Dallas agreed to teach separate two weeks for the Renovaré Institute in Denver, a cohort of 40 students, mostly in ministry positions. He rehearses many of the themes from his speaking ministry elsewhere, so there is little new to be heard, but with more time with a “committed” group he is able to be more comprehensive than usual.
Now, we were in a very good place when we quit. A very good place. You see, some issues are too important to try to answer them even if you know the answer, which you don’t always know. This particular issue is one that goes so deeply to the heart of the matter, which I have already said many times is how we think about God. So, I’d like to keep that question in the air and we can come back to it as we go on since we are going to have more question time tomorrow. But, let’s work with the question. Some questions are too rich to sort of write an answer, file them away. You need to keep them in the air and this is one of those questions and the temptation is to answer it and then the sub-temptation is to answer it even if you don’t know the answer because you think you are supposed to answer it.
[1:36) Now, a question has come up about how you deal with the questions about, “how is God present and what are the indications.” And I want to interrupt what I am doing here to talk about that for a moment. And, here are some things to attend to in thinking about how God shows up because no matter what, God is always there. He is at hand and we have a system of education that is turned against it. Romans 1 is about that. So, we need to think about how we might direct people that have lost their sense of God and how he is present. Since he is not visible, how does he make himself known and in Romans 1 and in many other areas, number 1 here, the dependent nature of all that is physical—including the physical world as a whole. Now the system is set against this. Two weeks ago, in the Wall Street Journal, of all places, you have someone who is taking a recent book by this man named, Hawkings and you have a big heading that announces that the Universe does not need God. Now when you read what it said, you recognize that it is a bunch of intellectual rubble. But most people are not going to get past the title, which announces that the universities do not need God and they are not going to get past the authority of Mr. Hawkings and they are going to think, well, the universe doesn’t need God. So, one of the strongest drives in the intellectual world today is against number 1. [3:50] I can’t go into the details of that here but basically, that attack is primarily mounted on the resistance of people to a world where there is a God because that’s a different world and they don’t want to live in it.
Another way that the awareness of the spiritual shows up is in our awareness or consciousness of the awareness of awareness. This is self-knowledge and to give you a scripture reference on that, you will want to look at 1 Corinthians, the 2nd chapter where he talks about that. [4:38]
Great events and people are an indication of the presence of God—a nonphysical reality in the world. One can get carried away on this but when you try to look at the course of history in terms of the material, you cannot understand the course of history in terms of it. It isn’t just for a lack of understanding physics, it’s that there is no connection. Now, history does not run on physical laws; it presupposes physical laws obviously but it runs on actions of God that change the course of history. Most notable is Jesus Christ Himself and his presence in the world and including his resurrection and his presence today, then, if people want to find God, they can find God there. If they don’t want to find God, well, then they won’t. They will make it a subject of the Jesus seminar and they will have lots of fun and make money-propounding opinions that have nothing to do with the case. [6:02]
Fourth, the power of beauty, the sense of manifest goodness in the presence of which one spontaneously gives thanks and that is an evidence of something greater than the physical realm and it goes together with number 1 because there is natural beauty. There is also artistic beauty and it is a testimony to the presence of the unseen world. [6:33]
And, then finally, the experience of God co-working with people and that is mainly in the form of the transformation of individuals and those who don’t know God are confronted with the reality of a human being in front of them that they cannot explain. Now, the way Jesus put that is, ‘Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and say, “You are wonderful.”’ [Laughter] That’s not the way it reads, is it? They will go right through you and say, “God is great. God is great.”
So, these are some of the ways now in our world that we make God help God’s availability be known to people. That’s a major part of our task. It’s a tragedy that in our Christian colleges and universities that they graduate people who do not know God exists. And I think I should say that again. It is a tragedy that in our Christian colleges and universities that they graduate people who do not know that God exists. That is rooted in the fact that they do not present knowledge of God as a part of their academic programs. I’m afraid, and I choose my words so carefully here. It’s so important to understand it; there is an area in our universities that is called, Student Life and that may involve a religious emphasis week but knowledge of God is not included in the subject matter on which people get tested. Mmm. And even saying that, will make you look at me rather dubiously, I think because we are now accustom to that and that is why our institutions, seminaries, churches, and colleges do not profess to present knowledge that non-Christians do not have. They don’t do that. Now, I’m always happy to have people correct me because I want to do what is right. It’s more important for me to say what is right than it is to appear to be right or to think I am right. So, if you have ways of helping me out here, I am counting on you to do it. Generally speaking, Christian colleges, seminaries and institutions profess to be nicer but not to have knowledge that non-Christians don’t have. And I hope you realize the implications of that. And I hope you realize that if we had practiced that from the beginning, there wouldn’t be anything that we now call Christian. If that was the way that Christ and his apostles came into the world, it’s just like what the Jesus Seminar says about Jesus. He is a gentle cynic. Do you know how many gentle cynics there have been? The woods “is” full of gentle cynics. Many of them are on seminary and college faculties. Find me a gentle cynic that has had the affect of Jesus. Find me one. Now, that is why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10, “Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war in terms of the flesh for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses, strongholds.” We are destroying speculations. Those are the fortresses. That’s the fortresses….speculations. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against what? Knowledge. Why didn’t it say faith? Because it meant knowledge; very simply. That’s what Paul is talking about and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. [12:11]
OK: just some of the conversations made me think I better go back and touch this. I had sorta just decided I wouldn’t do this because it gets a little too “heady” but it really touches down when we realize that it relates to knowledge of God. And now, I’ve said some things that you may really be puzzled about and you may want to get into a discussion over it but I would just ask you to sort of think about it and maybe in the morning or tomorrow, we can come back to it for awhile because I’m going to end our sessions talking about pastors as teachers of the nations. [13:00]
OK, back to this, just to remind us where we were—these are the parts and if we are going to love God, we love him with all the parts. So, now what would it be to love God with all your Body? A wonderful phrase in the old marriage ceremony, “With my body, I thee adore.” That’s a wonderful idea. Well, that means that your body is now directed towards what is good for God. To love is to aim for what is good for what is loved. Remember that? Remember, you love your begonia? You take care of it. If you love God, you take care of him. You say, “How can you take care of God?” By caring about what he loves. If you love what he loves, you love what is good for God. Now, your body would be set to act for what is good for God. The dispositions. See, your character settles into your body. All of the other elements the same way; they are organized around that principle. What is good for God? Now, of course, we are given the teachings about the law and the gospel to help us know what those are and we are given fellowship with others and with Christ to lead us into the direction where our whole personality is organized around love of God. [15:00]
Now, when that happens, actions, this again is in The Renovation of the Heart, the actions come out of who we are. Our body loving God is set to do what God wants. What does God want? He wants us to exercise creative dominion for good wherever we are. That’s the whole deal and then the particular commandments are designed to help us as we work our way out of this situation that we find ourselves in—deeply embedded in illusion and false practices. Gradually, all of the things that are in the parts of our personality are replaced with what is good. [16:13]
And that’s where character comes in and character is our word for the day. Character is the overall nature now of personality and it expresses itself in actions. Why is it when you go to borrow money, they want some references? Why is it if you take bankruptcy, you are going to be limited for a while financially? Why is that? It isn’t just because you took bankruptcy; it’s because taking bankruptcy is regarded as an indication of character. Paying your credit card off…..it isn’t just, did you or didn’t you? That has, in a sense, no bearing except through what it indicates about your character and your character has to do with what you are likely to do or going to do in the future as well as the past. Now, your actions come out of this whole configuration. They are centered in your will but not in your will, just in the sense of intentions because character is will solidified and farmed out to all of the parts of your personality. [17:47]
Financial issues are fundamental to the person because they are extensions of power. Credit allows you to use something that you have not paid for and so you give a promise and you pay for it. And you get a society living on credit and it becomes a gigantic “ponsey scheme” without anyone ever thinking of it in that way because gradually, it starts to crumble at the bottom and then everything comes down. We used to call credit “debt.” That’s what it used to be called and it was not thought to be a good thing because people understood what it meant. Often because they had lived through real hard times and they knew what happened when they could not pay. So, now, we are living through cycles in our culture but what I want to say to you is, “It’s all character.” It all has to do with character. It all has to do with how you handle desire and that’s where the nature of desire and the nature of credit and debt and character come together. [19:28]
OK, so now the actions that come out are going to be influenced by the emotions; they are going to be influenced by the thoughts; they are going to be influenced by the body, the social circumstances. They don’t just come out of your choice or your will and the secret of entering into spiritual formation intelligently and effectively is to realize that. So, if you are going to take care of action, you take care of emotions. You take care of thoughts, of your body and so on. You don’t take care of them, they will dominate your will and your kingdom will be shot because you will be enslaved by one of these areas or more and as a result, your desires will take over and tear you to pieces and that’s why Peter says, “Abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.” You understand that? As strangers and aliens, abstain from fleshly lusts; they tear the soul apart. The soul is supposed to integrate all of these. And when you abandon your will and that will always be to desire. When you abandon your will as ruling your life, then this goes crazy. But the only way that you can master your will for good is by submitting it to God because we are not little Adam’s. We live in community and the fundamental community is the trinity. The trinity is the only sufficient community. And when we do that, then these pieces begin to come back together and you get a soul that is restored, more or less, don’t start worrying about perfection. It will be quite awhile before you need to worry about that. Maybe later and then you won’t need to worry about it. We’re doing better. So, I like to refer to that bumper sticker, “Christians are perfect, just forgiven.” And, to point out, there is a long stretch between just forgiven and being perfect and we don’t live at the bottom. Just forgiven, no, no, that’s not true of Christians. They are not just forgiven. They are forgiven and they are on a path and that path is toward perfection and by the time you get there, you won’t be proud so you won’t have to worry about it if you get there. [23:06]
So, we are on that path. Here’s what happens is an inversion of the order that human beings live under and the order that God has appointed. Now, this is outcome, and we are going to go back to the body and the soul and the mind in a moment. But, God’s design, proper subordination, God first, spirit, subordinated to God, soul subordinated to spirit and body subordinated to soul. That’s God’s idea. But the human situation and the one you see in Romans 1 is this one. Body first, soul second, spirit third and God last. By the time you get down to God, what you’ve got is an idol because your body is running your life. That’s Paul’s phrase, “Their God is their belly,” and that’s referring to their desires. Their life is run by their desires and that settles into their body and that dominates the soul and that subjects the will, the spirit to the system of the soul organized around the primacy of the body and the will then looks at a cow and says, “You’re god.” Right? “You’re God….well, moo.” You see how messed up it gets? It does settle into the mind and the mind goes crazy and that’s what, again, Romans is talking about. [25:31] It’s talking primarily about a system; it applies some measure to individuals but its talking about a system. The system winds up….you go to the last verse in Romans 1 and you have these people who are approving of stuff that is horrible and they approve of it. They not only do them but they encourage other people to do it. OK; so that is the outcome. Now, we want to go back and think about the human mind and the body and maybe a little more about the soul. [26:16]
But, let’s talk about the body first because that’s the wrong inversion. It puts it first. What is the body? Let me put up some notes on this and then we will talk about them. The body is primarily potential energy. You learn that in physics, right? Potential energy and that fits into the relativity theory and its very important to understand that. Now you can restrict yourself simply to what is material substance and you think that is all the material there is and that results when you put the body first. You put the body first; you invest everything in the body and you don’t go higher to where the energy come from that makes up the body. And, or course, it comes from God and he knows how to organize energy and he creates a world in that way and of course if you’ve got all that and you need some lunch, you can turn a few fish and biscuits into a meal for thousands of people. It’s just a matter of turning energy into matter. If you know how to do it and you’ve got the matter, then you do that. Now, all of us are given a body that is potential energy that enables us to have a kingdom. Our kingdom is through our body. The little baby comes into the world. What’s its first task? To get control of its body. Until it gets control of its body, it doesn’t go very far. Of course, the first thing it does is learns to cry and it doesn’t do that……I’ve heard preachers say stupid things like, “Well, see, that proves a baby is sinful because he is crying.” Good Lord, help us out. Help us out! The baby is learning kingdom and then soon it learns to cry as a way of extending its will and if it didn’t, it wouldn’t live. So, it responds and then as it goes along it learns to look and move and it’s a beautiful thing to watch a little child learning that it can turn over, and when it turns over, it can look around. If it just lies on its back, it can’t look around and you watch the progression. Now, that’s where you want—from the viewpoint of theology—you want to say, “That’s kingdom. That’s kingdom. It’s developing its will.” And more and more things are coming to be under the range of its effective will. And then it learns to push up and get up and to use the wall to walk around the house in and pretty soon you don’t need the wall anymore and there you go. And, before anything, it’s got a credit card. [Laughter] And boy does that extend its will—the range of its effective will and then it learns to speak French and goes to Paris or goes to Paris and learns to speak French probably. You see, that’s the natural progression; it’s all bodily. Now, there is an inside to it—a Spirit is developing and a mind is developing in conjunction with that because the body’s abilities then become related to thoughts, feelings, social relationships—it’s all kingdom. That’s how it works and it is related to the body. Now, the identity of the person is tied to the body. That’s why, if I may say so, incarnation is not true because incarnation tries to pull the identity of the person away from the body. It says they can be the same person and be a frog. That’s not God’s order. God likes matter. He made a lot of it and for human beings—not angels—matter is a part of our identity and it’s all because he has created us in such a way that we can act independently of him. We can act independently of him and that’s essential for the purposes that he has in mind for us. So, the body is my personalized little power pack. As flesh, my body carries the natural abilities that enable human beings to act and even to act in opposition to God. So, the body takes on a life of its own and that’s a good thing. That’s what it’s meant to do because that then frees us up to be creative in ways that we could never be if we didn’t have a body. So, how did Pavarotti or a great singer or musician get that way? They got that way by working with their bodies. So, now then, they can perform, be creative and do wonderful things because of the investment in their body, which sets them free to do that. Discipline is the way to freedom. Discipline enables you to do what is good that you could not do. Discipline embeds activities in the body. Unfortunately, lack of discipline, wrong experience, embeds the wrong thing in the body. So, some of the disciplines are especially fundamental to training because they relate more directly to the body. [33:38]
That’s why fasting is so important. Fasting is basically learning to live on resources that are not physical. Fasting affirms the reality of another world in that most instructive chapter 4 of the gospel of John, one of the things that happens there is a little teaching about fasting. The fellows have gone into the 7-11 to bring some trail mix and orange juice and whatever and they come back and they say, “Jesus, eat.” And he says, “I have meat to eat you know not of.” That’s one of those things. Jesus says so many things that you kind of have to look at them—what was that? Right? Over and over because he is assuming a different world so the guys in the boat who thought they were going to be dead shortly, he says, “Why were you frightened?” They looked at one another and said, “ Hmm…we were just going to die.” “I have meat to eat.” Is that real? Now, he said, “My meat is to do the will of God.” Is that meat? What is fasting anyway? This way of cornering God and make him give me what I want because he sees how badly I want it? No, it isn’t that at all. Fasting is alignment with the kingdom of God. It is taking an energy that does not come through the physical. Now we need that. What do kids say when they get hungry? “I’m so hungry, I could die.” Well, there is something to that. Not much in their case but there is something to that. But there is an alternative source of energy. “I have meat to eat you know not of.” They didn’t know that. How much is true? But Jesus knew that. Was he hungry and just putting on? No, he wasn’t hungry. See, that’s a bodily discipline that is directed especially toward the rule of the body and takes the body out of that top place, you see. [36:38]
Now, all spiritual disciplines are bodily—every one—and that’s very important to understand because in this story about indirection, you have to distinguish what is accessible directly and what isn’t and your first freedom is actually not your body, but your mind. Your first freedom is where you will put your mind and that’s important in understanding what you are going to do with your body. But, your next step of freedom is what you do with your body, because now you, for example; if you need solitude, you need to take your body and put it somewhere. If you need silence, you have got to do something with your body. If you are going to have fellowship, you’ve got to do something with your body. Right? And so, what we are talking about now is the fine texture of the life of discipleship that takes ahold of specific things and works change there to change the person. What is the outcome of fasting spiritually? What’s its affect on character? Take a moment to think about that. What is the affect of fasting on character? Now, fasting, as I said, is accessing a different reality, a different source of energy and that sets you free from something. The outcome of fasting in terms of character is mainly the ability to be strong and sweet when you don’t get what you want. You want something and that’s why fasting is mainly to do with food because we regularly want that. You want something and you don’t get it. Now what happens? “Well, I am mad as hell and I am not going to take this anymore,” to quote the movie. “I’m not going to take that.” Blah! No, I didn’t get what I want. So what?
Well what’s that got to do with anger? [39:30] Where does anger come from? Not getting what you want. Am I making any sense? So, the body comes in here and it begins to learn new habits and so, I didn’t get what I wanted but I am still in God’s hands and he’s moving in my life so what does it really matter? Now, it will still matter if the issue is what is right and wrong. It still matters. OK, so I am not mad. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to flop over for everything that is wrong that I don’t like. I will still stand for what is right but now I will do it without anger. And as a result, the people that may be opposing me will not automatically have the anger response because I am angry. So, you know the Proverbs says, “As the twisting of the nose brings forth blood, so the forcing of strife brings forth anger.” So, now you are in a different place. You still stand for what is right. Go back to our discussion of going to court—you go to court; you just don’t get mad about it. You are open to other possibilities but you stand for what is right. [41:20]
Now, you see, that is one of the things that is so important in our culture to understand because love has been distorted and being perhaps the most precious thing, then it has to be attacked above all. Love is not tolerance if you mean by that, “Well, everything’s okay.” On the other hand, genuine tolerance has no basis but love and try tolerating people without loving them and see what you get. And you will find again that justice never does justice to justice. You’ve got to have more. Where is that going to come from? Well, you are going to have to have a body that is set to do what is right and content in the way that energy come to you and the discipline of fasting, of fellowship, of scripture meditation—all of those become substantial in your walk as a disciple.
So, now, the body then is very important, indispensable. You are not your body. You are an embodied spiritual being so you get the balance between the essentiality of the body to you but you also see that you are not your body and so the things that Jesus teaches about this and about death, they are just incredibly important to understand. So, he says, “The world passes away and the epithumia—the lusts thereof—but those who do the will of God abide forever.” Why? Because as spiritual beings, they are caught up in the eternal life of God—they that do the will of God abide forever. So now then, that’s why it’s important for us as Christians, and as teachers, and as leaders, and as individuals to resist such things as we discussed earlier about whether or not you are your brain. Did you know that God does not have a brain? [44:17] Did you know that? Now, come on, say something. Did you know that? [He has a mind.] Yes, he has a mind. That’s why everything for God is a “no-brainer.”[Laughter] He has a mind. He doesn’t need a brain. Now, we need a brain because God has arranged for us to have a body that gives us a life that we can even turn against him. That’s the foundation of choice and freedom. [45:03] That’s God’s arrangement and the body is fundamental to that, but on the other hand, what are we to do with our body? Well, Paul tells us, doesn’t he? “Don’t be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” How do you do that? By submitting your Body a living sacrifice unto God because that, He says, is your reasonable service. How about that? In other words, submitting your body as a living sacrifice to God is the only thing that makes sense–the only thing that makes sense. So, then that, among other things, should remove fear of death. Death is a passage. [45:56] Jesus says in John 8, that those who keep his word—that would mean those who align their lives with his life and live in the kingdom of God—they will never see death. They will never see death and then they will never experience death–John 8:51 & 53 Now, you see, what’s important about that and the other great passages like John 11 that we always use at funerals—and I don’t know why we don’t use them before that but—“he that believeth on me shall never die. Those who believe on me, though they are dead, yet shall they live, and he that believeth on me shall never die.” What does it mean? See, that’s where we have to take the words of Jesus and try to fill them out. Now, I don’t have time to give illustrations but what it means is that you will pass through what is bodily death. [47:11] Your body stops functioning and you won’t even notice it. So, if you are planning on dying, you are out of luck. Your body is going to change but your conscious existence will continue in its coherence and unity. You will not notice death. Well, what’s going to happen? Why won’t you notice death? You will be noticing too many other things that are much more interesting. Now, I say some things in The Divine Conspiracy about this and talk about different ways of thinking about it but I encourage you to follow it through because the truth is you live in a world that puts the body first. And that’s the basis of political power because political power is a human arrangement. It doesn’t mean God is not working with it—He does work with it but it’s a faulty system and there is no perfect or God-appointed system of human government. You know the saying of Winston Churchill, “Democracy is a dreadful form of government; it’s better than all the rest.” [48:46] And, for reasons, it is better. But, democracy can take the path to hell and it has, but governmental power is based upon the power to kill. There is no government on earth, no matter what it says, that does not have, in its repertoire, the power to kill. And you just hope that no one else does. See, what is happening in Mexico now and in many other countries in the world, a lot of other people have claimed the power to kill and the government doesn’t have the power to stop them. But, government, in its nature, claims a monopoly on power and the power to kill. See, that’s human affairs. If you don’t get above the body, that’s the end of the story. If you get above the body, then what do you have? You have people standing around saying, “Well, you can do what you want to; you decide whether or not we should do what you say or what God says.” You have people standing there by the furnace and some big overgrown bloke is saying, “If you don’t bow down, you’re going into the furnace.” And they say, “Well, you can do whatever you want; we don’t have to have a committee meeting to decide what we are going to do. If God doesn’t save us, its ok.” They knew where they were going. They knew what was happening. See, that’s the kingdom and the kingdom, is beyond death. Now, in terms of spiritual formation, folks, this is one of the most important things to embed in your mind and in your body and in your emotions. And the way you do that is to die already. And the way you do that is to join Jesus Christ on the cross. That’s the way you do that. Practically, it means the abandonment of self-will. [51:06]
OK, well, I am sketching a little broadly here but you can refer to Peter’s denials here and see how this works for the body and so forth. [51:22] Now, once you begin to take this into your body and into your whole system, then the possibilities of restoring your soul begin to step forward. The great shepherd, “You restore my soul.” And that’s the work of God. He restores our soul. He leads us in paths of righteousness for his namesake. Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Why? You’re with me. See that’s the whole deal. God is with me. The last words of John Wesley, best of all, God is with us. God is with us. I will fear no evil in the shadow of death. I have a restored soul. I am a whole person under God. I have nothing to fear so then, I’ll just try to wind this up by talking about 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “ In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God concerning you.” In everything give thanks. It doesn’t say give thanks for everything but in everything. Well, what are you giving thanks for when you are in the bad places? You are giving thanks for God. Thank God for God. That’s the ultimate praise. Thank God for God.
A wonderful story of a woman down in Texas–her neighbor ran over their little four-year-old boy and killed him. He didn’t mean to; it wasn’t intentional. But, you know, you understand what a terrible thing that is. She said something so profound. She said, “I find relief from thinking about the attributes of God.” I find relief from thinking about the attributes of God. See, it’s the assurance of God that makes the prophets in the Old Testament look at the absolute wipe out of everything and wind up saying, “God is going to do something good. He is going to do something good.” Jeremiah is sitting in the midst of he rubble of Jerusalem in Chapter 3 of the Lamentations starts out talking about, “it is good that a man bear the yoke of affliction in their youth.” And to read that passage, it’s just wonderful. And in the rubble of all of the hopes that they had as covenant people and their wonderful temple and their great victories of their armies in the past and now, Jerusalem is a smoking heap of rubble and Jeremiah comes out with hope. How is that? See, that’s what governs the whole prophetic tradition is the knowledge that God is so great that no matter what happens, he is going to bring good out of it. There will be triumph in the end. They didn’t know what it would look like. They weren’t looking at that. They were looking at God. They were looking at God. And it’s as all of the parts of the person are organized around the greatness and goodness of God. I was especially struck by that woman’s testimony; I only saw it on television but that she used the dry language of theology…she said, “the attributes of God. The only way I find relief is thinking about the attributes of God.” But the attributes are simply the glorious reality of God. “In everything give thanks” for God because somehow for those who look at that—you don’t have to understand it—just look at it. It’s going to come out right. It’s going to come out right. You can’t see that but the saving vision is through Jesus. God is okay and since he’s okay, somehow in ways I cannot see, and would not dare to try to explain, everything’s going to come out right. Now, then, when my life is organized around that, then I love God. I love God. I delight in God. Delight yourself in the Lord, he will give you the desires of your heart” and the desires he gives you will be fulfilled.