Saturday, September 25, 2010

Christians looking like Christians - Some Ideas Neatly Organized

To sum up this thread so far:

1. The Bible makes it clear that Christians should have certain unique and identifiable characteristics.

2. Many Christians (including me) do not always manifest those characteristics.

3. Every Christian has the choice of two ways to live - "in the flesh" or "in the spirit".

4. When we don't look like Christians it's because we either chose to live in the flesh, or we chose nothing at all and got the flesh by default.

5. Every Christian has the authority and power to live continually in the spirit.

6. The only way to do that is by consciously and intentionally setting our minds on spiritual things, because. . .

7. What we thing about is what we will become.

I want to take one last swing at this topic today by explaining what we need to know to keep our minds in a spiritual state.

What we need to know

The things that affect our minds, thoughts, and attitudes can be divided into two groups:

Type 1 - Things that go into our minds
Type 2 - Things that come out of our minds

These two categories can then be further subdivided into these nice bite-sized portions.

Type 1 - Things that go in: Interaction & Entertainment
  • Things we see/watch (reading material, TV/movies, internet)
  • Things we hear/listen to (music, conversations)

I understand that everyone's different, and that what is spiritually deadly for me may not bother you in the least. So, for Type 1 items I'll just say that, 1) anyone who wants to live in the spirit will be wise to choose spiritually meaningful entertainment over purely worldly entertainment, and 2) even small amounts can yield large results (either positive or negative).

Type 2 - Things that come out: Internal moving Outward
  • Things we think about (daydreams, internal monologues)
  • Things we manifest (words, actions, reactions)

I am completely convinced that the things we think/daydream about become the things we manifest outwardly. Our thoughts are, in a very real sense, a rehearsal for how we will later behave. If I daydream about getting all the glory and accolades I deserve (ha!), a normal day no matter how pleasant, really crunches my biscuit. If I spend time explaining to myself (huh??) the reason I'm angry at someone, I will be angry at everyone for the next few hours. In my life it never fails. You may be different. But I doubt it.

Now, I do not want to give the impression that anyone could possibly focus entirely on spiritual things all of the time. We live in a material world, and we have serious responsibilities in it. For example, I would not want to be on the same road with someone who gave no thought of the physical act of driving, no matter how much he loved God! But I often find that, while my main thoughts are focused on whatever's in front of me, my secondary thoughts (like background music in my brain) remain on spiritual things. That's a nice feeling, and incredibly empowering.

Three final thoughts

1. If we can become purposeful and responsible masters of both types of influence, we will make great progress in our spiritual lives. It really is just as simple as consciously avoiding the bad (because you know what it is) and determinedly pursuing the good.

2. The real test of how you're doing in this task is what you think about when you're free to think about whatever you want. That is, where does your mind go when it isn't constrained (by work) or distracted (by TV)? You'll know you're winning the battle when you find it naturally returning to its "true north".

3. It all comes down to this: To have a spiritual mind you have to live in a spiritual world. And that is almost impossible to do if all you see, hear, taste, touch, smell and think about is material. To make this work you must get - and stay - aware of the spiritual reality all around you.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Christians looking like Christians - The Solution

But I say, walk by the Spirit,

and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit,

and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh,

for these are opposed to each other, to keep you

from doing the things you want to do.

(Gal 5:16~17 - ESV)

As Christians we have two ways we can live.

We can live in the flesh and short-circuit the power of God in our lives.

Or we can live in the spirit and experience it fully.

As I said last week, living in the flesh is the default. If we chose nothing, we get that.

Assuming the serious Christian will want to have the power of God in his life, the challenge then becomes exactly how to choose the spirit and continuously live in it.

The conclusion I've come to (or, maybe I should say, the best answer I've yet found in over 20 years of following Christ) is this: The problem and the solution are all in your mind.


That's not to say they aren't real. They are real. They are very real. In fact, they are likely much more real than you've ever realized.

But they're in your mind.

That's where they exist. Your mind is the battlefield for the way you live your life.

For those who live according to the flesh
set their minds on the things of the flesh,
but those who live according to the Spirit,
the things of the Spirit. (Rom 8:5 - NKJ)

I've come to understand that without exception, what I think about is what I become.

Do not be conformed to this world,
but be transformed by the renewal
of your mind (Rom 12:2 - ESV)

I've come to realize that I have control of how much like Christ I am in each and every moment.

It's all in the mind, but it is not a "positive thinking" kind thing.

It's more like this.
Imagine we're creatures that have to eat constantly for energy. We have zero reserve.
Whatever we eat at 12:00 will determine our energy at 12:01.
And whatever we eat at 12:01 will affect us at 12:02. Etc.

We must chose every minute on the minute what to eat, and can change it every 60 seconds if we want.
Every moment we eat well, we'll be strong and vibrant.
Every moment we eat badly, we'll be sluggish and lathargic.
Every moment we don't eat at all, we'll be weak and exhausted.

When I stopped to think about it, I realized this little scenario very accurately describes how I experience my spiritual life.

When I choose to read the Bible I am peaceful, joyful, and strong.
When I choose to read People magazine I begin to think like a normal person.

When I listen to the sound of mouse clicks at work I find so many things irritating.
When I listen to praise music at work I keep a more godly perspective.

When I interpret the things that happen around me based on my feelings about them, I stress and fear and agonize.
When I interpret them based on God's Word (that is, when I walk by faith and not be sight) my mind and spirit are quiet and confident.

I was thinking I'd move on next week, but now I think instead I'd like to share some practical examples of ways I've been keeping my mind on spiritual things lately.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Christians looking like Christians - The Problem

Okay then, to pick up where we left off: What if you are a Christian, but the seven characteristics outlined last week don't really apply to you? At least, not very well. Or very often. Maybe you wonder why you look so much like everyone else in the world, and so little like what you know you should.

I did.

Actually, I more than wondered about it. I was seriously bothered by it. In fact, I was kind of mildly devastated.

And so I began to pray about it.

And like God always does when you earnestly seek Him, He gave an answer. Here's what I've learned about this problem so far.

First, you need to know that there is a very easy way to short-circuit the power of God in your life - and when that happens you will not look like a Christian. You will look very much like everyone else around you.

That too-easy short-circuit is called:
- "living in the flesh" in some translations (ESV),
- being "wordly" in others (NIV),
- and being "controlled by your sinful nature" in still others (New Living Translation).

As you can tell by the words describing it, it means that although you are a Christian, you live just like those who do not know God.

Now, by "live" the Bible doesn't necessarily mean your whole life - or even decades. It could be for only days, or hours, or even just a few minutes. But whatever the duration, during that time, you are thinking and being and living exactly like a "mere human".

Here's an example from the Amplified Bible. Paul saw this kind of living in the Corinthian church and didn't hesitate to set them straight.

For you are still [unspiritual, having the nature] of the flesh [under the control of ordinary impulses]. For as long as [there are] envying and jealousy and wrangling and factions among you, are you not unspiritual and of the flesh, behaving yourselves after a human standard and like mere (unchanged) men? (1 Cor 3:2~4)

Paul was angry with them because they did not have to live like that. They chose to.

Here's what I mean

Non-Christians have no choice in this matter. Spiritually they are still dead, so they have to live in the flesh. That's all they have.

Christians, however, have another option. We can live in the flesh, but we also can (and should!) live instead "in the spirit".

The problem is, "in the flesh" is automatic. It's the default human condition. So, if you don't consciously choose and intentionally live in the spirit, the flesh is what you'll get.

Obviously, the Corinthians of Paul's day were not choosing right.
And often, neither do we.

Next week I'll explain the solution to this problem.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Those who drink from the fountain

The Bible describes a true follower of Jesus Christ as a certain kind of person - that is, a person with certain distinct and recognizable qualities.

We saw last week how those who have chosen the cistern are and act. These folks tend to be:
- Greedy,
- Easily angered,
- Envious of others,
- Quick to argue, and
- Not completely honest.
- They talk about people behind their backs.
- They break their promises (with or without a good excuse).
- They do whatever they want because it feels good.
- And, they not only do these things, but demand that others accept them just the way they are.

This week we will look at the people who made the other choice.

A person who has given himself entirely to God, who has decided to be a disciple of Christ (not just a camp-follower), and who knows the eternal danger of cisterns will have (at least) these seven characteristics:

1. Love
This includes other closely related virtues like compassion, generosity, kindness, care for others who can give nothing back.

2. Joy
No one's giddy every moment, but the presence of God provides a deep, solid, beyond-natural joy that flows constantly under the surface, and now and then breaks out like a . . . fountain. Even when she is sad, the true disciple rejoices deep down over what God has promised to those who love Him. Paul calls it rejoicing in hope.

3. Peace
The peace of a disciple includes trust, submission, and the total relaxation of complete surrender. This peace manifests most beautifully as a quiet confidence when things are going badly.

4. The urge to tell others about Christ
We don't see this much today, and I don't know why. Just compare the average American believer with any believer described in the New Testament, and you'll notice the lack. It seems our greatest urge is to avoid telling about Christ. We have to be bribed or goaded into it. It makes you wonder what's happened to us.

5. Righteousness
This is doing, saying, thinking, feeling, believing what is right. We've discussed this one before, and it means nothing more than doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason. (And God gets to define what's right.)

6. Holiness
For the longest time, I thought that holiness was the same thing as righteousness. But it's not. Holiness means separation, submission, a dedication of all the heart, mind, soul and body to God. It will necessary include right living, but holiness itself is about consciously removing yourself from the world, wresting control of yourself from your self, and living fully conscious that you belong to God.

7. Willingness to suffer or sacrifice for the sake of God's glory
No potential consequence of being any of the above means anything to you. You would rather share your faith and lose your job than stay silent. You would rather give all your possessions to feed the poor than eat yourself. This is the capstone to all the others, and for obvious reasons, it makes showing them possible.

Now the question becomes: What if you know without doubt that you have been born again by faith in Christ, but these seven qualities do not perfectly describe you?

I've been struggling with exactly that question in my own life recently. Next week I'll share what little answer I've been given so far.