What’s Your Identity?

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John 1:12  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—

What are you basing your identity on?

Note:   Many of the ideas in this entry can be attributed to a sermon I heard preached by my Pastor last Sunday….I take notes, and so from the notes I’ve written this blog entry and added some thoughts, explanations and examples of my own.  Sometimes, I tell him that I am going to use what I heard him preach on in my blog.  I really enjoy Pastor Jerry’s sermons, and learn a lot from him.  I hope you will enjoy this glimpse also.

Read Matthew 23:1-12  

23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 23:5That is, boxes containing Scripture verses, worn on forehead and arm

New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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Jesus is pretty clear that his disciples should not be doing things that glorify themselves.  Funny thing is that he tells them to be careful to do what the Pharisees and the teachers of the law say to do, but not to actually do the same things they themselves do.

We all know folks who do this, and at any time we are all guilty of being “hypocrites” or “actors”.  Sometimes, it is unintentional, we simply get new information or change our minds about something that we felt/believed deeply in the past.  Jesus is not talking about the unintentional hypocrisy that happens in those cases.  For example, We have all used the phrase:  “I would never do……(fill in the blank)” and then we have proceeded to condemn someone else for doing that very thing….a few years go by and maybe we have done the thing we said we would never do.  Perhaps…we would “never stay out after midnight because nothing good comes of that….” then we find that we have a job which requires us to stay out after midnight.  This is a very mild example, but this kind of hypocrisy happens all the time.  The problem comes with the self-righteousness that comes along with those kinds of statements. The unloving and condemning/judgmental attitude that comes with the hypocrisy.

That is the very thing that Jesus was warning his disciples against…the “do what I say,  but not what I do” attitude that the Pharisees and the Scribes were filled with.  They were largely filled with their own righteousness, and filled with the need for gratification and glorification by mankind.  They were not focused on serving God, but they were serving themselves in the pretense of “doing it all for God.”

A very unfunny joke I heard last Sunday goes like this: Hypocrites in the church?  No, our church is not full of hypocrites….it is a long way from being full yet.

Yet this unfunny joke does describe many churches and the view of many people about Christian churches and the people who go to them.

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This is a beautiful church I saw while traveling…I really enjoy looking at churches…people put their best into building them to honor God…we should also put our best into building ourselves to honor God.

Another way of saying this is said by Paul the Apostle in  Titus 1:16  

16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

So Jesus realized that people want to be known as something – he knew that this is a need that people have..so he laid out clear instructions to his disciples about this..because if you are known for something then you can be known for the wrong thing….even something harmless can become harmful if it goes to your head.  The Old Testament is full of people who let their own ego take over and it ended up causing harm to themselves and others.  The thing is that some of those people such as King Saul and King David, were actually people who believed in God and attempted to follow God, but because of their self centered nature they failed to be obedient to God…they made the choice to glorify themselves instead of being true to God.

In God’s eyes we are called to be loving servants to others, instead of lifting ourselves up, we should be lowering ourselves down.

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These are reputed to be the “bones of St. Mark”.  I find there is some irony in  that Mark would probably not appreciate the luxurious gold plated place where his bones have been placed…St. Mark’s basilica in Venice, Italy.  Though the place is beautiful to behold for sure.

Even though Jesus was God in the flesh, he emptied himself out and became obedient to the death.

So back to the question at hand…How do you identify yourself?

-by relationship? -by Education? – by position? -by skills? -by bank balance? -by residence?

The truth is that we spend a lot of time trying to figure out who we are in relation to others – “What do they think of me?”  We all do this to some extent.  Everyone gets a vote in who we are – even strangers – we give them smiles and politeness…or scowl at them if we are having a bad day…even the driver in the next lane forms an opinion of who we are to them….”I saw that really rude driver when I was coming home…”

People through out our lives will sometimes give us nicknames…some are very nice and some are really rude.  I remember that an office I worked in had a woman with really gigantic hair…so she (rudely) became known as “the hair lady”…we have almost all of us come across a person or two known as the “snob or the grouch”…then there are more affectionate nicknames such as “shorty, or cuteness, or pet names we call our kids or spouses.”  Nicknames also can come as short versions of your real name:  Vicky (Victoria), Lexis (Alexis or Alexandra).  Sometimes, nicknames can reveal something about us that we don’t wish to have the world know…such as “stinky”  (some unthinking Mom who said that at the wrong moment and the kid was tagged with it for life!)   I know that when we were going to have our first child I had a sequence of names that I really liked and it was a very nice boy’s name…however, my husband was more on the ball than I was…he said, “No we cannot name him that, if it is a boy, because the initials form the word “GAS”…that kid would be teased unmercifully for life!”  I was shocked to hear the initials. (You are laughing now for sure, but this is a true tale!)

Every day we come to this path choice and our choice is determined by our core longings…do we reveal the false self, the small self or the true self?

Core Longings (Dr. Robert B. Shaw) – Belonging, Purpose, Love, Understanding, Significance and Security.

If we don’t have our core longings satisfied, then we can get into trouble by searching for  ways to have these longings be satisfied.  This leads to creating a “false self.”

There is also the “small self” identity which comes from living below your privilege, living without prayer, living with false humility.

We, who are believers, need to understand that in order to continue to become mature in Christ and stay on the mark as Christians…we need to understand that God is the only “legitimate” source for the satisfaction of our core longings.

We should never get our identity from something that can be taken away from us!

Have you ever met someone who spent their lives so wrapped up in their job that they did nothing else…then they retired..or lost the job..that person is usually very lost emotionally.  They just don’t know what to do with themselves…it is like they lost their entire identity when they lost the job.  The same thing can happen if you use your relationship to identify yourself…what happens if your only identity is “Mom” or “Dad” and the kids do what you have raised them to do…grow up and move out and get independent…again…you can become very depressed… it is hard to see this happen to a person from the outside too. It is hard to help them.  It is hard to redefine yourself.

Here are some things to remember:

Ephesians 2:10  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

(This tells us that God has a plan for our lives, the plan was prepared before we were created!)

Ephesians 1:5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will–

(This tells us that part of God’s plan was for us to be adopted into his family through Jesus Christ…that it is his pleasure and his will that we be added to his family of children.)

1Thessalonians 1:4-5  4 Brothers who are beloved by God, we know that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with great conviction—just as you know we lived among you for your sake.

(This tells us that God loves us and chose us, and he chose people to share the gospel with us, and that the Holy Spirit acts in accordance with the gospel to draw us to God.)

Philippians 4:19-20  19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.  20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (NIV)

 

So again…I ask…who are you?  Where do you get your identity from?

I am hoping that your answer will be that you are a “child of God”…that is the best and most valid identity any of us can have…and it cannot be taken away from us by anyone or anything…not even by death!

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The Breath of God

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Last year I borrowed an incubator from a friend and hatched some chicks..some hatched and some didn’t…only God could determine which would make it.  BTW many people don’t realize that the chick is made from the white part of the egg, and eats the yolk before hatching.  So obviously, the chicken came before the egg as God created man and animals with the ability to procreate it’s like.

Genesis 2:7 Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

When I was sitting in church this weekend one of the speakers made a statement that caught my attention.  He said that we all have the breath of God in us.  I really had not given that idea a lot of thought, but it really reminded me of all the Bible verses which talk to us about God’s breath.  I looked up the word breath in all of its forms in my Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible and there are 53 lines of verses listed which use that word in some form.  When I looked up the word Spirit it has more than 3 pages.  My Strong’s is for the King James, so if you are reading a different version of the Bible you will get a slightly different count most likely.  However, no matter which version you use, the fact remains that the idea of breath is really important…especially when you read things like  Job 33:4  The Spirit of God has made me, And the breath of the Almighty gives me life.  and  Job 27:3-6 As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice, the Almighty, who has made my life bitter,3as long as I have life within me,the breath of God in my nostrils,4my lips will not say anything wicked,and my tongue will not utter lies.5I will never admit you are in the right;till I die, I will not deny my integrity.6I will maintain my innocence and never let go of it;my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live. (ref. NIV from Biblehub.com)

Job definitely recognized that God is the author and giver of life, right down to the breath in his body.  This kind of gives new meaning to the idea that your body is a temple of the Lord, doesn’t it?!!  I mean in the Old Testament God residing in the Holy of Holies so that gave man a fixed place to go and worship him…however, since God first created Adam and breathed life into his nostrils man has generation after generation been kept alive by the breath of God.  Even sinners are being kept alive by the breath of God, and God loves us even when we are sinning.  (Romans 5:8) However, that sin separates us from God, even while we are breathing with God’s very breath in our bodies.  No wonder it is so painful to be separated from God.

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2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness..The mist on Niagara falls reminds me of the vastness of the power of God…we could feel this mist up a tall hill and still another 15 stories above that through a window.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

Here in the main portion of Paul’s speech to the people of Athens about the Unknown God. Paul reminds us of several things…1.)  God is not made of anything that man has created, 2.)  God made the world and everything in it, 3.) God doesn’t dwell in temples or buildings, 4.) God doesn’t actually need anything from us, 5.) God made all mankind from one blood, and he determines the length of everyone’s life, 6.) Once you have heard the gospel you need to take God seriously and make the decision to repent and draw closely to God, 7.)  There will be a day of judgement that only God knows when it is coming.

Acts 17:23-30 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To The Unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. (Bible Gateway KJV)  

IMG_1116If we go and read Isaiah 40 we can be lifted up and comforted by the power of God, even though people are described as being like grass and their faith like flowers which wither at the breath of God. I found that statement to be rather disheartening when I first read it.  It can be interpreted as mankind being delicate and temporary, easily destroyed by God.  However, though grass and flowers are temporary and delicate, God still cares for them, (Luke 12:27), and when we continue reading Isaiah 40 we find that God cares for and loves his people and he is strong enough to protect them.  (Besides, if you think of it the same wind or breath of God that can destroy also brings in the clouds which causes rain to fall and nourish the grass and flowers.)  Going on in Isaiah 40:10 we find that we are told not to be afraid, but to shout out and proclaim God and who he is to those around us.

Isaiah 40: 1Comfort, comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
    that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out.”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All people are like grass,
    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of our God endures forever.”

You who bring good news to Zion,
    go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
    lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
    say to the towns of Judah,
    “Here is your God!”
10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
    and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
    or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
    or weighed the mountains on the scales
    and the hills in a balance?
13 Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord,
    or instruct the Lord as his counselor?
14 Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him,
    and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge,
    or showed him the path of understanding?

15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
    they are regarded as dust on the scales;
    he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires,
    nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.
17 Before him all the nations are as nothing;
    they are regarded by him as worthless
    and less than nothing.

18 With whom, then, will you compare God?
    To what image will you liken him?
19 As for an idol, a metalworker casts it,
    and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
    and fashions silver chains for it.
20 A person too poor to present such an offering
    selects wood that will not rot;
they look for a skilled worker
    to set up an idol that will not topple.

21 Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
    and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
    and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught
    and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted,
    no sooner are they sown,
    no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
    and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me?
    Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
    Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
    and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
    not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you complain, Jacob?
    Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
    my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Now Isaiah 40 is a prophecy about the coming of the Messiah, but it is also a message to those of us who are living today.  It tells us to be bold that God gives us the strength of his breath…we can run and not be tired, we can walk and not be faint…why?  because we have the breath of God living in us…in the form of the Holy Spirit.  We are literally God breathed and God supported.  So when the world is running madly around and you are racing along with it…remember to fill your lungs with the breath of God and pursue with your full heart to do God’s work in your life…tell others who God is just as Paul did, and be bold about it!  God will give you the words to say!  As in Luke 21:15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 

God’s breath is the breath of life, and it is powerful….count on it and be faithful and bold!

The Traditions of Man

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This is a pretty church in Santorini Greece.  

Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

2Timothy 4:2-4  Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

 Read Mark chapter 7

Many traditions are just man made traditions and not anything to do with a requirement of God or living as a grace covered Christian.  Now to the Jews circumcision was part of a covenant that they are still keeping, and that is certainly the right thing for them; however, under the covenant of Jesus’ blood,  Gentiles are not required to fulfill that circumcision requirement.  In the old testament before the coming of Christ you had to be circumcised to join the Jews, I imagine that is still the case if you male and are to become Jewish.  However, it is not a requirement under Christianity, it is a choice each person can make.

I have another Christian tradition that I have been struggling with that my own church and most churches deal with, that of Communion.  I decided to read up on this issue in the Bible and have come to the following conclusions.  There are many traditions that are man made about it.  Some believe that it is the literal body and blood of Christ, others believe that it is not, but is a Holy Sacrament and must be blessed by a Priest or Minister, others don’t believe it needs to be blessed or consecrated, but each person can simply take it in communion with others with an attitude of worship, and a recognition what it represents; still others believe that only those of a certain age or only of the like denomination can partake of it.

However,  in the Bible all it says is that Jesus, while sitting at a passover table with his disciples told them while lifting the passover cup that it was his blood, and that breaking the bread it was his body (Matthew 26:26), and 1Corinthians 11 talks about it extensively from the view point of Paul the Apostle.  He talks about it strictly from the stand point of the attitude of the person who is partaking of communion.  Paul says that the people who are partaking of the Lord’s cup and bread should be taking it with an acknowledgement of Jesus’ sacrifice for us as one of his (Christian) sheep.  He also says that they should not be helping themselves and treating it as a party for just those wealthy enough to afford it.  He tells us that if it is being used that way, they can eat or drink at home..it is to be taken with a proper attitude and in community with all who are present who are belonging to Christ.  It is up to the person who is taking it to decide whether they are worthy (aka belonging to Christ) to take it or not.

The setting for Jesus’ meal with his disciples was a Passover meal.  If we look at the requirements for passover the priest did not necessarily have to kill the passover lamb, but was required to catch the blood from the lamb and sprinkle it on the altar. That was the only requirement for a priest during passover.  The rest of the meal was performed in the individual homes not at the temple.  Here is an interesting site that explains the Passover practices of the Jews…though you can also read it in the Bible in Exodus 12

http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11934-passover-sacrifice

Another fact about Jesus’ death, is that with his death the veil between the Holy of Holy’s and the rest of the Temple was torn.  The Holy of Holy’s was the place that only the High Priest could go into as it was the “place of the presence of God.” He was only allowed to go in there on the day of Atonement which was once a year.  With the tearing of the veil by Jesus death there became no need for any Jew or Gentile Christian or anyone to have to go to a Priest in order to be in God’s presence.  We were allowed through the death Jesus Christ to go straight to God ourselves…Jesus is the only mediator between God and Man. (1Timothy 2:5).  That is why when we pray to God, we pray asking in Jesus’ name.  The Holy Spirit lives in us, as Christians, therefore we are not in need of an earthly priest for anything.  Not even for the blessing of the elements of communion.  It is enough for Christians to pray over the elements and ask God’s presence and blessing for their act of Communion and remembrance, honoring of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

The idea behind communion that Jesus gave his disciples is a remembrance of his sacrifice.  It is a reminder to us, that we are sinful and that we needed this selfless sacrifice to redeem us, and reunite us with God.  A reminder that Jesus willingly sacrificed himself for us.  Just as the Passover was a reminder to the Jews that God had “passed over” their houses in Egypt and spared the lives of their first born.  God told them to celebrate passover in “remembrance” of that event in Egypt.

Different denominations have many different beliefs about Communion, Baptism and many other issues….what to wear, how to wear your hair if you are man or woman, etc.  A lot of those beliefs are traditions of the denominations, and not necessarily Biblical.  Many times, those beliefs have grown from someone taking one statement out of context, or out of misunderstanding of the circumstances and/or group to whom the speaker was speaking or what was going in that society.  Many traditions are used by Satan to separate the people of God and cause them to fight amongst themselves instead of being unified through our Savior.  While we can enjoy traditions we need to be aware of what is traditional and what is Biblical and not allow man’s traditions to separate us from our fellow believers.

For instance, if someone were on their death bed and had just accepted Christ, and you were the only Christian around and they wanted Communion or Baptism…would you deny them and say, “Let me go find a minister or a priest, I’m not qualified?”

Each person reading John 14:12-14 should be able to answer that.  Jesus who is our ultimate high priest everlasting told us that whoever believes in Him will be able to do whatever he does and even greater things than he.  We know that his disciples had the gifts of the Spirit, and the fruits of the Spirit and did healing, and baptism, and had communion in Jesus’ name.  Jesus was not out to create a new priesthood with the Disciples that elevated them above those whom they were bringing to Christ.  He wanted each and every one of us as Christians to be priests and serve others around us in Jesus’ name.  (1Peter 2:9)

Now I recognize that not everyone will feel comfortable with the idea of administering Baptism or Communion to another, and maybe they never will.  Traditions have a strong hold on people.  Like getting a hair cut….just be aware, that sometimes a tradition which is not correctly Biblically based can be a separator and not a unifier. Be gentle and loving and it is okay to question a tradition, but question it in the context of “what does the Bible have to say about it?  What does God’s Word have to say about it?”  Is it hurting someone or is it something that helps you to connect with God more fully?  Respect traditions, but evaluate them against the word of God and the character of God.  That is what the Disciples did!  They always went back to the word of God, and took it in the context that the words were spoken!