Hidden Identity

I have touched on the topic of identity before, but there is more to be said on the topic, particularly on Christian identity.

Most of Western culture values success, which is defined as financial success, fame, material possessions, looks, the people you associate with, date or marry (and their looks), power, popularity; I think you get the point. These things are not inherently evil – we can have some or all of these things and still be Godly people. The issue is that when these things are put in front of us as ideals to be achieved in order to be adequately accepted in the world that puts a lot of pressure on us to accomplish these ideals to the degree that the world expects us to. We are making the world (culture) the master of our identity. We must attain these things first and then we are accepted.

God turns this equation around. When we accept His free gift of grace, the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. We are now children of the Creator who declares us righteous and worthy on the spot. We automatically are praised by the most praiseworthy entity that there is. Nothing in our culture can elevate us higher than that. So if the love of and praise from culture is what you crave and makes you feel accepted, worthy and successful, imagine how much more the love and respect of the Maker of Everything will make you feel. He is the real Master of Our Identity.

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Doing Biblical Love

As Christians, we often hear that there is a difference between Biblical love and love as it is defined by the world and/or our culture. Many of us gloss over this fact and still lean towards the worldly understanding of love from time to time. This is completely understandable given that we are bombarded daily with movies, television, books, social media, etc. that reinforce such a definition. It’s important though, to not lose sight of God’s definition of love.

Here’s the difference. In our culture, love is viewed as something that happens to us. We fall in love, it is an emotion that we have no control over. In the Bible, love is not as much a noun as it is a verb, an action. We are commanded by God to love our neighbor, our spouse, our enemies, etc. This runs counter to what we are taught in our culture. In the case of marriage, we often love until we don’t feel in love anymore, then we either live with a loveless marriage or get divorced. The Bible’s command for us to love is expressed in a word that means to love sacrificially – to love when we don’t feel like it and when it costs us something, sometimes something very precious to us.    

So next time you are put in a position where you know someone needs help, whether it’s your spouse, a friend, a stranger or even someone you don’t like, swallow hard, remember what God means by “love” and do it.

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Source: Sproul, R.C., Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, 1992, Tyndale Publishing

Good Fruit

I am privileged to be part of a great Bible study group every Saturday morning and I always come away with some level of wisdom and encouragement. Occasionally, I experience an epiphany that seems to represent a new level of my understanding of Scripture and my spiritual development.

Last Saturday, we were studying the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22, 23). I have studied Galatians in the past and chapter five in particular. In fact, I have verses 22 and 23 pinned to the wall of my office. I did this in part so I can check myself against the list of qualities (fruit) that Paul identifies as traits of a Christian. I learned that Paul’s emphasis in Galatians is that we are saved by grace by faith alone and are led by the Holy Spirit. What Paul wanted to convey is that we are made righteous immediately upon accepting Christ as our savior and as such, the fruit of the Spirit (the nine traits Paul lists in chapter five) are given to us as well. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to cultivate the fruit that is in us. This will manifest in good works, but the works in and of themselves do not save us.

So the epiphany for me was that it is not for me to check off which of the fruit I’m doing well at and which I still need to work on. The Holy Spirit will guide me and sanctify me in God’s time. This is not to say that we shouldn’t try to be good, joyful, loving, etc., only that our effort is not the point, surrender to the Spirit and to the will of God is.     

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Note: Galatians is a book that is particularly relevant in the turbulent times we find ourselves in today. I encourage you to read, study and meditate on this transcendent text and please try to block out whatever biases you might bring to the book – allow God to speak to you in His voice.

An Encouraging Word

Words of encouragement I believe are underused. Even as Christians, we tend to look at God’s instruction to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) as only a call to correct improper behavior. Though this is true, it’s also true that we are called to build others up.

The Bible is full of verses that are not only encouraging, but speak specifically to the need to encourage others; “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.” (Romans 15:2), and “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had.” (Romans 15:5), are just a couple, but there are a lot more.

This is not to say that we should shower undeserved praise on everyone for the sake of doing it. When God says, “speak the truth”, He means the truth. It is our nature to notice faults in people and some of us are more comfortable pointing those out than others are, and there is value in that if done right. On the other side of the coin, God also commands that we pick someone up by letting them know we believe in them, are proud of them, that with God’s help they will overcome or to praise them for a specific talent or accomplishment. God knows we are never too old, stoic or jaded to hear sincere words of encouragement, which can change someone’s day and perhaps even their life!

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Remember God’s Blessings

It’s difficult to believe that the year is almost over and we are still dealing with the pandemic that first came to light at the start of 2020.

It has become a multi-fasceted issue that is now part of the ideological divide we continue to experience in this country and in many other parts of the world. One thing I think we can all agree on is that the pandemic and it’s effects have led to an increase in the need for food and other items to help people make ends meet. No matter where we stand on the ideological spectrum, we must always be conscious of God’s command to help others in need. Why should we take from our own store of resources and give to those who have less? Because of what God did and continues to do for us. He sacrificed His only Son so that our sins can be forgiven, He assured us eternal life and provides for us simply out of His love for us and not because we deserve or earned it. Remembering these things fills us with gratitude which fuels our obedience to Him.

These are big things! Most of us will never be asked to sacrifice our children, but small things matter too. Things like donating food to your local food pantry or volunteering there or carrying basic items like socks, underwear, sanitizing wipes, packaged snacks, etc in you car to hand out as you encounter people in need, are all small gestures that matter greatly to those who you serve and Honor God.

It all starts with remembering what God did and does for us.

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I Love a Redemption Story

One of the most important things that God commanded of us as Christians is to evangelize, that is to spread the Gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:16-20). The Gospel is Good News, indeed the word “gospel” translated in Greek means “good news”. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is simply that He came to save sinners. He paid the price for our sins so that we can be forgiven, made holy and given eternal life – all because God chose to – because of His love for us.

That said, not everyone will be granted these free gifts. In reformed theology, it is believed that God knows for eternity who will be saved and who will not; which makes sense as He is omnipotent and omniscient – why wouldn’t He know? However, we as mortal Christians, no matter how mature we are in our faith, can never know for sure who will or will not be saved. We must ourselves carry on as if we are saved and our assurance will strengthen as we advance in our walk with Christ. We must also never assume we know that an individual cannot be saved, no matter how dark their circumstances are or how evil they appear to be. God will save who He chooses for His own reasons. Our job is to love them (even if tough love is necessary), encourage them and to speak and live God’s word – God will do the rest – but we should never assume anyone is beyond salvation.

The Bible is full of redemption stories; we need only to remember the Apostle Paul, who once persecuted and killed Christians, only to be hand-picked by Jesus to spread His Gospel to the gentiles.

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The Great Divide

It’s almost a cliché to say that our country, and probably most of the world, has become hopelessly polarized. There is seemingly no issue or event where we don’t come down firmly on one side or the other; the current pandemic is a good example of that. Amazingly, this is also prevalent in the Christian Church.

Something all we Christians do to some extent, myself included, is to bring our political and social ideologies into our Christian faith. We tend to shape Scripture to fit what we personally believe politically and socially which is an emotional tendency that exists independent of Scripture.

Since the Reformation, the masses have had the Word of God placed in their hands which has been an overwhelmingly positive catalyst for the spread of Christianity and for changed lives. It has also, perhaps to its detriment, spawned thousands of different opinions on ways to interpret Scripture and hundreds of different denominations. This can be confusing and does lead to divisions, but the essential message of Scripture remains clear, that is that Jesus, God incarnate, came to save sinners (including you and I) and when asked which of the commandments were the greatest, He responded, ”’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

So everything we believe, say and do must be filtered through these tenets, not personal ideology. Love and serve God and others and remember, we all need Jesus.

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Lest We Forget

These are such trying times for all of us. For those in the upper economic brackets, it’s about trying to educate their kids while still trying to earn a living; both from the same house. Many others have lost their jobs and are scrambling to secure unemployment benefits from an overtaxed system so they can continue to pay their bills and put food on the table.

However, we must step back and be grateful for what we have been given. Certainly, this is not a normal time and there are things we have to get used to doing differently, things we have to get used to doing without and dealing with uncertainty which leads to fear and stress about the future. None of us are alone in dealing with such feelings, though as Christians we are blessed to have a heavenly Father in whom we have the assurance of provision which is a great source of comfort.

There is another category of people – those who occupy the lower economic brackets in our society. Imagine the level of anxiety they must be feeling. Many of these folks work in low wage “off grid” jobs and don’t qualify for much public assistance. Many have children, elderly relatives, and/or people with special needs who depend on them. These folks struggle mightily under normal circumstances, let alone what the world is experiencing now.

The Bible commands us to do whatever we can to help those less fortunate than us to make ends meet. Almost all of us are in a position to help, even now. Please consider giving to your local food bank or sustenance-based charity today.   

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Pandemic

It seems appropriate to address the current pandemic that is sweeping across the world in the context of our Christian worldview. I must emphasize that this is not a political blog and as such, the following post is not intended to be a political commentary.

There are many ways that the situation that we find ourselves in has been couched, some of it on the extreme side of outright panic and doomsday forecasts and on the other side of the spectrum, conspiracy theories and defiant non-compliance to precautionary guidance. As Christians, we all must have unwavering trust in God and in His sovereignty over this and every situation. That said, God has blessed us with the gifts of medical science and discernment. God has placed people with knowledge and wisdom of previously unknown infectious diseases to help us deal with this very real pandemic and those individuals make recommendations based on historical data and known science that, if followed, will likely minimize what could be a catastrophic outcome.

So let’s pray for God’s mercy, for comfort and for healing in the midst of this potentially very dangerous pandemic. Let’s continue to pray for friends and family who have been directly impacted by the virus. Let’s also follow God’s command to put others ahead of ourselves and not put them at risk by ignoring the guidelines for our social behavior as disseminated to us by the experts.

Thanks for reading.

I would love to hear your thoughts, please comment below.    

Hard Times

Like everyone, Christians go through good times and bad – sometimes very bad. The good times are easy and, for me anyway, it’s easy to be grateful when times are good. When we face difficulties, we often find ourselves moving away from God. We may feel that He has let us down, he did not provide something we prayed for, we may have experienced personal loss – in all these cases, we often become angry with God and even start to question our faith. Sometimes it’s hard to go to church, read the Bible or even pray because we may feel there is no point to it.

It’s at these times that we need God the most. It’s at these times when He reaches out to us the most. We must remember that though God does answer our prayers, the result is not always made to order – His blessings often come in unexpected packages. An additional danger is attaching our faith completely to a major, even miraculous blessing that He might have bestowed upon us, whether it be related to our health or that of a loved one, our finances, our marriage, etc. because He does not guarantee smooth sailing in those areas.

God is faithful; He will see us through our struggles, but that does not mean that we will not have struggles. When times are hard, it’s important to remember our spirit of gratitude toward our faithful and loving God that we felt when things were better. He blessed us then, and ultimately he will lead us through whatever we might be going through now.

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