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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Yahweh, Jehovah, I AM

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Commandment #3 Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

Exodus 3:13-15: Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, The God of your fathers has sent me to you, and they ask me, What is his name? Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you.”  God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your fathers- The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob – has sent me to you.” This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.”

John 8:58 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born I AM.”

Notes:  In Unger’s Bible dictionary it says that the word Jehovah is a misspelling of the word Yahweh which in Hebrew means “He causes to be or He exists, or He creates.”  This explains why God uses the term I AM to describe himself.  I AM is a short way to say that he exists and has always existed, that God is not a created being.  He is the Creator of Everything.  The tradition of the Hebrews was to not say God’s name out loud in conversation.  This tradition probably has a lot to do with the fact that God’s name is Holy, and that misusing God’s name was punishable by death.   After all, if you don’t say it out loud, then you cannot misuse it accidentally or on purpose.  Historians believe that this is what led to the mispronouncing of God’s name Yahweh (Yahway) as Jehovah.  Since it was never pronounced out loud, some forgot how to pronounce, and spell it.  Also as you can see in John 8:58 Jesus describes himself with the traditional title that God used for himself with Moses.

Exodus 20:7  You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

Read Leviticus 24:10-23  The story of the Blasphemer.

10 Now the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father went out among the Israelites, and a fight broke out in the camp between him and an Israelite. 11 The son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name with a curse; so they brought him to Moses. (His mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri the Danite.) 12 They put him in custody until the will of the Lord should be made clear to them.

13 Then the Lord said to Moses: 14 “Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him.15 Say to the Israelites: ‘Anyone who curses their God will be held responsible; 16 anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death.

17 “‘Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death. 18 Anyone who takes the life of someone’s animal must make restitution—life for life. 19 Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. 21 Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a human being is to be put to death. 22 You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the Lord your God.’”

23 Then Moses spoke to the Israelites, and they took the blasphemer outside the camp and stoned him. The Israelites did as the Lord commanded Moses.

Reading this story of the blasphemer who was put to death and the indictment that God laid on him is very hard.  There are many things that are hard to understand, but if you realize that God is a Holy God, and that he was in the process of making the people of Israel into a group of people who were to be living examples of the character of God to others on earth…then it can be seen that a person who did not respect the God who was providing for them and caring for them could not be tolerated.
I know, you are probably saying that they could have just thrown him out of the camp, but again, if you think about the environment outside the camp…a dry and desert environment…wouldn’t throwing this person out be the same as sentencing them to death?  There was a reason why people traveled in caravans in those days.  There was no city, no civilization…just their camp.
At the same time, it is shown in verse 21 that God was not giving this instruction lightly…the value of human life is of the utmost importance.  God also did not want anyone to believe that there was a separate law for the native Israelite and the one who lived in Israel but had an Egyptian Father, so in verse 22 he reminds them that the law is for both the Israelite and the foreign born.  The same law.
We have a lot of conflicting beliefs over the death penalty as a punishment, but the Bible clearly had laws regarding this, and considered that someone who took God’s name lightly or ran down God’s name should be treated to that punishment.  The punishment of death was not lightly given…but for very grave offenses, such as adultery, murder, and blasphemy.
There should also be an understanding that God was applying these laws to those who lived within the boundaries of Israel and with the Israelite people.  The 10 commandments were given so that people could understand how to live with each other….to have respect for each other, and the land of Israel was a Theocracy, not a Democracy.  We Westerners, as a rule, have a hard time understanding what a Theocracy is, and how people can live in one.  That is because we believe that the individual freedoms of people are more important than our individual beliefs about God….in other words, we are generally more self centered, than God centered.
The peculiar thing here is that the Pharisees used this law to try and trap Jesus.  They found that despite all the scriptures about the Messiah, they were unable to believe that Jesus, who was identifying himself with God…could be that Messiah.  All they saw was blasphemy.
Luke 5:20-21  20When Jesus saw their faith, He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” 21But the scribes and Pharisees began to consider this and ask, “Who is this man who speaks blasphemy?  Who can forgive sins but God along?”
If we were a strict Theocracy then we would be having everything in our lives revolve around God, and all of our laws would be looking to make God centered decisions.
Personally, I am grateful that we do not live in such a strict society; because even a strict theocracy is governed by human beings who are incapable of making good judgements about people.  In the days of Moses, God was in direct and certain communication with Moses…there wasn’t any doubt about this within the confines of the Israelite people.  God was their rescuer and Moses was the leader that God had given to them. Moses, himself, was under the punishment of God for misrepresenting God’s character to his people.  He was banned from ever entering the promised land for doing that.
God is a loving God, but we cannot forget that he is a Righteous and Holy God who is not to be taken lightly.  Whether in speech or in action.  The good news is that he is a loving God who is just to forgive us whenever we ask for it sincerely….If you look back at that story we do not hear that the blasphemer of Mose’s time was asking for forgiveness at all…it is not made clear to us…but if we look at the pharisees…even thinking that Jesus was a blasphemer they picked up stones to stone him..John 8:59  At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. 
The seriousness with which the Jews took this law of God and the Holiness of God’s name into their hearts was still in effect in Jesus’ time which was thousands of years after Mose’s time. The thing is that Jesus was who he was saying he was, yet the Pharisees could not see it!  They were blinded by their own self-righteousness!

Honest Prayer

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Psalm 99:5 Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.

Read Matthew 23 

A Warning Against Hypocrisy

Matthew Chapter 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.

Seven Woes on the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees

13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. [14] [b]

15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it.22 And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’[c]

Footnotes:

  1. Matthew 23:5 That is, boxes containing Scripture verses, worn on forehead and arm
  2. Matthew 23:14 Some manuscripts include here words similar to Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47.
  3. Matthew 23:39 Psalm 118:26

(From Bible Gateway.com… the NIV)

 

In Matthew 23 we find that Jesus is very condemning of the actions of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees.  He tells his Disciples to learn from them by following what they say because they know the law well..(they are sitting in the seat of Moses).  However, Jesus warns his Disciples not to act the way these men act.  These particular Pharisees and teachers of the law whom Jesus was talking about (Jesus and Paul the Apostle were both Pharisees by the way)  were men who failed in their responsibility to God.  They were supposed to be teaching the people about who God was, that he was a God of Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness.  

Instead they were teaching people the letter of the law, but not the Spirit of the Law.  The Spirit of the Law is supposed to bring you closer to God.  Following the Spirit of the Law also brings you closer to your fellow man.  Just look at the characteristics of God given by Jesus, Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness.  If we use those characteristics in dealing with each other we also draw closer to each other in love.  It is nearly impossible to understand Justice, Mercy or Faithfulness without having love involved also.  I am not talking romantic love here, but the love of your fellow humans..compassion.  I mean who doesn’t want to be around and spend time with someone who is compassionate and gentle, merciful and forgiving, and fair?  That is God and those are God’s character traits…we are told to be like that to each other.

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(Now there are some people who want to judge God and say that God is not always fair…but for those people ask yourself…are you really qualified to judge God?…if you are…then doesn’t that mean that you are taking on the position of God?  Just think about that a bit…it is a hard thing to wrap your mind around…but either Jesus is the Lord of your life….or he’s not..if he’s not, then that means you are trying to be the Lord of your own life…that never actually works out well. -Just refer back to the story of Adam and Eve and see how it worked out for them)

Jesus wanted his Disciples to follow both the letter and the spirit.  He wanted his Disciples to know that the law was not just something to be talked about and taught to others.  It was to be followed by his Disciples too.

The Pharisees were telling everyone else to follow the law, and making it so hard on the average Jew that they were having trouble following them all! However, they, the Pharisees themselves, were not following all of the laws that they were putting upon others.  They were sinning themselves, the sins of pride, and self indulgence, and hypocrisy.  Yet they were busy bodies who were constantly telling other people how they should live, and criticizing what others do.

Jesus tells them that they are all shine, and no substance…they look nice on the outside, but the inside is rotten.  (I think we have probably all met people like this.)  I really love the phrase used about the white washed tomb filled with the bones of rotting corpses (unclean things)…slight paraphrase there, but the meaning is very clear.

The Pharisees in question were clearly hypocrites (aka actors) they were putting on a constant show of “whoo, my poop don’t stink because I am so very Godly..it wouldn’t dare stink….I always look and smell like roses!”  That is what is meant when Jesus says talks about their garments and phylacteries….he is saying that they are making them larger and longer to make them seem like they are more important to them and make themselves seem more holy.  Kind of like if you see someone who is carrying around a Bible and quoting scripture  all the time, but then you hear them tell a whopping lie to someone.  That would probably be the equivalent situation in our time.

If you think about it there are a lot of people who are running all over telling everyone how Christian they are, but then they just don’t act like they know God at all when dealing in their day to day life.  They are just giving God the nod of their head on Sunday and the rest of the week doing whatever they want.  In other words they are not taking God seriously, are they?

Jesus gets on them about the importance they place on the gold in the temple instead of the sacredness of temple itself, and why the temple is sacred.  Now that happens a lot even now.  People put more emphasis on the building they are worshipping in than they do God whom the building is for, or God’s people who are in the building.  That is a sad situation for sure….if a person takes their focus off of God for a second or two, then it is easy to end up with your focus on the wrong thing.  People get panicky whenever they are trying to hold onto something that they perceive that they may lose….at times like that it is easy to get side tracked from God.

This idea of “swearing on the gold in the temple” has carried over into more modern days, and is still around now.  Back in the time of Martin Luther the monk (not Martin Luther King Jr.) the church sold “penance” to people.  Martin Luther did not agree with this and was verbal about it. The church allowed people to buy forgiveness and many rich men took advantage of this to use their money to get away with doing whatever they wanted. 

Today, there are still many Christians who have wealth and believe that as long as they tithe enough money or spend enough on charities they are excused from their actions. 

Jesus did not agree with this and he condemned people who where praying or acting holy  for the sake of pretending to be Holy, while having the education about God to know that this is wrong. They are ignoring what they know in pursuit of themselves and their own glorification on earth. 

Jesus states that these Pharisees are greatly damned for their actions. In other words, the more they know, the more they are expected to represent God to the people, so the greater their damnation when they misuse what they know for their own gain.   It is really important to be honest in your dealings with God and with others. 

Keep in mind that God knows what you think and what you are doing, what your real motivations are.  The only person you are fooling with your behavior is yourself.  The Pharisees fooled themselves.