The Power of Jesus: Transforming the Way we Understand Ourselves Philippians 3:17-4:1

Last week we began our conversations on mental illness by revealing the wilderness experience many people with mental health challenges endure- as well as Christ’s presence in the wilderness with us and our invitation to be companions for each other on the journey.  Today we will focus on what Jesus’ sacrifice means for our transformation of body, mind, and spirit- as people who are made whole by the truth that will set us free. This poignant message coming to us today from the apostle Paul was written from his prison cell.
“Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.”
Something about knowing Paul’s whereabouts when he wrote this letter makes it mean more. We know that Paul endured a lot of persecution as he spread Christ’s message of hope, love and faith. We know he was imprisoned at least three times. We know he dealt with mentally, emotionally, and physically challenging situations- all clearly impacting his Spirit. But not in the way we might think. Instead of being demoralized by these challenges, his message speaks of a transformation of spirit that only Christ can offer. From hopelessness into joy, because no matter what, Paul’s got friends who share his love for Christ.
I enjoy Eugene Peterson’s translation of this last verse in The Message: “My dear, dear friends! I love you so much. I do want the very best for you. You make me feel such joy, fill me with such pride. Don’t waver. Stay on track, steady in God.” That’s what we’re doing this Lent- showing our love for one another by taking a serious look at something that affects so many of us. Sometimes we talk about mental health as if certain people are healthy and certain others are ill. The truth is, while there’s varying degrees of mental health, according to the testimony of scripture (and human experience), all of us fall short of complete wholeness.
Depression, anxiety, addiction, abuse, and loneliness are not some far-off reality for someone else, they are a part of our stories too. If we name them for what they are (and what they aren’t), we take away some of the undue power they hold in our lives (The stigma that keeps us from the transforming power of healing we need).
Here’s the way Eugene Peterson offers verse 21 in The Message: “Jesus will make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.” Because mental illness is real and because real transformation is possible, we need to bring our fault lines to light and actively seek healing- for ourselves and one another.
I introduced this series on mental illness by saying I want it to be real- to actually matter in our lives. So I’d like to offer a brief overview of a therapy model I think actually works and is super helpful when it comes to understanding the roots of our mental health fault lines. The first step toward healing is seeing more clearly the origins of our mental health stories. This knowledge can begin us on a path of transformation. The therapy model is called Family System’s Theory.
It involves 8 concepts that affect our level of mental and emotional health, and I HIGHLY recommend you check out the website I put on our green resources insert. I don’t have time to offer the full scope of this theory, but I will focus on the overarching truth that relates to Jesus’ power to perform transformation in our lives. Let me give you an example using one concept, the Multigenerational Transmission Process. A key implication of this concept is “that the roots of the most severe human problems as well as of the highest levels of human adaptation are generations deep. The multigenerational transmission process not only programs the levels of “self” people develop, but it also programs how people interact with others.” Our path to mental and emotional wellbeing begins by seeing and understanding the power of our family histories AND choosing to counteract the negative forces in our lives by interrupting these family cycles.
Here’s the common way to say it: we ALL have skeletons in our closets, and those skeletons are often handed down from generation to generation in families unless someone actively disrupts the cycle by seeking healing. Without purposefully and honestly dealing with family histories and the genetic realities of mental illnesses, they hold undo power over our lives. So where does transformation come from? It comes first from knowing the truth.  Jesus says in John 8: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” As disciples of Jesus, the truth is this: God is not finished with us yet.
Jesus gives his life so that our lives might be renewed. And Jesus’ real life examples of healing gives us assurance that the Kingdom of God is not only something to strive for only after life on earth end- but also IN this lifetime. Because of Jesus, we can work together today toward recognizing our mental health fault lines, accepting their place in our lives, and restoring mental wellbeing with any number of healing efforts that may be required. Because of Jesus, we are not trapped in our past; instead we are set free by Christ’s promise to “make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.” And remember, this work is always ours to do together in Jesus’ name. Amen!