.

God had made Adam in his very own likeness. God had given Adam the Garden, something of his own to take care of, to cultivate. Now with this added condition, they also have a relationship, because of free will. Without a choice they were not free. A true friendship, a love relationship, cannot be forced. If I say “YOU MUST LOVE ME” there is no love. With a choice, with the ability to choose, they can now love. A master-slave relationship was not what God desired. His desire was a love relationship.

–taken from chapter two of an “almost published” book, Thicker than Milk, by yours truly