Pastor Roger Barkley continues our teaching series on “Caring Church”, now turning to care of our souls.
But what is a “soul”? It is a term that religious types throw around a lot, but seldom explain what they mean. In this, the first of a two-part message, Roger begins by exploring that question.
Caring for Our Soul
October 21, 2018 Mark 8:34-37
Pastor Roger Barkley
Many years ago, I bought a used MG, an experience that’s left me with a life-long
distrust of used car salesmen.
They’d waxed the car, buffed its chrome, polished its leather seats and assured me that its unlikely low odometer reading was accurate.
The little car was quick and fun to drive … until its engine threw a rod after about a thousand miles.
They must have used a gallon oil additive to quiet the knocks in that fragile engine just long enough for a twenty-year-old sucker to come along with a thousand dollars in his pocket.
Anyway, I went to the junk yard and found an old MG engine to rebuild, which I did in a friend’s garage.
I rebuilt the engine and carburetor, dropped it into the car and with greasy fingers excitedly turned the key and pulled the starter.
It fired up, but it was really rough – and after fifteen seconds or so made a loud backfire.
As you may have guessed, I had installed the timing chain off by a notch.
So, there I sat in a pretty blue car, all waxed and polished, with an essentially new carburetor and engine, but it could only limp down the road and would self-destruct if I tried to drive it very far.
Its beautiful component parts were out of synch.
It’s a perfect metaphor for Jesus’ message today,
Mark 8:36 What good is it for a person to gain the whole world but forfeit their soul?
The Message translates “soul” as “the real you”:
What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?
Would adding more chrome or installing a better radio make my little car a better MG?
Would finding a smoother road make the ride any better?
No, because something was missing.
A functioning car is somehow greater than the sum of its parts.
It’s almost like something intangible would be added to the car by adjusting the timing chain.
Something you can’t touch or measure would transform a rattling pile of metal into a quick, sporty car.
I used to think that today’s passage from Mark 8 was teaching that getting wealthy and living the high life would send my soul to hell after I die, but that is a shallow understanding of Jesus’ message.
To get at what Jesus was actually saying, let’s step back and restate the obvious.
You and I have a social network: family, church, colleagues at school or work and so on.
Some of us are extroverts and others are introverts, but what we have in common is that we humans are social beings.
Obvious, as I said.
And, you and I have bodies.
Some of us are tall, some short.
Some black, some white.
Some male, some female.
But what we all have in common is that our bodies have natural cravings for food, exercise, sex and, most of all, chocolate.
We also all have minds.
We can think, we can remember, we can interpret events and memories, and we can create.
The ability to create is a powerful thing.
We can envision something that doesn’t yet exist and make it real.
But all that starts with our intentions – what we might call our will.
We have intentions to do a variety of things – some good, some not so good – but it takes our minds and bodies to make them happen.
Tim had an intention of building a music library on the Google cloud that any of our singers and musicians could access to get sheet music, chord charts, videos of performances, and specific, verse by verse instructions for drum, harmonies, and so on.
That was a marvelous intention, but he had to go further.
He planned how to do it, he searched various music sources, he chose between video performances, he opened a Google Drive account.
But that wouldn’t mean much except that he got people engaged in helping with hours and hours of uploading material, and actually using it to prepare for Sunday worship.
Tim’s will, mind, body and social network all aligned to make this happen – and the result is wonderful.
Would you agree that you sometimes fail to actually do your best intentions?
All the time.
As they say, “the road to hell is paved with” what?
And sometimes do you catch yourself doing things that are contrary to your best intentions?
You really didn’t mean to share that bit of juicy gossip, but somehow it just blurted out of your mouth.
At those times, your intentions are not in harmony with your actions … something is out of synch.
Paul talked at length about this, for example:
Romans 7:15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
Now, there is something about a spiritually healthy person that coordinates their will, their mind, their body, and their social world.
Sometimes we describe that as wholeness – all their parts act as one whole being.
So, there is something intangible in every person that makes the real “them” greater than the sum of their parts.
They are more than just an intelligent brain and strong body … and that something is their soul.
Your soul brings together all your parts to make you “you”.
I went through elementary school with twin girls, Janet and Janice.
Not just were their names almost identical, so were most of their physical features: skinny bodies, blonde hair, and freckles.
They always dressed alike, and their voices were indistinguishable.
But, when you talked with one of them, there was no mistaking which girl was which.
Janet was Janet, and Janice was Janice in a way that you couldn’t quite put your finger on – but they were unique.
They had similar minds and physical features, and the same family and school friends, but different souls.
God can touch any part of our being.
Insights can be given to our minds, our bodies can be healed, the right people brought into our lives, but God’s life-changing work takes place in our souls.
What we give our soul to is what we give our life to.
What we give our soul to ultimately determines who we are.
A couple of years ago we spent some time reading Dallas Willard’s book in which he says,
“What’s running your life at any given moment is your soul. Not external circumstances, or your thoughts, or your intentions, or even your feelings, but your soul. Your soul is that aspect of your being that integrates and enlivens everything that is going on in the various dimension of the self. It is the life-center of human beings.”
When you meet someone who’s “got it together”, you often can feel their spirit and their passion because their whole being is in-synch.
They feel focused and powerful.
But, you may meet someone who has their intention, mind, body and social world aligned, but it is all in service of their own selfish interests.
They’ve given their soul to self-gratification.
They may be powerful, but you sense that their soul is small.
Inevitably, they find their lives to feel empty, to be without meaning.
We don’t think of that person as spiritually healthy, because a spiritually healthy person aligns all their parts – gives their soul – to values that are greater than just self-interest.
Mark 8:36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?
So, what to give your soul to is the greatest decision of your entire life.
There are so many things of life that feel gratifying in the moment, but giving in to every such impulse distorts our soul away from what God created us to be.
To use the language of Jesus’ culture, you choose whether your career will be your Lord, or your hobby will be your Lord, or money will be your Lord.
But you were created in the image and likeness of God, so while career, hobbies and money are great, they aren’t meant to be first in your life.
Your soul was designed to be with God.
For one thing, your soul never tires of seeking more.
Your soul is endlessly seeking more, and only God can endlessly give.
Luke 12:32 It’s the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.
Your soul has infinite desire, but only God is the infinite giver.
All other things can give for a while, but they are finite, and as in the case of addictions will eventually turn on you.
You are made in the image and likeness of God, so God wants to fashion your soul to be like Him … not just following some legalistic piety, or doing good works, or giving begrudgingly.
God wants you to reflexively be like Him in the way you see others, stand for justice, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Notice how Jesus’ famous restatement of Deuteronomy 6 calls every component of our being into a commitment to God.
Luke:10:27 “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’”
John Ortberg tells about how his wife, Nancy, loves to dance, but how he feels stiff, awkward and uncoordinated.
I know how he feels.
One time we took our sales staff on a harbor cruise to celebrate a good year of sales.
We had a dj on board, and after a couple of drinks I relented to a request and found myself on the dance floor.
I was dancing with a young black woman who really had some moves,
and so I was feeling pretty good until she stopped, squinted at me and said, “Roger. You’re supposed to be dancing, not running in place.”
That was thirty-five years ago, so I don’t think about it anymore.
Never. It doesn’t still hurt.
Back to the Ortbergs: Nancy has taken dance lessons for a variety of styles, she’s danced in school plays, and her idea of an evening out would always include dancing at a nightclub … except for the fact that John doesn’t dance.
But after enough years of her nagging, he agreed to take a ballroom dancing class with her.
Nancy tried to encourage him by asking, how hard could this be?
The music is slow, the instructor will be right there.
She was so excited, but halfway through the first song of the first lesson, the instructor dashed across the floor, shaking his head and saying, “No. No. No.”
Nancy was good, and so John wondered what he’d done that was so wrong.
But the instructor turned to Nancy and sternly said, “Dance partners need a leader.”
“I know that”, she said.
“But who’s leading here?”
And right away she got it.
Because of her experience and excitement, she was trying to lead.
But John had been instructed that he was to lead, even as he was learning.
If we are going to be graceful in life, we need a leader.
We decide who will lead and then everything will fall into place after that.
When Jesus takes our soul, it is not just about going to heaven.
It is also about how we’ll live in the here and now.
It is about surrendering our soul to Jesus to harmonize our whole being around his priorities and his ways of being.
Jesus reaches out to us when we are confused, weary or have lost our way and he says to take his yoke … a way of saying to let him take the lead.
The Message translation puts it this way:
Matthew 11:29 Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
This is what it means to give our soul to Jesus.
So, what happened to my little blue MG?
I don’t exactly know.
To remove the engine and adjust the timing chain would require several hours of work, so I decided to pack up and finish the job in the morning.
But when I returned to the borrowed garage my car was gone.
Possibly, the thief was a kid out for a joyride and thereby destroyed my little guy a short time later, in which case its fractured state led to its death.
Most likely, it was someone who stripped the car for its parts and so sent it to its grave soulless.
But I’d like to believe that it was someone who had the ability to adjust the timing chain and bring everything into harmony and with that restore the soul of my old MG.
Note: Metaphors are great for teaching about abstract concepts – but don’t take them literally. That’s one of the ways biblical literalists into themselves into such rigid (and sometimes crazy) theology. I’m am not saying that cars have souls in the sense that humans have souls.