Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Life We Ignore - Part 3

In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Louisiana coast. It proved to be the most destructive hurricane in the history of the United States with damages exceeding $108 billion. One of the prime drivers of these damages was the flooding that resulted from the failed levee system, which was meant to protect the city, which is largely below sea level, from storm surges. As a result of sub-standard construction, the levees broke and eventually 80% of the city flooded. The original construction of the levees to lesser and cheaper standards led to what is widely considered the worst civil engineering disaster in U.S. history. Construction lessons aside, there is a similar lesson to be learned about how we also should conduct our individual lives to avoid disaster. While nobody supports sub-standard construction, likewise, living towards low standards is never the way anyone should live either, especially the Christian.

In the last two posts we studied that the "The God We Ignore" is the Holy Spirit and that the "The Self We Ignore" is our true self, our spirit. The enemy leads us to ignore these two in order that we might, as a result, ignore the spiritual life in which we were meant to thrive. By ignoring the Holy Spirit, we are duped into believing that God is something less/other than spirit. We are duped into believing that God is flesh like us instead of us being spirit like Him. Our true identity is spirit as well, while the enemy also dupes us into believing that our identity is flesh instead. When he has finally had his deceptive way, we are ultimately duped into a life that gratifies flesh, which is a spiritual dead end. Such a flesh-led life is a life of lower standards than a life dedicated to indulging God’s Spirit that dwells inside of ours. When a Christian lives life to the lowest excusable standard, they are ignoring and missing out on the life we were meant for. We opt out of God’s best for something that is far less. This choice is foolish.

We are to be followers of God, not followers of the worst among us. Where did God ever inspire living towards low standards? Where did Jesus ever exhibit living to a standard less than His Father’s best? Do you search scriptures for narrow commands and excuses? Or, do you seek to understand God’s preferences in all matters? By the way, God’s preferences are not always revealed by way of His commands. As Christians, shouldn’t God’s preferences be even more important to us than just His commands? It is entirely possible to do something that may not be a “sin” but is less than what God prefers. For example, God permits us to divorce in the case of infidelity. To do so would not be a “sin.” But, is that God’s preference? The answer is clearly “No.” The reason God never prefers divorce, even in the case of infidelity, is because He married us in spite of our near constant infidelity. And, He will never divorce us even though our infidelity persists. This is God's higher standard. Likewise, He prefers that we aspire to His standard on the matter, not stoop to the lowest excusable standard. But, how few Christians pursue the holiness of God? How few Christians truly search God’s word to understand God’s heart? Isn’t that the way we should approach God’s word, His very breath? Searching for and living towards low standards is yet another way in which we live for the flesh as opposed to the spirit. Low standards are aligned with flesh since they are motivated by flesh. Would God's Spirit ever motivate us towards lower standards?

Allow me to share some potentially delicate examples in the gray areas of life: tattoos, alcohol, premarital foreplay, inappropriate entertainment, etc. In all of these examples, it is easy to manipulate scripture towards a lifestyle of “freedom” to indulge. Yes, there is grace. However, by indulging in "freedoms," are we choosing to indulge our flesh or God’s Spirit? Are we listening to our flesh or God's Spirit? Would God’s Spirit ever lead us to do something flesh-driven or unwise? It is entirely possible that a certain act is not a sin, but happens to be unwise. Should we live to avoid a list of sins or should we live to pursue wisdom in everything? The former is suffocating religion while the latter is true spiritual communion with God. Should we ask ourselves if something is sin, or should we ask the better question to the Holy Spirit of whether something is wise? I addressed these questions in depth in a prior post [Is It Sin?]. In summary, God will never lead us to do something unwise. But, our flesh will, almost 100% of the time because our flesh is entirely corrupt and depraved. 

In eternity, do you truly believe that we were meant to indulge in fleshly pursuits over spiritual perfection? If not, why would you ever allow yourself to be duped into believing that we should indulge in fleshly pursuits here and now? We should seek to bring the standards of God’s Kingdom to the far reaches of the Earth, not bring the standards of the far reaches of the Earth to God’s Kingdom. Proverbs 17:24 says, “The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.”

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Notice how this passage does not in any way imply that scripture is good for indulging our flesh or enabling unwise behavior. We Christians should not use the Bible as our enabler towards unwise and flesh-motivated living. That is an abuse of God’s word and a denial or quenching of His Holy Spirit that lives inside of us. 1 Thessalonians 5:19 is pretty clear when it says, “Do not quench the Spirit.” 100% of scripture is directed at living led by the Spirit (spiritually) which is opposed to flesh (carnal). When we do the opposite, it has the effect of quenching, or extinguishing the flame of God’s Spirit.

The summary of the prior two posts is that God is spirit and we are spirit. Therefore, we are designed to interact with and follow God in spirit – spirit to Spirit. God never intended for us to gratify the flesh in the same temple as His Spirit. Living towards low standards is missing the vibrant spiritual life that God intended. It is our spiritual life that we too often ignore. It is our spiritual life where we truly find ourselves, define ourselves and thrive with the One in whose image our spirit reflects. 

Too many Christians have bought the lie that God does not care about our little decisions. In fact, there is not one aspect of our lives of which God does not care perfectly about. If God cares about how every single lily is clothed, then God certainly cares whether or not His adopted image-bearers choose flesh over His wisdom even in the smallest of our decisions. Again, Galatians 5:16-17 says, “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.”

Has there ever been an example where living to low standards resulted in something good? Would you want your doctor to have been one who learned and practices his trade towards the lowest of standards? How about your builder? Your teachers? Your mechanic? Your children? If low standards are not good enough for those who serve you, why would you fall for the lie that they are good enough for you? After all, our pursuit in following Jesus is to serve others. To that end Galatians 5:13 says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

Searching the Bible for low standards defeats the purpose of searching the Bible. The Bible was not meant for that, and, neither were you. Daniel 12:3 says, “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” Christian, for a change, try to study scripture in pursuit of God’s highest preferences and wisdom, which are found in His heart, not just His commands. Then live towards His preferences and His wisdom. Stop ignoring the fulfilling life that God intended for you by exchanging it for the lie with which His enemy intends to destroy you. Seek after God’s heart as a daily lifestyle. The promised result will be your radically thriving life. 

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Self We Ignore - Part 2

In 2009, 20th Century Fox released the movie, “Avatar,” which became one of the top grossing movies of all time with box office sales approaching $2.8 billion. The movie was set in the year 2154 when humans from Earth are attempting to harvest a precious substance to sustain humanity on Earth from a distant moon named Pandora. However, the prime mining location is guarded by a large tribe of 10 foot tall, blue-skinned humanoids called the Na’vi. In order to infiltrate the Na’vi, the humans recruit a marine soldier to operate an “avatar,” which is a Na’vi-human hybrid that is genetically matched to a human. The avatar is connected to the related human from a distance and looks and acts just like a real Na’vi. From a distance, the mind of the human controls the avatar as if the avatar is that human but hosted in a Na’vi body. Ironically, the Na’vi avatar seems to present an interesting picture that also symbolizes the identity of mankind. How is this like or unlike our actual identity as humans? Do we too have a dual nature? Are we who we think we are, or are we actively ignoring who we truly are?

I began this three-part series focusing on how Lucifer seeks to primarily attack the identity of God with Christians by distracting them away from the Holy Spirit. In this post we will focus on how Lucifer also attacks our identity and for similar reason. We bear the image of the one he hates, God. And he is Hell-bent on attacking anything that looks like his mortal enemy. The image we bear displays our identity as representing the object that we reflect - God. It is our spirit (not our flesh) that is God’s primary image imprinted upon us. John 4:24 says, “God is spirit.” Therefore, we are in His image in our spirit, and not necessarily in our flesh. Therefore, our true identity is our spirit and not the corrupted flesh that temporarily houses it just like the Na'vi avatar. This flesh veneer masks our true identity sometimes even from ourselves. It is the physical part of us that tends to distract us from who we really are in spirit. It is as if our flesh dupes us into believing that it is our physical bodies that truly define us.

And, the enemy uses this confusion between flesh and spirit to attack who we are as well. This is evidenced today by his influence over our culture towards defining each other by our DNA or other physical attributes. But, in truth, we are only defined by that which is eternal and not ultimately defined by that which is temporary. It is our eternity or our destiny that defines who we are. And, it is our spirit that is eternal, not our current flesh. The temporary state of anything is forgotten and superseded by its permanent state. Therefore, we too should not define each other by our current temporary state, but by our permanent or eternal state.

When we were created we were perfect in spirit and housed in uncorrupted flesh. This was our true and destined identity. Such an alignment of spirit and flesh would not allow for identity confusion. However, when we rebelled against God and fell into sin our flesh and our spirit were both corrupted, destining both to physical/spiritual death. In fact, it is not our current flesh that accompanies us into eternity but our spirit and it alone. Realizing our spirit’s fallen destiny, God decided in His great love to rescue us. He knew that man had to pay the price for his rebellion which is what man chose. Therefore, God came and took on flesh as a man so that He could pay the brutal price in our place. Like our pre-rebellious state, when He came His spirit was perfectly sinless and wrapped in corruptible flesh (John 1:14). But, as God, Jesus never sinned and overcame the potentiality of the flesh that He occupied. And, when he died and rose from the dead, His perfect spirit was united with a new, incorruptible and glorified body. However, He could not break the promise of the physical death that we chose. But, He joined us in death in order to lead us into resurrection as a way to rescue us from our chosen fate. And, His death and resurrection is our gateway to a destiny like His.

At the moment that we receive God’s free gift of forgiveness, He justifies us and deposits His perfect Spirit inside of us. This is what Jesus meant when he referred to us being "born again." He famously said in John 3:5-8, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Therefore, when we receive the Spirit of Christ, we are immediately reborn spiritually - with a perfect spirit, His Spirit, (the Holy Spirit). And, since God defines us by our eternal spirit as He is in spirit, from that day forward He declares us righteous and blameless (Romans 3) because that is the nature of our reborn spirit. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” And, Ephesians 4:24 says, “and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” He calls us righteous and blameless because when He sees us He sees the very Spirit of His perfect Son, Jesus, and not our temporary flesh. It is spirit, God’s Spirit, which entirely defines us in God’s eyes. It is who we are because that is what God declares that we are and He has the final and only say. But, we too often fall for the enemy’s distraction and ignore who we truly are by pursuing gratification of our flesh.

Romans 7:14-25 explains the current war between who we are (spirit) and our corrupted flesh (who we are not). It says, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

In eternity our deliverance is completed, whereby we will reside in immortality with a perfect spirit and perfect body, both of which will be incorruptible as we did before we rebelled. And, it is in this state that we will spend an infinite eternity. We are foolish to fall for any lesser definition of self.

Lucifer desires to trap God’s image bearers in eternal damnation along with him. Sadly, the converse to a Christian identity is also true for those who refuse to freely receive God’s grace and forgiveness. Their current flesh will die as well. And, their dead spirit will be resurrected into incorruptible flesh. But, incorruptible flesh is a curse to those destined for Hell, an eternity of death housed in flesh that will never die. And, likewise, such an eternal destiny would define Hell’s future residents today. But today we hold the key that will release our fellow image bearers from such a destiny. That key is the gospel of Jesus as outlined above.

And, towards Christians, our enemy constantly tempts us to focus on our flesh because flesh always opposes God’s Spirit. Galatians 5:16-17 says, “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.” As Christians, we should seek to always gratify God’s spirit at the expense of our corrupt flesh. We should always deny our flesh when its indulgence might distract us from God’s Spirit. This is what it means to be truly “Spirit-led.” If we gratify the flesh over God’s Spirit, we are the opposite of Spirit-led – we are flesh-led, which is a spiritual dead end.

Are aspects of your life characterized by indulgence of flesh over indulgence of Spirit? Do you regularly make decisions in favor of your dying flesh that you know are at war with God’s eternal Spirit in you? Would you rather be free to indulge your flesh than reserve our indulgence only for God’s enjoyment? Christian, don’t ignore who you are. You are a bearer of the very image of God with a spiritual destiny of royal immortality. And, God did everything necessary to reconcile you back to Him for such an identity. In turn, we need to live lives that move in the direction of His Spirit, and away from our flesh. Only then will we truly acknowledge the awesome person that God has made us to eternally be.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The God We Ignore - Part 1

There is a famous scene in the 1976 movie, “The Pink Panther Strikes Again,” where Inspector Clouseau, played by Peter Sellers, is checking into an inn. After checking in, he proceeds to walk across the lobby noticing a cute dog sitting in the middle of the floor. Smiling, the Inspector looks back at the elderly desk clerk and asks, “Does your dog bite?” The clerk immediately responds, “No.” Then the Inspector bends down to greet the dog with extended hand only to be bitten by it. The Inspector abruptly stands up, and sternly reminds the clerk, “I thought you said your dog does not bite!” Without missing a beat, the clerk responds, “That is not my dog.” This is a hilarious scene due to mistaken identity of a dog. It is funny when a dog’s identity is mistaken, but quite the opposite when the mistaken identity is God’s. If we mistake God's identity, we ignore the true God.

Most Christians often refer to God the Father or Jesus as actively advancing God’s Kingdom here on Earth today. But, is that accurate or is this a mistaken identity? Consider the fact that the Father is seated on His throne which is not on Earth, and Jesus, His Son, is either at His right hand or busy preparing a place for us in Heaven (not Earth). In fact, Jesus has not and does not return to Earth until the Second Coming in the end times. But, that does not stop us from seemingly giving all credit and glory to the Father and Son for all they are doing here on Earth when the direct credit probably lies elsewhere…with the Holy Spirit (God). In fact, ironically, so many Christians often refer to each other as being “Spirit-led” while they fail to even recognize who the “Spirit” is and what He is clearly doing here. By the way, what does it truly mean to be Spirit-led? Simply, it means to be actively and continuously led by the Holy Spirit (God). It is a problem to claim that we are led here on Earth by the Father or Jesus while ignoring the Holy Spirit, and calling this activity Spirit-led. That divine leadership role belongs today to the Holy Spirit. Isn't it ironic (and sad) that many Christians ignore the very One that they claim to be led by. We first have to acknowledge who is leading us before we can claim to be led by Him. 

Francis Chan highlighted this in his book “The Forgotten God.” The Holy Spirit is the “forgotten God.” He is the One who has been advancing God’s Kingdom for the past 2,000 years. He is responsible for all of God’s work on Earth today. And, He is God. It is the Holy Spirit who is doing everything here. Even prayer begins with the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26-27). But, He is practically forgotten or even ignored by so many who claim to follow Him. It is impossible to recognize what the Holy Spirit is doing if you constantly mistake His identity. To illustrate, what was the last command you recall from the Holy Spirit? How is the Holy Spirit leading you today? What do you sense that the Holy Spirit is telling you to do right now? When was the last time you deliberately listened to the Holy Spirit? When was the last time you deliberately attempted to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice?

What we believe is the Holy Spirit's identity will be reflected in how we imagine Him in our minds. How many Christians when asked to imagine the Holy Spirit would conjure in their minds the image of a dove? While the Bible refers to the Holy Spirit as descending upon Jesus "like a dove," this does not mean that the Holy Spirit is a dove. A dove was used as a metaphor to describe the manner of the Holy Spirit's lighting upon Jesus, which says almost nothing about the nature of the Holy Spirit. Christians today reducing the identity of the Holy Spirit down to a symbol of a dove further distracts us from His true and magnificent identity. In the Holy Spirit exists the fullness of the Almighty God. In Him is the unlimited, supernatural power and authority of the Trinity. In Him is the fullness of God as an all-consuming fire. In fact, the essence of God is described as spirit (John 4:24 for example) and certainly not flesh, especially flesh in the form of a fragile bird. 

As mentioned in earlier blogs on apologetics, the enemy seeks to attack the identity of God first and foremost. He knows that if he can change God’s identity in our minds, he can more easily separate us from our faith in Him. Alter the identity of our object of worship and our worship is misplaced. In other words, if the enemy can distract us into focusing on something that is not God, we will worship that something (not God). The best way to accomplish that is to deceive us into believing a false or counterfeit identity of God. This can happen by several means. The most effective means the enemy has used is to create false or counterfeit religions across the world. By deceiving people to follow a false god in a false religion, or a god that does not exist and thereby does not bear the identity of the true God, its followers are devoutly distracted away from the One in whose image they were created. In addition, for those who claim allegiance to the true God of the Bible, if the enemy can deceive you into altering the true God’s identity (say by ignoring the Holy Spirit), he can divert your worship that is otherwise true in the direction of a concept that is not. Can you truly worship God if you ignore the Holy Spirit? If you are worshiping the Father and Jesus while clearly excluding the third member of their Trinity, you are worshiping something that is not the true Trinity, and, therefore, not God. You have created in your mind a god of duality, not Trinity.

Consider also how you relate to the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. Do you ever acknowledge the Holy Spirit by name regularly throughout the day? Do you ever speak with the Holy Spirit seeking commands? Do you ever follow a request of the Holy Spirit with silent pause to ascertain His voice? If not, by what means can you claim to be daily led by the Holy Spirit? Or are you led by random religious feelings possibly borne in flesh, and not in spirit?

Romans 8:9 says, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” This begs many questions. If this passage is true, then shouldn’t there be a huge difference between the person who has the Holy Spirit (God) living inside him or her, and the person who does not? If the Holy Spirit dwells in you, how do you interact with Him conversationally, responsively and relationally? Do you seek guidance from Him in all things? Do you confuse unclear advice for His? The Holy Spirit will never lead us to do something contrary to God’s word. Nor would the Holy Spirit ever lead us to do something that is spiritually unwise. Galatians 5:16-17 says, “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.”

Christians in churches all across America say that the Holy Spirit lives inside of them and leads them. Yet, when the world sees no difference in our lives, they begin to question our integrity, our sanity, or even worse, our God. According to Galatians 5:22-23, the “fruit” or proof of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Instead of displaying His fruit, are you foolishly pointing people towards a god of mistaken identity? Or, does your life radically bear the proof of an obvious and supernatural Host?

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