Putting On the New Self

As beings with a human nature, we are all intimately acquainted with our old selves. If anyone needs a reminder, all they have to do is read Colossians 3, which paints a pretty good picture. Paul goes on to describe the new self in Christ, which is the direct opposite of the old self. He uses words like compassion, kindness, humility, patience and gentleness. I think we all know from experience it’s easier said than done to have these qualities.

From verses 12 through 17, we see what it’s supposed to look like, but how to accomplish putting on and then living out this new self? We need to go back to the beginning of Colossians 3: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Jesus said where your heart is your treasure will also be (Matthew 6:21). Paul seemed to be expanding this way beyond money and possessions to our whole attitude and focus in life. As we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, learn to set our hearts and minds on things above, where Christ is, our old selves with their low and base desires will continually fade into oblivion. As the old song “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” goes, the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.

Let’s turn our eyes upon Jesus and set our hearts on things above, for we died and our lives are now hidden with Christ in God. He is our resurrection and because he lives, we live in newness of life – as new creatures with a new self. Happy Easter!  

Not One and Done

When it comes to making choices in life, very few can be labeled as one and done. Life is full of change. I often tell myself not to get too comfortable with the way things are, as nothing ever stays the same. This has proved true since I can remember – moving, switching schools, going to college, moving again because the college closed, getting married, moving again and on and on. You probably have a similar story. When I was in college, a fellow student and good friend told me she had lived in the same house her whole life – the same house her parents and grandparents had lived in their whole lives. I had no idea anyone ever grew up like that.

It should come as no surprise then that the Christian life is also full of change. We’ve probably all heard God accepts us as we are but doesn’t want to leave us in that condition. Transformation is an important part of being connected to Christ. As we spend time with him and surrender to his love and care, we (hopefully) become more like him. Transformation is definitely not one and done. It’s not some grand gesture or defining moment, but a series of choices, involving awareness and discipline.

Each and every day, we must choose to stay connected to Jesus our Vine. It’s a choice to lay down our lives for him, to surrender our hearts and thoughts to his wisdom and love and to sit at his feet as his disciples and followers. I’m finding this involves even more than daily choices – many of the choices I need to make to stay close to Jesus are hour by hour and even moment by moment. This is especially true when it comes to controlling my tongue.

The transformed, crucified life is about change, choices and more change – all in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit.

Like a Mind Meld

I’m a big fan of Star Trek in all its iterations, which you know if you’ve been reading my articles and posts for any length of time. I guess I’m fascinated by space, the characters and the different life forms they encounter – all of it really. The parallels to God’s world are numerous and I believe can help us understand the things of God.

As I was pondering last week’s post on entwining our hearts with Jesus’ heart, the similarity of this and the Vulcan Mind Meld hit me. Entwining (to wind or twist together; interweave) our hearts with his seems a bit ethereal and hard to define, but comparing it to a mind meld, well I can get my mind around that!

A mind meld, according to the official Star Trek website, is “A touch technique that allows a Vulcan to merge his or her mind with the essence of another’s mind purely by using specialized contact via fingertip-points  ̶  on a humanoid, usually around the targeted partner’s skull temples. Hypnosis-like relaxation and a rhythmic verbal device, such as ‘My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts’ are often useful.”

Obviously communicating with God, learning his mind and becoming like him is vastly different from a mind meld, but sharing our thoughts and having the same mind (Philippians 2:5) is something we can do through the Holy Spirit. As we keep our eyes on Jesus, turn our thoughts to him constantly throughout the day, even moment by moment, and trust him with our deepest, inner selves, our minds will be merged with the essence of his mind – a Jesus Mind Meld if you will. Live long and prosper.

It’s Not All Up to Us

“We’re doing everything humanly possible.” We sometimes hear this statement during medical crises or natural disasters and sometimes it’s true. Other times it might mean we don’t know what else to do or our resources are stretched to the limit. Granted, we can get a lot done when we put our heads together and work hard, but human strength, ingenuity and ability can get us only so far.

The other problem with trying to do everything humanly possible is we often don’t reach that goal. We don’t always try as hard as we can; we become discouraged and give up, escaping into self-pity or mindless pursuits (Netflix, anyone?). I’m sure you know where this is going.

We don’t have to solely rely on our human power, although as Dallas Willard says, God has given us our bodies as our own personal power packs, through which we interact with our world and bring about our wills. I’m thankful for my power pack, as it enables me to do things like bake bread, ride my bike and fulfill my responsibilities. But my power pack only works at its peak when plugged into the “power pack” of God. Out of his life inherent he gave us life and our bodies.

For those of us who entrust our lives to him, he augments our human efforts with his unlimited power, accomplishing things we could never do on our own or even imagine. We aren’t stuck doing only as much as humanly possible, however strong or feeble our efforts may be, if we let our weakness become his strength and work in the power and might of Christ.

The Crucified Life

OK, that’s an ambitious title for a short article, but consider it the inevitable segue to an important, perhaps even crucial, aspect of the Christian’s life. I’ve spent several weeks here on kenosis (the self-emptying of God when the Father sent his Son as a human to give himself for us) and death to self (putting to death our tendency to worship ourselves as our own gods, thereby putting into practice our own kenosis). What naturally follows is living a crucified life as Jesus lives in us.

Even though I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, praying and studying this, and trying to put it into practice, I’m not prepared to tell you I am actually living the crucified life. I like to think I’m taking baby steps and am making some progress. But that’s just it – it’s a process and not something we can ever claim to have accomplished. Only Christ knows how I’m doing and how much more I need to trust him to work this transformation in me.

What I do know is that I can’t do it alone. As Dallas Willard says, “The crucifixion of the self is a cooperative affair between us and the Lord. We cannot die to self without the help of God’s grace, for only God can satisfy our ultimate desire, and only God can convince our hearts that, when we die to self, he will raise us up.” He goes on to say we have to understand what it is and to accept it, recognize it and ask God to give this gift to us. Yes, he calls it a gift. “Christ was not crucified so that we wouldn’t have to be. He was crucified so we could be crucified with him. He did not die so that we wouldn’t have to die; he died so we could die with him. In death to self you are crucified with Christ” (Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23).  

It seems God has given me crucified as my “one word” for 2021, so I will be sharing more thoughts on this as the year goes on.

Leaving the Flesh Behind

Dying to self is tricky, at least from a human point of view. As author and speaker Jill Briscoe says, the trouble with living sacrifices is they have a habit of climbing off the altar! We don’t like to do things that hurt and to crucify our flesh sounds really painful. And while it can be painful, it’s not a physical pain. Many believe the flesh is intrinsically evil, but Dallas Willard says the flesh in itself is not bad. “The problem with the flesh lies in its weakness and lostness when uncoupled from God’s Spirit, which is precisely the condition of humanity apart from Christ” (Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23).

He goes on to say: “To live in the flesh, to live with uncrucified affections and desires, is simply a matter of putting them in the ultimate position in our lives. Whatever we want becomes the most important thing. This is what happens when we are living apart from God; we make our desires ultimate because they are all we have. We look to them as if they were everything in our lives; thinking of my worth, my glory, my appearance, thinking of my power to sustain myself.”

Desires aren’t inherently wrong either, but as Dallas says, they are terrible masters. A good place to begin dying to self is to recognize our desires for what they are and being aware of how they can control our lives if we let them. Our desires can never be satisfied but trusting in Jesus and his work on the cross means accepting limitation on our desires. “Desire is infinite partly because we were made by God, made for God, made to need God, and made to run on God. We can be satisfied only by the one who is infinite, eternal and able to supply all our needs; we are only at home in God.”

Desires are from God and are good as long as we subjugate them to him and die to the pursuit of satisfying ourselves through anything but God. We don’t have to be slaves to our flesh and its insatiable desires if we can learn to die a little every day through Christ who gives us strength.

Next week: I Can Do All Things

More Than Sharing

Some of us are better at sharing than others. Starting when we’re little, we usually have to be taught to share because selfishness seems to be innate.

One thing we know about Jesus is that he’s good at sharing. God’s plan, from before the foundation of the world, was to share himself with us by becoming one of us. We know how he did this – emptied himself of his omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence (Kenosis of God: The Self-Limitation of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, David T. Williams) to become a human being, while still being God. He retained his love and holiness while humbling himself in submission to both his Father and to humanity.

He continues to share himself with us by sharing his faith, obedience, love and humility. We have very little of any of these and I know from experience that we can’t attain faith, obedience or any other godly attribute on our own or by our own effort. It doesn’t work. We have to trust God to impart these things to us by sharing his power and who he is with us. God continues to be kenotic in both his self-emptying and his munificence to us.   

When Did He Know?

My first memory is of a pink toy washing machine, probably a Christmas present when I was five. Before that, I only know what my parents told me – my birth at a Navy hospital, moving to a farm as a baby, and then moving to another state as a toddler. You probably have a similar experience and I imagine Jesus was the same. He was human after all, which makes me wonder, when did he know? When did he become aware of who he was? I doubt little three-month-old Jesus knew he was God and understood why he was starting life as a helpless baby. But we don’t know, do we?

The first hint we’re given is when Jesus was in the Temple as a 12-year-old. When his parents came looking for him, he told them, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house [or about my Father’s business]?” (Luke 2:49, NIV). Verse 52 tells us he grew in “wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Later, we see more indications: his mother’s comment at the wedding in Cana; Satan’s comments in the desert; and of course, in the garden when he told his disciples he could call down twelve legions of angels.

Regardless of when he knew, coming as a baby and having to grow in wisdom was a choice of Father, Son and Spirit to empty himself or fulfill his kenotic nature on earth the same as in heaven. He was no less God when he cried in his mother’s arms; he wasn’t diminished by having to learn the scriptures in the Temple or learning a trade from his dad. Rather he added humanity to himself. Jesus was fully human and fully God, the same as he is today. And his nature remains kenotic – he continues to give himself for us in love.

Thinking About Christmas

How did December get here already? I know many of us are ready for 2020 to be over, but before that happens, we might want to contemplate the deeper meaning of Christmas. Everyone knows it’s not just about giving and receiving gifts, not about getting together with family (if we even can this year) and not even about going to church. It’s about who God is and why he came to earth as a human.

The passage in Philippians 2 might not come to mind when you think of Christmas. Verses 5-8 talk about having the mind of Christ, followed by how God emptied himself to become a slave. The word for this is kenosis, or self-emptying. He set aside the privileges of deity, not counting equality with God as something he needed to cling to or hold tightly or use to his advantage. When Jesus became one of us, he put kenosis into action on earth – he gave up all the “trappings” of being God to become a helpless baby, be an obedient son to human parents, learn what it means to be human and then die as a criminal, with criminals.

Why did he do this? Because that’s who he is. Father, Son and Spirit, as three in one, exist as a self-emptying being. Each empties self or pours out for the other in love. Because of this way of being, God naturally did the same for us in the incarnation. He became Emmanuel, God with us, in the greatest act of kenosis in history. Perhaps we should say “Merry Kenosis”!

Jesus Hurts with Us

Old sayings stick around because they are usually true, but sometimes old sayings need revision. We’ve all heard the only sure things in life are death and taxes, but we could add pain and suffering to that list, though pain and suffering are implied in both death and taxes. I’ve often wondered how people who don’t or won’t find peace and consolation in the love of God handle the pain that inevitably comes to us all.

Many are hurting now, perhaps more than usual in our broken humanity. Many turn to God but others become angry and/or disconsolate. It really helps when a friend sits with us in our pain, like the little boy in the story that went around a few years ago. He spent time with his grieving friend and when his mom asked what they talked about, he said nothing, they just cried together.

We have a friend who shares our pain. He’s the one who understands it, feels it and cries with us. Because he took all our pain and sorrow onto himself when he went to the cross, he enters it and inhabits it still. When we hurt, he hurts with us; at the same time, we feel his pain, not only the pain he suffered, but the pain of the whole world, which he continues to carry on his shoulders.

When we’re hurting, we can be sure Jesus is hurting with us. What a beautiful friend and what a beautiful savior.