Monday, August 14, 2006

Cellular Spiituality, PART TWO: A BIOLOGY OF BELIEF

We’re continuing our series on cellular spirituality, which is a way to look at spiritual formation. It’s the way Christians try to become more like Jesus Christ. The topic of spiritual growth is so central to Christian spirituality, we feel it’s something that can’t be talked about too much. We believe it’s an integral piece of what it means to be a Christ follower. We want to expose ourselves not to little bits of information about it, but to a lot of different ways in order to keep our awareness up a little bit.

Today we’re going to go through Romans 12. It’s one of my favorite chapters in the Bible and particularly in The Message translation. I think it speaks so accurately to our lives. We’re going to read a lot of it today and I encourage all of you to go home and read it and really give that chapter a lot of scrutiny, no matter what translation you prefer. We could probably spend about six weeks on every little section in that chapter, but today we’re just going to give a brief overview.

We’re talking today about the ways we try and become more like Jesus Christ. As a pastor, I’m particularly concerned with this topic. As much as there are so many other good things to talk about, this is central to our identity as followers of Jesus Christ. There’s a lot that’s taught and talked about out there in Christian-land (Christian radio and TV land and Christian Bookstore land) that sometimes makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable, however inadvertently. Some teaching makes it feel a little bit like the Christian life is grade school. You advance from elementary to intermediate to middle to junior high to high school and then you go into college Christianity. It sometimes feels a little bit like the Christian life is reduced to the life of an athlete. You go J.V., varsity, college and then pro. Sometimes it feels like we dissect our Christian life and experience into little milestones I don’t really see represented in the Bible.

As we continue to explore this metaphor of cellular biology, I want you to keep this phrase in mind: Our spiritual life is not about automation; it’s about incarnation. Automation, especially here in the big motor state, is a series of preprogrammed processes. You go on autopilot, so to speak; you automatically react to things. An automated process is a streamlined process reduced to its simplest form so everyone does only a little bit of the job. If we reduce our spiritual lives to three keys to holiness or five principles for better understanding, we’ve excluded all kinds of stuff mentioned in the Bible. Instead, we’ve just tried to just get an overview of the things that “super-matter”.

That’s a bit false. Instead, we want to look at a biblical understanding of spirituality in which everything matters. Instead of an automated approach to spirituality, we look at this as an incarnational approach to spirituality. The incarnation is the very fact Jesus came down to take on the form of a human being; he lived a human life. A human life is not always clean. A human life has tragedy and circumstances.

When we think about a spirituality reflected in the Bible, we’re not thinking about a spirituality that’s entirely pure and clean. We’re talking about a dirty, earthy spiritual life that is about real life stuff, the stuff that means something. That’s biblical spirituality; that’s what we see represented in the Bible. It’s not just a bunch of processes. Instead, it’s a whole life approach that says: If we are to become more like Jesus, then we have to leave no stone unturned. Instead, we say, “God, here’s my whole life; I give it to you.” That, of course, is an immensely tricky thing to do and it’s something that will take every one of us a lifetime as we keep finding new, perhaps embarrassing, stones to overturn.

Let me run down an overview of our model of cellular spirituality. Remember, it’s just a metaphor so I don’t want anyone to run away from here and do a bunch of research on cellular biology in order to better understand Jesus—just run to the Bible. We’re trying to give you some mental pictures for understanding a more authentic, biblical way of how we grow to become like Jesus.

Imagine if you will, when you chose Jesus Christ, a single spiritual cell is born inside you. It’s a cell that represents your purely vertical relationship with Jesus. The more you love Jesus, the more you give of yourself into knowing and experiencing God, the more that one cell will begin to multiple into other cells. You can’t really love Jesus without Jesus, in some way, infecting you with love for other people. In a sense, that Jesus cell gives birth to another cell that might be love for other people. Those two cells begin to feedback and cross talk and give help and life to one another and spawn other cells, all of which are connected.

Instead of thinking about a spiritual life that has levels, we’re thinking about something more free form that spreads in different ways. It is omething that connects every part of your life to every other part of your life. We aren’t fragmented or segmented people, but, instead, whole individuals trying to follow Jesus Christ.

We’re going to talk four observations to do with the spiritual life and begin by reading in Romans 12:1-3. This is the Apostle Paul talking to the Church in Rome. Please remember at this point not everything was happy-go-lucky in the city of Rome, particularly not for Christians. Many were being persecuted. Here’s what Paul says:

“Here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday,

ordinary life…”

Your everyday, ordinary life, not your X-Man-Superman-super-hero ordinary life, not the parts where you feel best about yourself, where you’re soaring sky-high—your everyday, ordinary life. We’re talking about your life when you’re mad at your kids, your life when you hate your boss, your life when you’re too tired to get up in the morning—your everyday, ordinary life.

“…your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me,

and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as

every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not

misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God.

No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves

is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what

we do for him.

It’s an interesting way for Paul to begin this discourse about how we grow and experience and understand the spiritual life. I find it fascinating to see the way he sets things up, immediately calling Christians to be qualitatively different than the world around them. He immediately says, “There’s something inside of you that needs to be fed and needs to be manifest.” In this way I think we can begin our understanding of cellular spirituality and how we grow spiritually by saying everything is alive.

The spiritual parts of your life are alive. Things that are alive grow, they die, they get hungry, they need nourishment. When you think of your soul as being alive, you’ve got to think of the fact that different parts of your spiritual life need to be taken care of. You don’t achieve a level of spirituality and then never pay attention to that aspect of the spiritual life again. You don’t feed one hungry person and all of a sudden think of yourself as having achieved compassion or mercy. You don’t go on one mission trip and then all of a sudden think of yourself as a world class evangelist who never has to do anything again. You don’t attain one level of being really spiritual and then ignore that area of spirituality for the rest of your life. Think about what your marriage would be like if you did that. You say, “I love you,” on your wedding day and then never again, and then you can’t figure out why he doesn’t love you anymore. These spiritual components of our lives are alive and need to be nurtured or else they’ll get sick and die.

This brings us to our second observation about the spiritual life. Everything counts for something, so if something that’s alive is allowed to die, that’s important. If you used to feel compassion towards people who were less fortunate than you and you don’t anymore, that’s important. If you used to be able to love the people that didn’t really like you and you can’t anymore, that matters. Consequently, if you feel like maybe God is expanding your spiritual awareness and coaxing you into new ways of being loving to the world around you, those new things coming into your mind also matter. Everything you can think of matters, which is an awesome, almost terrifying, concept, because for most of us we can think of an awful lot.

Everything is alive and everything matters. This is very, very different than what we commonly think when left to our own devices. How many times in a day do we say about some inconsequential thing, “I’ll get to that tomorrow”? How many times in a day do we see someone who we think could use a word of encouragement or a silent prayer and we don’t do those things? When we do those things, they feed our spiritual lives; they are like nourishment to the cells in our spiritual body.

Let’s pick up here in Verse 4.

“In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets

its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around.”

Time out for just a second. Paul’s going to use this next section to talk about a local congregation. Paul is going to talk about a church, but the things that are true for a church are also true for us as individuals. You might think of yourself as an individual, but in reality you’re composed of somewhere around 30 to 100 trillion cells that have to work together in order for you to do anything. Your body already represents how important it is to be working together, to be connected and to be of one mind. When we read Paul’s thoughts about how to be the Body of Christ, thinking about the Church, we can also think about how this applies to us as individuals.

“The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each

of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a

chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would

we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently

formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just

go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or

pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be

something we aren’t.”

The sad part about spiritual growth is we always want to compare ourselves not to Jesus, but we want to compare ourselves to each other. We want to look at each other and go, “I’m doing a little bit better than this guy,” or “I’m not doing as well as that girl.” We do these things all the time. Spiritual people quickly become unspiritual when they start to compare themselves one to another.

Oftentimes, when we think of spirituality as something to be achieved, and we think of the different steps we go through, it creates, however inadvertently, this kind of comparison. We think there’s only one way to become more spiritual. If someone says to you, “I spend thirty minutes in prayer and Bible reading”, we think of them as more spiritual than someone who only spends two minutes a day in prayer and Bible reading or only spends two minutes a year in prayer and Bible reading. But what if that person spent thirty minutes a day in prayer and Bible reading and the rest of their time working at a concentration camp? The person who only spent two minutes a year instead was out in the middle of a jungle somewhere providing clean water to people because the love of God was so deep in their hearts they had to something to save somebody’s life? Now our little system of trying to figure out who’s really spiritual is all screwed up.

Instead, we don’t think of a one-size-fits-all approach to spirituality. One-size-fits-all doesn’t fit anyone. Instead, we think of a way we all grow in our spiritual life in different ways. Take, for example, our Coriolis leadership team. There are differences between John and Randy and I. This might be the areas in my spiritual life I believe God is wanting me to grow in. Some of them are bigger than others, some are smaller, some are new, some are connected. I might feel like right now God is asking me to be mature and I feel like the spirit of God is telling me, ‘You need to grow up a little bit.” So I put effort into that, because God brings them to my mind. I would never prescribe for someone else: These are the ten things you need to do in order to become more like Jesus. No, I’m saying this is what I feel like Jesus is telling me: “You’ve got to work on some stuff, McDonald; you’ve got some bucking up to do.”

Conversely, you might compare that to John. John’s spiritual growth could look totally different. Maybe there are areas where John’s also working on spiritual things similar to mine, but for me maturity in Christ isn’t looking more like John Voelz or trying to copy the things Jesus is telling John Voelz to work on. For me, spiritual maturity is saying, “Lord, what do I need to work on?” Randy’s growth, of course, would look a little different.

Now bear in mind this is just a metaphorical way of understanding how we grow as spiritual people. It doesn’t mean you have to look like this or you have to act like this or you have to emulate these things. Instead, it means we all come to God and say, “You can have everything. Instruct me how you’d like me to grow.”

This brings us to our third observation for today. Everything is connected. Oftentimes, it becomes very easy for people to segment different aspects of their Christian life. It becomes very easy for people to put up little boxes they like to protect. But the reality is everything you do matters in every other area of your life. You can’t be a jerk in one area of your life and not be a jerk. Have you ever met someone in a purely social capacity and they seem so wonderful? “This is the coolest person ever. I want to grow up and be like this guy.” Then you work with them and you say, “This person is the spawn of Satan; they’re evil.” We all know these kinds of experiences.

The truth of the matter is there aren’t fifteen people running around inside you. You’re you. A lot of people wear masks or faces, but at the core, you’re you and everything you do, you’re doing. When you treat your wife a certain way, that’s you treating your wife. When you treat her nicely, kindly, sincerely or gently, that’s you. Yet, when you’re angry at your boss or you speak ill to someone, that’s also you. You’ve got to reconcile every part of who you are, because it’s the same person. One of the great gifts of God is he makes us whole; he gives us the understanding to know we are made whole in Jesus Christ. For many people who struggle with this kind of thing, we know there is hope over and over again Jesus is able to make us whole.

Once we understand that these things are connected, we also have to understand that every part of our life is contagious. This is our last observation for today. If a part of your spiritual life gets sick, it will begin to spread that sickness throughout every part of your life. If a part of you goes bad, if you can’t let go of some old wound, it will eat you up like cancer. You cannot love one person or hate one person and not have that branch out into every other part of your life. If you hate your spouse, that’s going to affect your kids, your spouse’s family and your network of friendships. If you hate the last church you were at, that’s going to affect this church and every church you go to next. That’s going to affect you and it’s going to spread throughout your life, affecting everything. This happens all the time in a myriad of different ways.

Let me give you an example. It’s an example from my own life and my own cluster of friendships; it has to do with pastors. This might not be true for any of the pastors you know; this is just something I’ve noticed in some of my friends, and this has been very painful for many of them. It could be just as easily true for plumbers as for pastors, except maybe with better pants.

One thing I noticed with people who are in ministry is they get into conflict with other people who are in ministry. This breaks my heart. Say, for example, a subordinate staff member gets into conflict with the senior pastor. Tension emerges between these two people and the person who is losing goes home. Who do they complain to? They complain to their wife. That’s who we all complain to. Because church is something so personal to so many people, the conflict becomes personal and meaningful; it’s a spiritual community that the spouse is now involved in. When the worker/pastor comes home and complains about work, they’re not just complaining about work, they’re complaining about church community. That affects the person who stays at home.

What happens on Tuesday? Worker/pastor goes back to work, resolves the conflict with their boss, so that issue is now settled. It’s all water under the bridge; we all have conflicts. God loves resolution. We’re done but who is it not finished for? It’s not finished for the spouse at home. The spouse at home festers and feels angry and feels like the spouse is at work being abused and in some way those things have turned sour. Spouse at home has this poison gradually growing inside of their heart that not only affects their marriage, but affects their relationship with that couple, with the boss, and spouse. It affects their network of relationships and the whole church. Pretty soon, if that’s never resolved, that family leaves the church, they tear their relationship apart, they tear their own family apart, but they don’t come somewhere else seeking wholeness. They come somewhere else seeking justification. I can tell you, I see this all the time, and I see it with my friends.

It’s just an example—it’s not because it’s ministry or because they’re pastors. It’s because we are all people, and every part of our lives is connected. When you have a problem at work, a problem at work will manifest itself at home. A problem at home will manifest itself at work. A problem with your spouse will manifest itself in your kids, because everything is connected.

To illustrate, I heard this great story about some sailors who were going through the Caribbean. There were two islands where they would periodically stop and watch monkeys. On the first of these two islands, the sailors would ditch all their leftover foodstuffs and supplies, typically sweet potatoes. They would wash through the sea and get all covered in salt water and then wash up on the land. The monkeys would pick up these sweet potatoes and start to eat them. Because they were covered in salt, the monkeys would make funny faces and not eat them and chuck them at each other; the sailors would laugh and have a good time.

They’d do this at both of the two islands. One day they approached the first island, dumped their cargo and one of the sweet potatoes came inland through a fresh water stream. When the monkey picked it up and began to eat the sweet potato, there was no salt on it, so he got to enjoy the sweet potato. The next time they came by, they saw this monkey washing his sweet potato that was covered in salt water in the fresh water stream so he could eat it. They came by again and now there were several monkeys washing their sweet potatoes off. They finally came by one time and every monkey was washing their leftover vegetables in the fresh water stream. (It’s known as the hundred monkey effect if you care to research at all.) The same day all of the monkeys on the first island began washing their food in the fresh water stream, all of the monkeys on the second island, which previously had not washed any of their food, began at that moment to wash all their food on the same day. These two islands, a mile or two apart, had this strange transference of consciousness or awareness.

The story in and of itself isn’t really important, it’s just a neat little story. Scientists really have some wonderful arguments about it on the Internet if you care to read any. What it illustrates for us is just how intimately connected and how contagious our behavior is; nothing is isolated or separated. If you’ve got an addiction in your life or broken relationship, that’s going to hurt you in some other area. Maybe like a cancer or an illness that has no visible manifestation for sometimes years, so, too, will a kind of spiritual cancer live under the surface of your life for an indefinite amount of time until it sabotages you.

We say all of this with the awareness that just as there are poisons that work themselves through our spiritual life, so, too, are there incredibly healthy things that shoot well being and positive energy, the light and the life of Jesus Christ, through every part of who you are. If you give a gift, you get this injection of positive spiritual energy. You get this infusion of the life of the Holy Spirit. If you just reach out with kindness to the world around you, you’ll find your life increasingly begins to feel more healthy. The more you represent or imitate or actuate the life of Jesus Christ everywhere you go, the more you’re going to feel that health of God flowing through every part of who you are. I think it would be a great mistake for us to think of our spiritual life as only something that can be damaged. Instead, we ought to think of our spiritual life as something that can be nurtured and cultivated. It is omething that can increasingly represent Jesus Christ to our family and to the world around us.

I’d love to leave you with some questions about who you are on this cellular spiritual level. I’d love it if we could ask ourselves what we’re deliberately doing to culture our souls. There are all kinds of things that happen to us, good things and bad things, and by-and-large the way we respond to those things is what’s going to culture us spiritually. At the same time, there are things we can do deliberately in our pursuit to imitate Christ. What are those things for you? Maybe it’s prayer, maybe it’s fasting, maybe it’s contemplation, maybe it’s time alone with God, maybe it’s a walk in the woods. Maybe you connect with God through nature. What are those things? What are you deliberately doing? We often hear people saying, “I don’t really connect with God that way.” Okay, how do you connect with God? “I don’t really enjoy a quiet time.” Okay, I’m not selling you a quiet time. What are we deliberately doing to have Jesus grow in us?

Secondly, I wonder where do you think God is pushing you? What are the new cells being born in you? Is there something about compassion or justice or mercy? Is there something about financial understanding or money management? Is there something about forgiveness or love for your enemies? Is there something about the ability to take criticism? Where is God pushing and growing you?

Conversely, where are you just dying? Where are the areas in your life you refused, up to this point, to take a good hard look at—your addictions, your habits, your foul relationships, your speech? What are those things for you? If we’re to just take this moment and be mindful of our spiritual lives to ask God for a greater awareness, then we can run a kind of spiritual diagnostic. At the end, say, “Okay, Lord, I’m ready. Let’s get a little bit healthy.”

Cellular Spirituality, PART ONE: THE CELL OF YOUR SOUL

One of the most important things you will ever learn about me is I like to talk about my kids. I love to tell stories about the dumb things I do. I think when I tell you about the dumb things I do, it makes you feel better about the dumb things you do.

We’re trying to teach my son how to potty train. He’s 2 ½, and when you go through this as a parent, people give you all kinds of advice about how to potty train your kids, about how their kids were potty trained and walking and talking and writing a thesis at age one. You get all this advice, but people don’t entirely prepare you for the emotional consequences of what happens in the mind of your son while he’s trying to learn how to potty train.

For Jacob, he doesn’t understand why, when we go to certain places, he’s not allowed to participate in the preschool activities because he’s not potty trained. He’s old enough, but if you haven’t yet reached that level of maturity in your body, you don’t get those opportunities.

The idea of maturity is an idea I’d like us to talk about. Of course, I’m not talking about our kind of maturity in terms of potty training. I’m talking about our maturity in faith, our Christian maturity. Maturity is not just biological, but maturity is also emotional and physical.

Independent of the potty training we are trying to sort out with my son, we’re also trying to teach him about how to respond appropriately to things that happen that he doesn’t like. Carmel has taught him this new phrase; it’s called “freaking out.” She’ll say, “Jacob, are you freaking out right now?” He’ll say, “Yes, mommy, I’m freaking out,” or “Daddy, I freaked out today; I’m sorry.” It’s really great, because we’re trying to teach him that there are appropriate and inappropriate things to freak out about. It’s inappropriate for him to freak out if he spills his milk. “Jacob, we don’t freak out about spilling our milk.” “Sorry, Daddy.” He freaks out if he breaks a toy. “Jacob, we don’t freak out about breaking a toy. Daddy can fix anything.” If, however, he punches his sister, then Daddy freaks out. That’s totally legitimate, because that’s not the kind of behavior we want to approve.

In the process of maturity, particularly emotionally, my son has begun to learn when he acts more mature, if he limits his freak outs to major things, then he gets new opportunities and he gets new satisfaction in his life. If he’s able to control his body or temper, then he’s given additional privileges. If he’s not able to do those things, then he loses privileges. He has to go have a time out or go to bed early.

Spiritual maturity is like this also, and for anybody who claims to be a Christ follower and for all of those people, like myself, who consider themselves having chosen Jesus, the idea of spiritual maturity is intimately connected to who we are. It is, in fact, the first thing we begin to think about. You become a Christian by making a choice to accept and love Jesus. You become a Christian by selecting Jesus and saying, “Whatever this means, I pick the Jesus of the Bible” … the Son of God who came down to the earth in the form of a man, was crucified, resurrected on the third day, and ascended into heaven; we’ll reign with him in all eternity, member of the Trinity—that Jesus. You may not understand all of that, especially if you’re new, and it’s not entirely crucial you have all your doctrine right. If you have your doctrine wrong, that’s the Jesus we’re talking about.

When you make a choice to be in love with Jesus, you do so out of a sense of love or devotion or gratitude. There’s a reason you are compelled to follow Jesus. You feel like he’s given you hope when you had none or worth when you had none or he’s got a sense of promise for you. He has given you a sense of healing or restoration. He’s put you back together again, removed your sin and shame. He’s saved you. That’s why we love Jesus. That’s why I follow Jesus, not because I read a book, but because he’s actually made a difference in my life. Because of that, I look at the person of Jesus and I want to become more like him; he is what I want to be. The process by which I become more like Jesus is commonly understood as spiritual growth or spiritual maturity or spiritual formation and that’s what I want to talk about today—how we become more like Jesus. For anyone who loves Christ and puts him first in their lives, this is almost the defining issue of our Christianity.

I’m a pastor because I want to help people come deeper and more fully into the presence of God. There have been people with that same noble intention stretching back throughout the last couple of millennia. In an effort to help people know and understand and grow in the spiritual life, there have been a lot of books written and a lot of models put together about how our Christian life progresses. I think it’s worth mentioning some of these models that are popular today that you might hear on Christian radio or you might see on Christian television. Sometimes they are a little bit misleading. In an effort to be really, really simple, sometimes these models actually make things a little less accurate. They oversimplify the Christian life and the process of becoming more like Jesus. I don’t ever think that’s the intention of the people who put these models together. Quite the opposite. I think anyone who puts together an understanding of spiritual growth does so because they want to help people become more like Jesus.

Take, for example, the model I was given when I was in seminary. It said any follower of Jesus had these four characteristics in their life: You were saved, sanctified, filled with the Holy Spirit and involved in service in a local church. If you were a super Christian, you looked like “this.” I began to have my first niggling moments of doubt with this kind of approach when I realized, according to this model, Mother Theresa isn’t considered a Christian and Billy Graham isn’t considered a Christian. I thought, “Wait a minute, this can’t be right. When I think about the people who are most admirable in the 20th Century Christendom, I think of Mother Theresa and Billy Graham. How do you get more spiritual than Mother Theresa? Obviously, Mother Theresa doesn’t really meet up to this little model, so in the eyes of the people who put it together, she doesn’t really fit.” I don’t even think the people who put the model together would agree that’s accurate.

For us, then, we’re left with understanding there’s got to be a better way to understand how we grow spiritually. There’s got to be a more biblical reflection of how Jesus takes over by our submission all of the different areas of our lives. I am convinced every part of our lives is spiritual; everything you do is spiritual. The process of becoming more like Jesus is a process of allowing Jesus to seep through every area of our lives and gradually and increasingly infect who we are with him.

I want to use a cellular metaphor to talk about this today. I’m not a biologist and I promise the biology component of today will be almost minute, but what I love about cellular biology is that it tells us, for example, in the average adult male human body there are anywhere between 30 and 100 trillion cells. If I’m to investigate my own spiritual life, I could easily conceive of that in many different areas of spirituality.

I sat down in my office the other day and I thought, “I want to think through all the different areas I feel like God is telling me to grow.” When I sat down, I thought there would be two: Don’t be a jerk and love other people. I sat down with a pen and I thought, “I’m going to try and write these down.” I spent a couple hours in prayer and thinking through this, reading a little bit. I came up with 117 different areas where I thought, “Wow, I really feel like God is coaxing me to grow in these areas.” That’s a lot; that’s more than two, just in case your math is weak.

I’m not saying we need to put together a 117-level model of spiritual growth. No, I think that’s ridiculous. What I’m saying instead is that we need to have the orientation in our spiritual lives to see everything as spiritual and everything as fair game for God. We need to say, “Jesus, where do you want me to grow? How do you want me to grow? What can I do to give more of myself over to you?”

To this end, we’re going to look in 2 Peter 1:3-9. We’re going to read it in two different translations today—the first one being in The Message. I think it gives us a nice poetic quality to things while still being accurate.

“Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been

miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and

intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation

we ever received! We were also given absolutely terrific promises

to pass on to you—your tickets to participation in the life of God after

you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust.

So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given,

complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual

understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent

wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension

fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active

and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no

day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience

of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can’t see what’s

right before your eyes, oblivious that your old sinful life has been

wiped off the books.”

This is a compelling piece of the Bible. Here it is in the NIV, beginning in Verse 5:

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness;

and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to

self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to

godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For

if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep

you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of

or Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is

nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed

from his past sins.”

If we look at portions of the Bible like the full armor of God, the fruits of the spirit, the beatitudes, there’s a great and erroneous temptation for people to say, “You start out as an amateur and you add to your faith, goodness, and now you’re a varsity Christian. You add to your goodness, knowledge, and now you’ve gone pro. You add to your knowledge, self-control, and now you’re a superhero.” We begin to stack these things one on top of another and use them not to appraise how well we’re doing in the presence of God and in our representation of Jesus, but we use them as a way to judge everyone else. We use it as a way to understand where we are in the hierarchy of Christendom.

I don’t really think that’s what Peter is getting at. I don’t think that’s what Paul was getting at in those other lists. I certainly don’t think that’s what Jesus was getting at. Instead, I think they’re talking about something much more cellular—something that spreads out from the center. Imagine, if you will, your spiritual life being like a cell in a human body. It’s got little parts to it; it’s got a membrane, a nucleus, some goopy junk in the middle with twenty-seven different names. You might say in your Christian life everyone begins with one cell, your soul cell. That first cell is your purely vertical love, affection and devotion for Jesus. That first beginning point is Jesus Christ.

We’re going to pull out some application from that and dissect it a little bit, but first I want to make a point that is really important. In church a lot of people get distracted by a lot of other good things. A funny little saying goes, “If the devil can’t get you to do a bunch of bad stuff, he’ll get you to do a bunch of good stuff.” You get distracted and instead of falling in love with Jesus, you fall in love with social justice. Social justice is important. In fact, if you love Jesus, you’re going to want to be involved in social justice, but as soon as you forget about Jesus, what good is it? If it doesn’t start with Jesus and move outwards, at the end of the day it’ll leave you feeling hollow.

Our spiritual life begins with our relationship with Jesus Christ. The cell of your soul must continually be nourished because a cell, unlike a tier or a level, is not achieved. A cell is not something you acquire. A cell is something you manage and give life to, something you feed and culture and grow and protect. So this cell of your relationship with Jesus Christ has to constantly be managed.

Many people, maybe people like me when I was six years old, prayed a little bedside prayer with a parent to choose Jesus. Many people continuously trade on that old experience. We’ve got to keep refreshing our personal experience with Jesus Christ for all of our lives. You can’t keep trading on that stuff that happened twenty or thirty or five years ago. Another reason I love this metaphor is that cells die. Every second approximately one million cells in your body die. In order to keep those cells from dying or in order to have those cells be reborn (as every cell in our body ultimately is), we’ve got to continuously pay attention to those cells.

As the metaphor expands (this is mostly what we’ll be talking about in message two of this series), we can see that the more you love Jesus, the more you’re going to love other people. If you’ve got a problem hating other people, that problem is a fundamentally spiritual problem and it needs to be resolved first between you and God. The more you love Jesus, the more you’re going to love other people.

In a sense, that one cell now is going to multiply; it’s going to reproduce, and you’re going to have two cells: A cell of your love for God and a cell of your love for other people. Those things are going to feed health back and forth to each other. You love Jesus. You feel him. He fills you full of his love, and as you demonstrate that love to other people, you’re going to experience what God experiences when we respond to him in love. Those two things are going to have a mutually beneficial relationship. If you love other people, you’re also going to do other things for them. You might give birth to a cell of compassion and your spiritual life begins to spread out in a kind of cellular map. Instead of having an area of spirituality in your life, every part of your life is now infected by the presence of Jesus.

What I love most about this whole way of understanding spirituality is that all of these other areas are not only connected back to the cell of your soul, but they’re connected to each other; they are independent. You cannot be spiritually healthy in one area and be totally spiritually bankrupt in another area without those two things affecting each other, either positively or negatively. Think of someone you know who has everything going for them. They do everything right; they’re just incredibly perfect, wonderful people except for one little area—a little drinking problem or pornography or they hate their wife. The truth of the matter is one area will wreck your whole life because it’s like a poison shot into your body, and it spreads throughout your system. In our spiritual lives we have to be aware of those areas that get sick or feed poison to the rest of us.

I hope this isn’t overcomplicating things, but I want to give us a very clear picture of how I believe the Bible presents spiritual life and health. The good news is everything we say and do matters. The bad news is everything we say and do matters. The good news is everything is spiritual and God cares about every part of our lives. The more of himself he puts into us, the more it spreads to all the other relationships and behaviors we have. I think that’s what Peter was talking about and what Paul talked about. I think that’s what Jesus talked about. I even think that’s what the Old Covenant was based upon—a God that cared about everything we did and wanted to spread health to every area of our lives. He wanted to help us in our imitation of him.

Let’s talk for just a minute about this one cell—the cell of your soul. A cell, in order to maintain health, has to be connected not only to itself but to the whole system. Cells reciprocate healing energy. A cell grows because it has an open exchange between itself and its environment. Your soul cell grows because of an open exchange between you and God. You allow Jesus to speak to you and ask specifically for him to give you wisdom and instruction. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living or how long you’ve attended church. At the core root of it every one of us must continually be managing and taking care of our relationship with Jesus.

It’s Jesus that’s the tricky part for so many people. It’s easy to ascribe to the reality of God in some form or another. It’s when we try and nail it down and really clarify what our beliefs are that it gets uncomfortable for some people. For us, we are followers of Jesus, so everything begins and ends with the person of Jesus Christ. That’s not an experience we had. We didn’t have—past tense—an experience with Jesus. Followers of Jesus have experiences with Jesus again and again all the time, not just because they magically happen, but because we’re deliberate in searching them out. I can tell you in my own life all of the bad things I do start with how well connected I am to the source. Let me say that may be what your life is like too. It’s that relationship with Jesus that must be managed and cultured.

Everything you do either neglects or cultures that soul cell. Maybe you don’t pay any attention to it or maybe you deliberately act against what you know to be right based on that relationship with Jesus. What you’re thinking about right now, what you’re going to do this afternoon, who you’ll talk to, how you treat your spouse—everything you do either neglects or cultures that cell of your soul. This is important to realize, because this isn’t just true for this cell, but it’s true for every part of our spiritual lives.

Those cells, of course, can be killed. We kill cells by lack of attention; we kill cells becoming over-protective. In a sense you almost have to be a spiritual risk taker. You have to hunger and thirst for righteousness and for the presence of Jesus; you’ve got to search those experiences out. If all you do is have a little experience that’s totally private to you and you never tell anyone about it, it’s going to die. You’re not giving any attention to it; you’re not giving any life to it. We could also kill our cells by having a poor response to adversity. You have a bad experience at church, you blame Jesus and that cell’s dead in a second. I’m always fond of saying, “I enjoy the great miracle Christ has done in my heart because I’ve given my life to serving a church, and the only thing in my entire life that has hurt me has been the church.” And yet here I am. By the way, it drives me nuts when people rag on any church, even churches they don’t like or churches I wouldn’t like. It’s not about what we get to like; it’s about who we are and who Jesus made us. Jesus gave his life for the church and so will I.

The good news is cells are reborn. When old experiences die, when memories fade, when things fall out of place, those cells are reborn. Your experience with Jesus is reborn, refreshed, renewed through new experiences. Sometimes those experiences look like very simple, quiet things. They are moments of resolution where you realize you’ve got things all cockeyed and you want to straighten them out. You fall on your knees, repent and say, “Lord, I want to get my life right with you.” Sometimes those are much more supernatural experiences where you run down to the altar and you’ve got snot and tears falling everywhere. You grab your best friend’s hanky and you cry. It doesn’t matter what those experiences look like. The fact is we get them anew and again.

I can think of touchstone moments in my life: When I was six praying by the bed having my first official experience with Jesus Christ; when I was eighteen having a much more dramatic and yet personal, private and emotional encounter with Jesus Christ, when my family and I decided we needed to move on from our last church where we had been for ten years being led by the hand of Jesus Christ. These are new experiences and we pray for you to have them all the time.

With all this in mind, we’ve got to realize everything we do is connected. The way we manage the health of this cell of our soul is connected to the way we manage our family, our mouth, and our finances. Everything we do matters to God. I don’t want you to get confused by the model. In fact, I never really care if you think about a cell again. What I care about, what I hope we understand, is that spirituality is not a measure. It is allowing God to seep through every part of our lives and redeem them. That is a much more biblical understanding than much of what we’re taught about how to be like Jesus.

In closing, let me ask you a couple of questions.

  • What are you deliberately doing to manage your relationship with

Jesus to keep it fresh and whole?

  • In what ways might you be neglecting your soul? What things might

you be doing that take you away from thinking or acting or ever

spending time with Jesus at all?

  • How are you going to be mindful not to neglect the cell of your soul when you go to work or play sports or go to the beach?

Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” I think all of us think of people in our lives who are so godly and so Christlike that we look to them as a way of looking to Jesus because we can see that godliness lived out. For all of us, I think God presents incredible opportunity to grow and become more like him. The challenge today is whether or not we will.

Today we’re talking about this first cell, the cell of your soul, of your relationship with Jesus Christ. I’d love it if we just take a minute to examine where we are. If you have no relationship with Jesus and you want one, it’s very, very simple. You don’t have to have all your thinking straight, but simply begin a choice for Jesus.

Some of you may have grown up following Jesus and feel like somewhere along the line you’ve messed something up, either through neglect or through deliberant disobedience. You just feel disconnected from God and you feel like your soul is sick or broken. The great, powerful truth of the Gospel is the way back to Jesus is very simple. Once again, it’s a decision to choose Jesus, to empty ourselves of the garbage and the brokenness and say, “Jesus, I love you, I pick you; help me.”

Maybe you’re at a spot where you feel like things are absolutely great and they have been for a long time. What a great reminder for you to take this time and say, “Thank you, Jesus.”

For all of us, when we reach a time of examination, I desperately and sincerely hope we pay attention to and allow that which is at our very center to become more whole and strong.