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MARCH 17th, 2019                                                                                       PASTOR DON PIEPER

Right On The Mark                                                                                      Psalm 42:1-5/Mark 8:27-37


                                                            “WHO'S GOT SOUL?


            When I was little I was taught to pray the following prayer: Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord...my soul to keep?  And if I die before I wake,  I pray the Lord my soul to take!  


            Is it just me, or are those scary words to teach a child to pray alone in the dark?!   If I die before sunrise, and he takes my soul, what exactly is it that gets taken?  And what does He want with it? 


            Most people believe we all have a soul but have a heck of time describing it.   When Jay Leno asked..., one person said,“It may be hard to define, but I know it when I see it”.   Oh?  How's that?


            It's not visible nor can it be measured or weighed, (contrary to urban legend), yet we speak of it all the time: we eat soul food, claim soul power, love our soul mate, grieve lost souls, seek to win souls, we bare our soul, risk selling our soul, listen to the Beatles' 'Rubber Soul', pray, 'may God rest his soul' and are told that our eyes are windows to our soul.  Starbucks even promoted their product with great success by promising that it “nurtures the soul”!   That's some capachino!   I even saw a photo on face-book that warned that some feline is after my soul!  (Your sole is mine!)   Wrong sole! 


            So what exactly is the soul?  Reknown theologian and author, Dallas Willard, has done a lot of work exploring the biblical origins and references to the word, soul, and defines it this way: “There is a precious thing about you called your soul'The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.'  You're a soul made by God, made for God, and made to need God... 'As the deer pants for water, so my soul pants for you, O God.'   The soul seeks to connect with other people, with creation, and with God himself – who made us to be rooted in him the way a tree is rooted by a life-giving stream.”                                                                                                                       (Genesis 2:7; Psalm 42:1; Psalm 1:3; Dallas Willard)

            In Scripture, and elsewhere in the ancient word, the word soul was often a synonym for a person a nuance still reflected in our culture.  For example, ship or airplane records often inquire about the number of souls on board, as in Luke's report on a shipwreck: “We were all in the ship, 276 souls.”                                                                                                                                                              (Acts 27:37)

            Our soul, then, is the essence of who we are.  Acknowledging that makes the statement Jesus makes to Peter and company in Mark 8 that much more timely and significant.  When Peter protests Jesus' prophetic words about his approaching passion and death on the cross, Jesus counters by stating that Peter has embraced a human point of view as oppossed to God's. 

            Jesus further underscores his point by making one of the most poignant statements regarding the focus & importance of nurturing a healthy soul when he declares, “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process?  Is anything worth more than your soul?”                                                                                                                                     (Mark 8:35-36)

            I've always thought this verse meant that in the long run, it won't do you any good to acquire a lot of money, expensive toys, sleep around and indulge in other sensual pleasures if you end up going to hell.  But under closer scrutiny I've realized that this is not what Jesus is saying.  Jesus is not talking here about people going to hell.   Jesus is talking about a diagnosis, a process, not a destination. 


            To lose my soul means I no longer have a healthy center that guides my life, like a car without a steering wheel.  It doesn't matter how fast I can go 'cause I'm a crash waiting to happen.   And if our souls get damaged in the process of how we live, how then shall they be repaired? 



            A mom struggles to create the perfect home.  She resents how little her husband helps.  She is angry at her children for their less than stellar school performance and for moments of willfulness.  Her beauty has always been one of her cherished assets and now, as time marches on, she feels less and less attractive, and so she withdraws, blaming and gossipping more and praying less...


            She thinks her problem is her husband, or her kids, or her neighbors, but it's not.  The problem lies within her soul, where pain lingers unaddressed and temptations seduce and corrupt.  Her life verifies that what Jesus said is absolutely true: gaining the outside world doesn't help you if your inside world collapses.  Countless films have pointed to this truth...


            Some of my favorites include: Citizen Kane, Hook, Family Man, Nickolas Nickolby, The Great Gatsby, Walking the Line and Meet Joe Black.   In the film, Kingdom of Heaven, a young knight meets the dying king who, afflicted with leprosy, challenges the knight to guard his soul...

            [DVD clip from the film, The Kingdom of Heaven; 47:55 – 49:16]


            How is he told to guard his soul?  By being honest, gracious, and looking after those in his care. 

Jesus knew – the neglected soul doesn't go away; it goes awry!  Even Sigmund Freud said no less.  After all, the word psychologist comes from the Greek word psyche, which literally means soul.  As Freud once wrote: “Treatment of the psyche means...treatment of the soul.  One could also understand it to mean treatment of sickness when it occurs in the life of the soul.”   (Sigmund Freud)


            Ironically, psychology has focused on the self, and self carries a totally different connotation than soul. To focus on my soul means to look at my life in connection to God.  To focus on myself apart from God means losing awareness of what matters most.  Fact is, despite the rise of the mental health profession in the last century, people are more prone to depression than ever before.  The brilliant psychologist, Martin Seligman, makes a connection with this trend with his observation that we have replaced church, faith and community with a tiny little unit that cannot bear the weight - the self.  Ironically, the more obsessed we are with our selves, the more we neglect our souls.  As Jesus asks, with timeless poignancy: “Is anything worth more than your soul?”  (Mark 8:36)


            Our language reflects this.  If you feel empty, you're told to fulfill yourself.  If you're stressed, take care of yourself.  If you're graduating, believe in yourself.  Feeling stifled?  Express yourself.   If you're not getting your way, stand up for yourself.  On a date?  Just be yourself.


            But what if your self is a train wreck? What do you do then? Self is a stand-alone, do-it-yourself unit, while the soul reminds us we're not made for ourselves. We're part of something beyond ourselves 


            Attending to the soul doesn't mean we neglect those practical things like career or health.  The soul lies at the center of them all.  Each facet leaves a mark on the soul.  Fact is, your soul can thrive in spite of the circumstances: “Though you have not seen him (Jesus), you love him and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  (1 Peter 1:8-9)


            The salvation of your soul is not just about where you go when you die.  The word salvation means healing or deliverance at the deepest level of who we are through the presence and grace of Jesus.  Sooner or later, your body and mind will weaken but what will endure...is your soul! 




            Horatio Spafford invested most of what he had in real estate.  He lived in Chicago and lost everything in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  Two years later he put his wife and their four daughters on a ship heading to England as he stayed behind to restimulate his business.  A few days after the ship departed, he received a telegram from his wife: “I alone survived.  What shall I do?”


            The chilling telegram came with word of the shipwreck.  All four of their daughters perished. Horatio quickly boarded another ship to England, and as it passed over the place where his daughters had drowned, he wrote these words: “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”                                                                                                                                             (Horatio Spafford)

            In light of his circumstances, how could he honestly write such words?  How could he be so sure that it was well with his soul in a season of such overwhelming loss and grief? 


            In his words to his friends and followers, Jesus pointed the way, providing three ways we can be at peace even when sorrows like sea billows roll.  First, by seeking to gain a greater perspective than our limited human focus can provide: “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God's” (Mark 8:33), Jesus tells Peter.  In short, you lack God's perspective.  Peter was grieved to hear Jesus speak of dying.  He was convinced there had to be a better way.  Seeking God's heart as revealed in Scripture and as prompted by the Holy Spirit provides what we lack – God's point of view, and God's point of view always has and always will strengthen our resolve and deepen our soul. 


            Second, Jesus urges us to avoid that which always has and always will damage the soul:  “If anyone of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your sinful ways...”    (Mark 8:34)

            We have a vital need to get real, to be transparent, and admit when our actions have compromis-ed our integrity and relationships, and with them the wellbeing of our soul, (as addressed on Ash Wed.)

When we seek and receive God's forgiveness something within us is set free..., and our soul soars!  


            Third, if we make learning from and following Jesus our highest priority our soul will reach its full potential.  “Take up your cross and follow me..., for if you cling to the things of this life, you will lose it but if you give up your life for my sake...you will save it.  For what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process?  Is anything worth more than your soul?”                                                                                                                                                (Mark 8:33-37)

            By gaining God's perspective on things, and by opening your heart and soul to His Spirit, you nurture you're soul because your soul was made by God, for God, for all eternity.   One of the most wonderful aspects of Alpha is watching as folks seek to connect with God only to have their souls  nurtured and healed, as they delight in the only one who can meet their thirsty souls with exactly what they need – his unconditional love, his undeserved grace and His glorious presence.    


            In his book, Imagine Heaven, Pastor John Burke tells about Dr. George Ritchie, who had a near death experience, in which a being of light and love asked him, 'What did you do with your life?'

            “I started to point out how I was an eagle scout and how I'd asked Jesus in when I was eleven, of  my premed courses, how I was going to be a doctor and help people, but visible alongside the class-room scenes playing before me was my Cadillac car and private airplane and how I'd left the church...


            Then I sensed a holy laughter – not at me and my silliness, not a mocking laughter, but a mirth that seemed to say that in spite of it all..., joy was more lasting still.  He was not blaming me; he was simply loving me - filling the world with Himself and yet somehow also attending to me personally.



            I realized I had missed the point altogether in my response.  He was not asking about awards and accomplishments and acquisitions.  The question, like everything else proceeding from Him, had to do with love.  How well have you loved ?  Have you loved others as I am loving you...?

                                                                                                (from John Burke's  Imagine Heaven)

            George came to see what really matters.  He recognized that the condition of his soul was inter-twined with the Creator of His soul and that he was created in love to love.  Everything else pales in comparison.  So cling not to the things of this life, but the Creator of life, who has revealed his heart in the person of Jesus, “the one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, who has come into the world”, (John 1:9) he who reveals that there is nothing more valuable you posess than your soul! 


            Nurture it well that you may, like Horatio, come to declare, “it is well with my soul!”


Don Pieper

My family has been serving here at Redeemer for the past 21 years.  My wife, Claudia, and I particularly love worshiping with the Redeemer family and seeing people come to faith, as well as growing in faith through our Alpha Course, small group ministries, youth group and such.