Monday, May 28, 2018

Less of Me and a Little Learned

On the morning of March 9th, the day after I turned 45, I did something I never thought I would. I walked into a weight loss clinic. It’s hard to convey with words the feelings associated with that act. Embarrassment, failure, admitting that I was one of, “those people,” all of it was present to a palpable extent. I even saw someone I knew and turned around in the chair in which I was sitting so that I wouldn’t be recognized. 

This probably reads like a pathological sense of denial. “Dude, just look in a mirror,” that sort of thing.

What you have to understand, though, is that I never thought of myself as fat. I just wasn’t thin yet and there’s a big difference. At least there was to me. I was always 3 months of no junk food and working out 5-days-a-week away from making serious progress and showing real results. I wish I had a dollar for every time I walked into the gym thinking, “Ok this is week one. Get to week 12 and you’ll look and feel different. All you have to do is bear down and make it happen,” and it had worked in the past. Back in 2015, I’d put together 4 months of awesomeness and gotten down to 159lbs. I did it once. I can do it again.

Problem is, it’s not 2015. I’m not 42. I’m 45 and with every advancing year the margin for error gets smaller and losing weight gets harder. 3 weeks of momentum can be lost in a single meal and those meals come around all the time, especially for someone in full time ministry. 

Most get togethers for pastors take place over food and whenever someone heads out with their pastor, they view it as a treat and so we should eat good (which invariably is bad from a health perspective). Staff meetings should be fun every now and then. You have to build up morale don’t you? And what’s more fun than going out for something great. These are all excuses mind you but when excuses are easy to find, it takes an unusual amount of will power to keep the bad at bay.

This wasn’t close to my biggest problem though. I’d characterize that as two-fold. First, there was my attitude. I’m fine asking for help unless it’s really, really embarrassing or a serious point of pride. I can do this. I don’t need help. We’ve said it and heard it all plenty. Truth is, I pride myself on my perseverance. I can’t actually stand on my head but if I could, I promise, I could do it longer than you. You might be able to outwork me but you will never outlast me. So if it’s something like a diet, don’t tell me I can’t endure. I’ll do it out of spite if I must.

But the mirror told another story and so did the pain in my waist. I literally couldn’t sit down without my belt buckle digging into my belly. It physically hurt. Something had to change and so I heeded the million or so commercials I’d heard over the two sports radio stations to which I listen and walked into SOTA of Plano.

The program isn’t complicated but it isn’t easy either. They tell you what you can and can’t eat. They give you food products (I really don’t like the way, “product,” sounds – too artificial). You eat those every three hours along with approved vegetables for breakfast, lunch, and snacks, and then at dinner you get to add 6 oz of protein along with the aforementioned vegetables. No nuts, no fruits, and carbs are from the pit of hell. Oh, and you need to walk at least 30 minutes a day. You meet with a well dressed woman once a week who will encourage you and/or look at you like you just kicked a puppy. Follow their rules, though, and the weight will drop.

And it really does. In the first week, I lost eight pounds. In the first month, I dropped 22. We aren’t to three months yet and I’m down 40 (38.5 actually, I gained a little yesterday but more on that in a bit). There are side effects. You go through a two week carb withdrawal where you hate the world and everyone in it. There are digestive problems. Milk of Magnesia is now my version of Friday Night Lights and, as I discovered two weeks ago, my bad cholesterol doubled. Compare that to how being 5’5” and 203.5 lbs isn’t exactly life enhancing and I think the trade off is worth it.

Remember I said my real problem was two fold. Pride was the first. Here’s the second. It was the most significant thing that happened to me and it’s the reason for my putting these words on a screen. 

I always knew I had an emotional attachment to food. My parents divorced when I was 9 and my brother and I would take road trips with my dad to see my grandparents and that always meant fast food. I spent my entire adolescent and adult life soothing childhood pain with french fries and cheeseburgers that probably taste like masking tape but what do I care. 

The thing of which I wasn’t aware was how that pervaded basically everything I ate. It wasn’t that I didn’t look forward to the person with whom I was meeting but I was FAR more into what I was eating than the individual across from me. I take big bites of what I really like not because I’m hungry but because of how it feels in my mouth. That might sound messed up and it is but it’s me. I’d come home from work and my wife would be making dinner and I’d find out what we were having and, I’m not kidding, I’d get depressed. Beets? Who looks forward to beets? What am I a communist?!? Can’t we have mac and cheese too? Give me something! I mean didn’t I pay for this food? 

When anything is taken or withheld and we get angry, chances are, it’s an idol. That’s where I am. I worship food. It’s not like there’s a golden Twinkie on an altar in my office but you get the idea. Humans need food to live but I am desperate for certain kinds of food so that I can have a life worth living. Am I really expected to say no to Whataburger, Wendy’s, queso, and Sonic? Again, welcome to East Germany. No thank you.

What’s needed isn’t only an adjustment of a diet. I require a reorientation of the heart and I say, “require,” because it will be ongoing. I gained weight yesterday because I had lunch at an Indian buffet and, even though it was nothing but protein, two massive plates of chicken tiki masala is going to move the needle. I didn’t eat that much because I was hungry. I did so because I wanted to feel good. 

God gave us food. In fact, He gave us all good things in order to enjoy ourselves as we worship Him. The problem is when I want it to replace Him. Do I need a cheeseburger or do I need Jesus? That’s a question I will probably have to ask for the rest of my life. 

I’m thinner now but I actually still have a long way to go. My ideal weight for my height is below 150. I haven’t seen that number since 1991. My diet will end in about two weeks. I’m heading overseas at the end of June and I can’t be taking laxatives while walking the streets of Russia. At best, I’ll be below 160 and that’s fine. If it takes another 3 months to lose the last ten, who cares. What I want is to make the right choicesfor the right reasons. I need to put food in its proper place and look for the Lord to meet the deepest longings of my heart. If that’s you too, it’s ok if you need help. God’s grace never ends and He provides even in places like weight loss clinics.

Chances are something is competing for Christ’s place in your heart. Whatever that is, see it for what it is: an idol. Fix your eyes upon Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of your faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. He is the Bread of Life and He is far more satisfying than a baguette or a bagel but don’t get me wrong, I really miss bagels!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Morning After

Like most Americans last night, I followed the election coverage.  At first, it was intermittent and only via social media because I was sure that I was sure what would happen and so it was simply a matter of when and not if and I didn't need to hear people talk about the inevitable when Netflix was so readily available.

But then something happened...

I saw posts on Twitter that showed Trump leading in Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Iowa, places that I never would have imagined going to that man.

Netflix? I'll come back to you.  Anderson?  Wolf?  Tell me what's going on.

In all honesty, I don't know how I felt about what I was watching nor do I really know how I feel right now the next morning.  It was kind of like watching a NASCAR pile up.  You know it's not really good but 99/100 the people involved end up being ok and you can't really take your eyes off the cars flipping and the metal flying.  Mesmerized is a good description.

Is this really taking place?  Is the country REALLY about to elect Donald Trump?  I mean, hasn't the populace pretty much embraced the Democratic Party's platform and all it entails with open arms?  Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose right?

Maybe not.

Trump the Aberration aside, Vice-President elect Pence is a conservative Republican for whom I would have been proud to vote the top of any ticket.

Why???  Surprise, I'm an evangelical Christian.  I'm staunchly pro-life/anti-abortion.  I believe in religious liberty.  Do what you want, think what you want but please don't force me to participate in what I believe is sin in order to live my life, raise my children, and earn a living.

Republicans now control the House of Representatives.  They control the United States Senate.  They occupy 31 out of 50 governorships and 31 out of 50 state legislatures (thank you Wikipedia).  If not for Trump, that would be THE story.  It's simply astonishing.  It would have been astonishing 30 years ago but today?  Are you kidding me???

I say this as someone who was not ok with what I thought but this isn't the America in which I thought I lived.  Do I have an opinion for why this happened?  Why yes, I do.

Those of us who do not live in either the northeast or the west coast do not like condescension.  We don't appreciate being talked down to nor do we want to be told what's best for us whether we like it or not.  That is the overwhelming view of the "Right," about the, "Left."

"We know what's best with respect to the climate, to taxes, to education and what your kids should be learning in schools.  We know what's best for your diet and your behavior and your beliefs and if you want to disagree, feel free but you better keep it to yourself or you'll find it hard to buy food."

I'm generalizing but that's why this happened.  People only want debate when everyone agrees with them about what's most important to them.  They're for patriotism when their side won and subversion when they lose.  The same people who are screaming this morning would have been clamoring for unity and for people to, "move on," had it gone the other way.  Civil debate is dead.

That's why this happened.  We don't actually respect the opinions of others.  Those who know best want the rest to get in line and last night, the rest said no.

So what now?

I'm grateful that our system of government is what it is.  I think Trump is a reprehensible human being and thankfully there are non-violent measures in place to deal with such a person if they act reprehensibly.

We did not elect a king.  We elected a president in a system of checks and balances.  The government can be sued and we have an independent judiciary to deal with it when that happens.  It's genius really.

I'm embarrassed because I think he's an awful person to have as the face of this country on the world stage but I would have been embarrassed with Mrs. Clinton as well and, in all honesty, most of the world's leaders are scum.  We just don't like to be impolite.

Having said that, life will go on.  Even if you can't stand the top, always remember that you can work from the bottom up.  Local government will always have the greatest impact on your local life and that will forever be far more accessible than the presidency.

So what now church?

Truthfully?  Nothing has changed.  It is my conviction that people still need Jesus.  Sin is real (do we really still question that?) and it's a problem which we must face.  God solved it for us in the person and work of Christ and that's a message those around us need to hear.

The church's marching orders have not changed.  Her mission is the same.  The responsibilities I have today are the same as I had yesterday and they're the same as I will have tomorrow.

God's purpose for His people is that they be conformed to the image of Christ and it is my belief that the results of last night are NOT the oasis some might think.  We will be pruned but that will be good and while I do not like pain, I welcome the work of God in my life and my prayer is that you will do the same.

God bless you and God bless the United States of America not because He must or because He owes it to us but because He is gracious and we are in need of His mercy.    

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Star Wars and the Role of Expectations in Everyday Life

Yesterday was a seminal event in the life of my family.  I have two boys and they have been positively captivated by the world of Star Wars as much as any generation ever has.  Some days it's literally all they talk about.

So it should come as no surprise that we would take them to see The Force Awakens.  It would have been special if for no other reason than it was a new Star Wars movie and they love Star Wars but it was also the first full length feature film they'd ever seen in the theater and that was the same for me in May of 1977.

I can still remember the color of the walls (olive green) when the curtain (they still had those) opened and the words, "Star Wars," traveled through the screen and into my heart.  That my fine sons were set to have a similar experience made me beam as I watched their faces once the lights went dark.

My giddiness at the beginning, however, was the direct antithesis of the level of frustration I felt at the end.  The intensity was identical but the emotions were exactly the opposite.  This isn't a movie review per se but, quite simply, I couldn't stand what they did with Luke.

As the final fight scene commenced between Kylo (Ben!) and Rey, I...seethed...because I realized there not enough of the movie remained to feature the hero of my childhood in any significant way.  I was so flat out mad that I didn't enjoy what was offered.

In some ways I feel justified to the extent that any of us are justified in expressing anger over something we had no say in making nor any risk in producing.  The lead up to the film deliberately left Luke out causing speculation to run rampant causing a feverish expectation on behalf of fans as to what role he might play after 30+ years of silence.

Now, the what people on the internet do isn't the responsibility of any writer, director, actor, etc., but I think Mr. Abrams knew what he was doing and I feel like he should have been more sensitive to the fans having shown sensitivity to their quirks throughout the rest of the movie.

That being said, this one's on me.  I allowed my expectations to influence my experience.

Granted, when do we not do that.  Is it really possible to approach anything expectation-less?  I'm not certain that it is.  Even when we say we don't have any expectations what we're really doing is choosing to expect whatever would disappoint us so that we might be pleasantly surprised instead.

With Star Wars though, I'd taken it to another level.  What I was hoping for was more than just a cinematic climax.

I believe that as a culture, in general, we are bored with a capital B.  Life is synonymous with monotony.  We get up, we do our thing, we go to bed and then we do it all over again.  In the meantime, we yearn for something, anything, that will help us escape.

Give me SOMETHING that I can cherish in the moment and relive long enough to last me until I can find my next fix and a fix is precisely that for which we are looking.  That's what I wanted from Star Wars.  Give. Me. My. Moment.

See, we live for emotional highs.  We do so because life is a numbing routine and the seconds that stand out are filled with far too many lows.  We don't ask for them.  They arrive at our doorstep as if hell had a UPS account with our names on it.  It's why we buy music, watch movies, read books.  It's why we paint and sculpt and act and play sports and hope to fall in love and stay there for the rest of our days.

The problem is none of that ever satisfies like we think it will.  Even if a movie is a home run it doesn't last as long as we'd like.  You hear a song and it speaks to your soul but only the first 10x.  Even the ecstasy we call love fades into what we wish we didn't call life.

What's the answer?  Is it to turn off our emotions or stop putting so much stock in them?  Do we simply need to find more stimulating careers filled with variety and travel?

I am reminded of the words of C.S. Lewis, "If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world."

We yearn for satisfaction because we were made to be satisfied by a relationship with our Creator.  Jesus said in the book of John, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." (John 10:10)  God wants us to feel the enjoyment that we seek every place other than Him.

There is joy in knowing Jesus Christ.  He doesn't disappoint and He delivers on what He promises.

Seek Jesus.  Just like you yearn for new trailers and new releases and meeting new people.  Seek after Jesus.  Seek Him in His word.  Seek Him as you pray.  "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you." (Matthew 7:7)  

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Christmas word from 2nd Chronicles?

As far as Christmas devotions go, my guess is 2 Chronicles doesn't make the list.  Save a yearly reading plan, you wouldn't find many people period who've even opened the book of 2 Chronicles.

It has a title but its author is unknown.  The Babylonian Talmud suggests Nehemiah but that's as close as we come to conclusive evidence.  It's written to a post-exilic audience, i.e. those Jews who returned to the land from Babylon/Persia.  The theme focuses on God's commitment to the promise He made to David in 2 Samuel 7, otherwise known as the Davidic Covenant.

So even though David's successors sin beyond any previously known capacity, the Lord is still gracious.  Most of the kings are downright evil but a few choose well and as a result shine like the stars.  They stand as proof that God has not abandoned His people.

One of those bright spots is Hezekiah.  He reigned from 729 to 696 BC and is best known for his showdown with Sennacherib of Assyria, a time of desperation and deliverance, but what strikes me as encouraging was his view of God and the difference that made not just in himself but in the people under his care.

He comes to power in chapter 29.  V. 1 says that he was 25 years old when he became king.  In his very first month, he opened the doors of the temple, gathered the priests together, and had them cleanse every inch of God's house because, "it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel that His burning anger may turn away from us."  He then restores temple worship with its requisite sacrifices and singers and commands Israel to celebrate the Passover once again.

Hezekiah saw God as glorious and mighty.  He saw the northern kingdom's demise as divine judgment on disobedience.  He knew his country's sin was a serious offense and did not want to see Judah suffer the same fate.  He did what leaders are supposed to do and called his people to worship and look at what follows.

In chapter 31, the people destroyed their idols.  The pillars were broken.  The Asherah poles were cut down.  The various altars spread through the land were eradicated from existence.

Starting in v. 4, the king orders that tithes be brought in so the the priests might devote themselves to the service of the Lord.  So much came in that, "this great quantity was left over." (v. 10)

Lastly, when Sennacherib came from Ninevah with an army whose horses shook the ground, when he came mocking Jerusalem and her God, callously claiming that if all the other gods of all the other peoples he'd conquered had been powerless to stop him why would Israel's be any different, Hezekiah stood his ground.

He did not give up.  He did not give in.  32:20 says that he and Isaiah the prophet (what a team!) prayed and cried out to heaven and the Lord responded.  V. 21, "And the Lord sent an angel who destroyed every mighty warrior, commander, and officer in the camp of Assyria."  Sennacherib himself would not survive.  After he returned home and prayed to his own god, his own children killed him in the temple with a sword.

I know it doesn't always work out like that.  The endings are seldom happy but what is inevitable, is that our view of God will lead to our worship of God or lack thereof.  If we see Him as glorious and mighty, as the song goes, awesome in beauty, greatly to be praised, then we will worship and if we worship, I believe there will be necessary consequences.

I believe whatever competes for our attention will evaporate like the morning dew.  Do you struggle with idols?  Make much of God.  Meditate on His attributes.  Read from the meditations of those that have gone before you.  Memorize the passages that extol His glory.  Sing His praises.

I believe you'll see God's work in your midst.  He will never lack what He needs to do whatever He wants done.  He's God.  He's self-sufficient.  He doesn't need anything, ever, but He has chosen to use us in the execution of His will.  When we worship, we become willing to part with ourselves, whether that's in the form of our time, our talents, or our treasures, and that opens the door for us to be involved, like the Israelites of Hezekiah's day, to see the ministry of the Kingdom expand.

Finally, when trials come, worship frees you to stand your ground.  Rather than give in to doubt and despair or the temptation to numb the pain with the pleasures of this world, worship leads to seeing one's sufficiency in Christ.  I have you Jesus.  I do not need what will simply be gone tomorrow.

I don't want to be cliche or trivial about whatever it is you may be going through this Christmas season but I know that God is great.  He is the Alpha and the Omega, the King of Kings.  When I don't ask or trust, it's usually because I doubt His care for me.  When I look at the extent to which Jesus went for me, those feelings become silly.

Fill your field of vision with Him.  Worship Him and watch where He takes you.  

Thursday, December 3, 2015

"God Isn't Fixing This."

I am a streaky person by nature, by definition.  If I get into a groove, I can stay for quite awhile but if I somehow derail, getting back on the horse isn't easy, just to throw as many metaphors in as I can in the first two sentences.

It's been over two years since I last posted to this blog.  I've wanted to post.  I've thought about what I might post.  I even started writing a post a few weeks ago only to let it go like I was Elsa in Frozen.  Other than sermons, I need to be moved in order to write.  In other words, I need to be bothered.  Last night did the trick.

We've all seen news of America's latest mass shooting.  The Inland Regional Center of San Bernardino, California, a long term treatment center for adults with developmental disabilities, happened to have a conference room that happened to be hosting a holiday party for an entirely different agency when it seems an individual left angry, got his wife, dropped his daughter off with grandma, took the time to dress in tactical gear, and returned to open fire killing 14 and injuring even more.

It's pointless.  It's senseless.  It's horrible and tragic and infuriating and as a country it seems that we are powerless to prevent the next one and we all know there WILL be a next one but this post isn't specifically about that.

It's about the cover of the New York Daily News.

That the publishers created a sensational headline isn't surprising.  That's what they do.  Actually, nothing about this is surprising but I believe it says so much more than every word on the page combined.

"God isn't fixing this."  I understand what they mean.  I get it.  What we don't need from politicians are words.  Words don't save lives or put food on anyone's table.  The very phrase, "thoughts and prayers," carries very little weight and most likely means very little prayer is taking place.  We elect politicians to govern and to govern is to act.

There are implications, however, to which it is worth drawing attention.  The first is the belief that prayer is pointless.  Prayer doesn't do anything.  It isn't any different from meditation but at least we can respect meditation because no one who meditates is hoping some figment of their imagination will grant their wishes like the genies of old.  I respectfully disagree.  I believe prayer is action and does accomplish a great deal but even that is ancillary at the moment.

The question I am posing to anyone reading this is what would it look like if God did fix it?  What would have to happen for people to believe that God did intervene?  Is it that mass shootings don't occur ever again?  What about one person shooting another?  What about people using guns on foreign soil?  Don't invading armies shoot people?  What about ISIS?  They use guns.  Do we need all manifestations of warfare to cease in order to believe that God fixed it?  Pardon the phrase particularly this time of year but is it peace on earth?  Is that what would convince us that God is real and actively involved in our affairs?

Having posed (many) a question, I now offer a proposition.  God fixed it.  

The biggest problem that exists is that human beings are infected by sin at their core.  Sin is the reason why all these unequivocally awful things happen.  We want to be in control.  Everyone does.  Some of us just want our way so much that we're willing to use violence to get it.  War between nations isn't anything more than sin committed writ large.  Sin is the problem and God fixed it.

He sent His Son Jesus to live as a human, which He did, flawlessly.  He literally lived a perfect life.  He was then executed on a Roman cross essentially for sedition but what was happening was that He was paying the penalty for our sin which deserves death.  He hung in our place as our substitute.  It was supposed to be us on that cross, me and you, but Jesus stepped up and stepped in and when we trust that Christ died for us, we are fixed.  Yes we still sin.  We still make mistakes some of which are quite severe but we aren't hopelessly broken anymore.  We have the ability to follow God and when we do, we stop serving ourselves and the awful begins to disappear.  Heaven, which I believe is real, is when sin will be gone once and for all.

That's not what we want though.  Don't get me wrong.  We want peace but we want it on our own terms.  We want God to make things better and respect our decision to live in whatever way we desire because, let's be honest, the fulfillment of desire is in fact the zenith of human existence.  We want Him to intervene even if I don't believe He exists.  Don't ask me to follow You.  Just do what I want.  It doesn't work like that.  

God fixed THE problem.  We apply that solution when we place our trust in Christ and then we apply that solution every day thereafter by relying on Him to make the choices He wants us to make.  If that happens, I'm telling you, life will get better.  

I do not wish to diminish or make light of yesterday's tragedy.  It was horrific.  I don't want it to ever happen again and I hope the people tasked to do so will do what can be done but please don't ignore reality.  God is real and so is sin.  Why does God allow sin?  Welcome to a conversation that's been going on since people have been able to think.  What I know is that God solved the problem of sin and the solution is trusting in Jesus Christ.  I know people don't want to hear that.  They want a solution that respects their rights but a relationship with God isn't about my rights.  It's about His gift.                

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Debt Free

This past Sunday, I wrapped up a series on the first twelve chapters of the book of Exodus.  It has left me thinking a good deal about forgiveness.  In particular, the fact that it's never free. 

The reason one led to the other is the way the plagues end.  It was only after the death of Egypt's firstborn that Pharaoh submitted.  Not to mince words but Israel walked free because people died. 

This foreshadowed the believer's freedom from the bondage of sin.  We're free because the Firstborn of Creation (Col 1:15) died.  In other words, our forgiveness came at the cost of God's only Son.     

Thankfully, because of Christ, such a payment will never be demanded of us but that doesn't make it any easier.  Forgiveness is never free.


Intrinsic to the idea of forgiveness is the concept of loss.  There's a progression.  Someone wrongs us and the result is, to some degree, hurt.  We feel that way because something's been taken from us like if we've been physically injured. 

When that happens, what we've lost is comfort.  It's been replaced by pain.  Think back to a bad breakup you had.  Whatever that person meant to you, when the relationship ended, you lost what they provided.  The benefit died.

Human beings don't process pain in a vacuum.  We can't simply consider it in the abstract.  Our equilibrium is upset and in order to reestablish it, blame must be assigned.  It's as natural as breathing.  We feel this way and we shouldn't and it's someone's fault and as soon as we've identified the culprit, that person owes us.  I'm not saying it's wrong.  It's just life.

It could be an apology, maybe money (in the case of a car wreck), or possibly even penance.  How many times have we heard (or used) the words, "I trusted you.  It's going to take time to earn that back." 

This is precisely why forgiveness comes at a price, and a particularly high one at that.  When we forgive, we effectively release that person from their debt.  We are choosing to forgo restitution.  That's expensive.   

Sometimes, it's so costly that the only solution is emotional foreclosure.  When the debt is deemed too great to ever repay, the relationship consequently ends.  Many of us are casualties of such a conclusion.

Those who trust in Christ, however, are not doomed to walk down that road.  Foreclosure is not inevitable.  We can be motivated by more than the economics of emotional value.

I am confident of this for two reasons.  The first is Jesus' example.  To quote the author of Hebrews, "Consider Him who has endured such hostilities by sinners against Himself," (12:3).  Can that even be quantified?  If we were to follow Paul's words in Ephesians 4:32, "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you," would any grudge last the night? 

It isn't complicated.  If He forgave me for everything I did, I should be able to forgive others for anything they've done.

The second is His provision.  Philippians 4:19 states, "And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus."

If this is true, then I already possess everything I need.  It may not be all that I want.  I might have to make an adjustment or two but if the apostle's assessment of reality is accurate, my cup is full.  In fact, as a friend of mine often says, "It runneth over."

If my relationship with Christ has given me what I need, if His love has left me emotionally sufficient, then even when I am wronged, no matter what I have lost, I do not need to be repaid.  No one owes me anything.  I can, in fact, live a life that is relationally debt free. 

This isn't easy.  On the contrary, experience has taught me the opposite.  It requires that I both acknowledge the words of Scriptures like Philippians 4:19, but that I also believe them.  God asks me to trust Him.  I have to live by faith instead of sight.

When I do, when I accept His death as a substitute, not just for my life, but for what I want out of life, I can forgive and forgiveness equals freedom both for me and those whom I hold dear.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Identity Theft

Each time I walk through the door of my gym the drill is the same.  I smile, hand them my card and say, "Hi there," at which point they scan the card and hand it back with something akin to, "Have a good workout."  Sometimes, they'll even use my name, "Have a good workout Brad," since my name comes up on their monitor.  It's a little phony (I don't know any of these people) but it's nice.     

A few months ago, the person behind the counter surprised me with a single sentence, "Your mom called." 

Questions bounced around my mind.  My mom called?  Am I in junior high?  Does she want me home for dinner?  I'm 40 years old.  Leaving aside the fact that my mom called my gym, I wanted to know how this person knew my name.

Maybe a note appeared on the screen when they scanned my card.  That's reasonable except for one thing.  There was a line that day.  I was two or three people back.  My card was in my pocket.  The gal behind the desk got my attention before I had the chance to provide it.  How did she know it was me?

The answer isn't complicated.  I'm easy to spot.  My right arm is hard to miss.  It's ok.  I'm not asking anyone to feel sorry for me but, I'll be honest, I was frustrated.  Truth be told, there was some yelling in my head.  I am not my arm!! 

As is often the case, this was an opportunity.  This gave me a chance to remember my identity. 

It's a nebulous word, like Jello.  Dr. James Fearon, professor of political science at Stanford, describes identity as a social category defined by, among other things, expected behaviors.  That's helpful because many of us do indeed think about who we are in terms of what we do but is he correct?  Are we really the sum total of our responsibilities?

According to the word of God, the answer is an emphatic no!  Colossians 3:3-4 states, "For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you will also be revealed with Him in glory."  Jesus Christ decides who we are, period. 

The mistake Christians make is believing their identity is up for discussion.  Yes, the world has many categories from which to choose but what makes Jesus categorically different is that arguing with His conclusions is utterly futile.

If He says we are loved then we are.  If He says we have value, it's the truth.  No matter how unbelievable it might be, if He says we are clean, all other opinions are moot .

For example, when I, Brad, look for my identity in my physical appearance, if I allow myself to be defined by how I look, the disappointment will be profound but if I define who I am by what Jesus says about me, the sorrows of the world grow weak.      

Does this mean there isn't any relationship between who we are and what we do?  Not at all.  In fact, if we properly understand how the former relates to the latter, the difference is significant. 

Jesus said in John 10:10 that He came in order that we might have life and have it abundantly.  As nice as those words sound, few of us understand them not because we don't get the vocabulary but because we wonder if that kind of experience is even possible.    

Think back to when you served on a mission trip, led a Bible study, shared the gospel, or even helped someone understand something about God that confused them.  You had fun.  You know you did.  Your heart felt full.  Life was different if even for a brief season.  You experienced an abundance.

Who we are has no foundation in what we do but when what we do flows from who we are in Christ, we don't sense disappointment or futility or frustration.  We realize the opposite.  We sense satisfaction.  That's the difference.

God saved your soul because He loves you.  His death and resurrection made you clean but it wasn't for giggles.  He saved us for a purpose: to love Christ and love others for His sake.  When fulfilled, that gives Him glory.  Living consistent with His purpose, with your identity, is what results in an abundant life, a life made full.

The coming days will offer you a myriad of options for how to spend your time, they always do.  Prayerfully consider taking advantage of what will give you a chance to be who you are. 

Join a small group.  Volunteer to serve in your church's children's ministry.  Grab a few guys or gals and go through a book together.  Do something, anything, that is consistent with who God created you to be.  

The bottom line is, if you define yourself by what you do, you'll suffocate but if you allow Christ to define you and then exercise your identity with your actions, living water will follow and your thirst will feel like a bad dream.