In this second message about caring for our soul, Pastor Roger Barkley explores what leads to fracturing our soul and the consequences that leads to.
Caring for Our Soul
part 2 Out of Sync
October 28, 2018 Pastor Roger Barkley
Congregational Church of Northridge
Last week and today we’re talking about care for our souls, and I began by describing what we mean by “soul”.
We want to move beyond just having just a vague concept of the soul because just like you can’t fix or maintain a car unless you understand how it works, neither can you care for your soul if you don’t have some idea of how it works.
So, last Sunday I told you about a little MG I had a long time ago that threw a rod which I think is a good metaphor about what we mean by soul.
I found a replacement engine at a junkyard, rebuilt it and its carburetor, but when I first started it up, it ran really rough.
It was barely drivable.
The problem, you may recall, was that I had set the timing chain off by one notch.
We saw that it needed something intangible to transform it from a pile of shaking metal into a quick and responsive sports car.
It was nothing that you could see or put your hands on, but only by resetting the timing chain would all the components work in sync so that they could be the MG they were intended to be.
Now, that intangible something that would integrate and coordinate all of the car’s parts is a metaphor for what the soul does in us as well.
We have a will (our intentions), a mind (that organizes our perceptions and can create new ideas), a body (that implements our decisions), and a social network (in which we live).
What harmonizes our component parts to make us uniquely who we are is our soul.
Just to be clear, when we speak about the Divine, we have to use metaphors, parables, poetry and such.
Don’t make the mistake of taking metaphors literally; I am not saying a car has a soul.
It is just a way of offering some insight into the unexplainable.
The soul of a spiritually mature person syncs up with something greater than him- or herself.
Spiritual maturity is aligning our whole being with the Divine so that God’s values become our values and our actions.
Jesus summarized Deuteronomy 6 with that message:
Luke 10:27 “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ …’and love your neighbor as yourself’.”
All your parts, firing in sequence like a well-tuned car.
This understanding of “soul” is summarized by the philosopher Dallas Willard:
“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.”
God can touch any part of our being.
Godly intentions can be given, wisdom imparted, bodies healed, and people brought into our lives.
But God’s best work is done at the soul level because it is there that we can be transformed.
The soul is not the alignment itself.
The soul is that presence that aligns and integrates.
The soul is your “true self”, but it can get warped.
The soul is what lives eternally.
And that is also where danger lurks because worldly and evil forces also seek to claim our souls.
It’s like a cosmic battle is raging for your soul.
1 Peter 5:8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
By the way, this is one of the reasons that Jesus made these really confounding demands for people not to tell anyone about a miracle he’d just done.
This has troubled casual readers and biblical scholars alike.
He heals someone, but then says, “There you go, but don’t tell anyone what I did.”
He takes his inner circle of disciples to a mountaintop and there transfigures into a glowing body whom Moses and Elijah join for a tete-a-tete, and yet on the way down the mountain he tells his disciples, “Just keep this to yourselves”.
If you’re trying to build a movement, don’t you want the word to spread?
Don’t you want your Twitter feed to go viral about the good stuff you’ve done?
But Jesus was waiting for people to see beyond his physical miracles to the bigger picture.
As long as people only told about the physical healing, exorcism or meal, they weren’t telling the real story.
Jesus needed to hold back until people could share the real Good News that his healings and feedings were signs pointing to the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus wanted people to see that he was a game changer, not just another miracle worker or benevolent ruler.
Once we align with God’s will, everything else falls into place.
At the same time, once we fracture that alignment, everything else is vulnerable.
Anyway, today I want to tell you about another car I rebuilt, my 1955 Chevy.
I know we aren’t supposed to anthropomorphize or get emotionally attached to cars, but I loved that Chevy.
He became like a family friend.
Eventually, the time came when his age was showing, so I decided to rebuild his engine.
I broke down his engine, upgraded the quality of his main bearings, put on new Michelin X tires, filled his radiator with distilled water and then proudly drove him to the La Mesa House of Ice, where I was working as a shift manager at the time.
Understand that a manager at an ice-skating rink gets to drive the big Zamboni that cleans the ice – which is one of the coolest jobs in the world.
My rebuilt Chevy just purred down Fletcher Parkway and onto Highway 8.
His new engine was tight, so I drove slowly to keep the RPMs down while everything was breaking-in.
After picking up my paycheck in the office, I returned to the parking lot to find my car gone.
This was the fourth of five cars I have had stolen through the years.
Unlike my MG, my Chevy was recovered.
A few days later, San Diego PD found him on a dirt trail where some teens had abandoned him after spinning donuts and hot rodding over the hills.
His front end was now out of alignment and his engine was running rough.
What had been in sync was now misaligned.
What had been strong was now limping.
It was as if my Chevy’s soul had been taken.
The soul is not lost because it’s going to the wrong place; it may end up in the wrong place because it’s lost.
The Bible spends a lot of time talking about guarding our soul because we are so vulnerable to having the components of our being knocked out of sync.
The Seven Deadly Sins are power grabs for different parts of our being to eventually claim our soul.
Sloth and greed assault our will.
Lust and gluttony assault our body.
Wrath and envy assault our social world.
Pride assaults our relationship with God.
Wherever it starts, sin always leads to the disintegration of the soul.
The Letters of Peter were written primarily to Gentile Christians in Rome.
It’s unclear exactly when they were written, but possibly as early 65 CE, which means they predate any of the canonical gospels.
The author was writing to people who were under attack by secular influences, by pagan religions, and by the brutality of emperor Nero.
He wraps-up his first letter this way:
1 Peter 5:9 You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith.
Under Nero, Christians had become scapegoats.
Dictators always look for scapegoats both to unite and energize their base and to carry the blame for their problems.
Under Nero, Christians were fed to lions, burned alive and executed en masse.
Peter himself was martyred during Nero’s reign.
So, Peter is warning the early Christians in those turbulent times to stay clear about who they are, whom they are following, and to keep their lives aligned with Him.
1 Peter 1:15-16 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
The word “holy” means set apart and venerated.
So rather than be derailed by your fear of the week, or pulled apart by every “urgent” demand, or tempted by the latest “must have” trend, stay true to God’s ways and God’s values.
God’s ways and values are set apart from the world’s ways and values.
He warned them to remember that there is a battle taking place over what will own your soul.
Peter thought this so important that he concluded his two letters this way:
2 Peter 3:17 But you, friends, are well-warned. Be on guard lest you lose your footing
Now, if that sounds a little fire-and-brimstoney, let me give you a specific example that is extreme but unfortunately common.
You may have read the obituary that’s gone viral on the web for the past couple of weeks for Madelyn Linsenmeir, a 30-year-old mother who by all accounts was a delightful young woman whose smile and energy would light up any room she walked into.
She was a gifted singer who loved hiking, especially when she could take her three-year-old young son Ayden with her.
But, somewhere along the line she let her guard down and began experimenting with drugs, which before long advanced to OxyContin.
Soon, that little pill became the center of her life as she devoted her time to fantasize about it, using it, getting the money to buy it.
OxyContin took possession of her soul.
In her obituary, her family wrote, “After having Ayden (in 2014), Maddie tried harder and more relentlessly to stay sober than we have ever seen anyone tries at anything. But she relapsed and ultimately lost custody of her son, a loss that was unbearable.
“Her disease brought her to places of incredible darkness, and this darkness compounded on itself, as each unspeakable thing that happened to her and each horrible thing she did in the name of her disease exponentially increased her pain and shame.”
It’s interesting that they used the phrase,
“in the name of her disease”.
We use the phrase “in the name of Jesus” with the same intent.
It is who we are following, whose values we serve, for what we will sacrifice.
Twelve-step programs vaguely say that addiction is a spiritual issue, but most people have little idea what “spiritual” means.
But their description is right because overcoming addiction is a battle over who or what will own your soul.
It could be God who will bring blessings, or it could be any of dozens of addictions which will bring a slow death.
It might be alcohol, drugs or gambling.
It might be status, power or security.
It might be fear, worry or micromanaging your kids.
Mainline church folk talk a lot about care for the soul through prayer, bible study and worship, but we say little about guarding our souls from powers and principalities that are on the hunt for souls.
That may be because of bad experiences with fire and brimstone preachers who point condemning fingers at LGBTQ people, divorced women and anyone who doesn’t vote their way.
But just because the concept has been abused doesn’t mean that it’s not important.
Awareness of where we spend our time and money, the shows we give our attention to, the crowd we hang out with, the resentments we harbor, the things we crave is an important part of soul care.
We have to recognize our vulnerability and confess where we’ve wandered from our values if we are going to make meaningful change.
St. Augustine said, “The confession of bad works is the beginning of good works.”
Unrecognized things can undermine our lives.
Last week we were doing some work on our backyard– which in itself isn’t news because living with Vivienne is living in a perpetual home improvement documentary.
Anyway, a wheel of a wheelbarrow weighed down with heavy pavers that Paul was pushing sank into our back lawn.
As he poked around he revealed a whole network of tunnels a few inches under our lawn that were going in every direction.
Apparently, a mole has taken-up residence in our backyard, silently burrowing into our gardens – which explains why some entire sections of our lawn have died.
The source of the damage was invisible – hidden beneath the surface.
But the dying lawn and soon-to-be dead flowers were the victims of the underground mole tunnels.
This is why we put so much emphasis on self-reflection and confession.
Not to wallow in our failures.
Not to feel shame.
But to get our souls right with our true self and with God.
1 John 1:8-9 If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing.