A Right Identity…

August 20

Several days ago, we talked about our deep inner need to have an identity – something for which we are known, something that makes us significant in this life.

search-for-significance

But there is a problem.

So many times, we as Christians fall into the same trap as everyone else. We are wanting to be somebody. Someone that people look up to. Someone they admire. Someone they want to emulate… Somebody important.

This desire can lead us into becoming the focus of attention, not God. When we are longing to be important, and have others recognize our importance, we measure our value by how others see us and recognize us. If they don’t see us as important, we become sullen… maybe even angry.

Do you see what is happening here? We are claiming that our lives are all about God… but, they are actually all about ourselves. Our recognition. Our importance. Our significance. Our names being cherished and exalted… Not His.

Our identity becomes tied to human acceptance. Our importance is tied to human recognition. And we can become just as self-centered about our Christian worth as we were when we were living for ourselves.

This was the problem with the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. All their righteous behavior was to gain the adulation of men. Jesus identified, and condemned their focus.

Christ Reproving the Pharisees.jpg

It is all too easy to start out on the right path with God and, eventually, become sidetracked – onto a path that has all the appearance of Godliness, without the real Presence of God! We cannot afford to fall into this same trap.

So if these things are the wrong identity… what is the right one?

Jesus tells us: “Whoever wants to be first (the most significant) must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” (Mark 9:35)

Jesus washing feet.jpgThese are not just words to be heeded… Jesus also walked the talk. In another place, He reminded the disciples: I am among you as the One who serves.” (Lk. 22:27)

Serving others, in our culture, gets a bad rap. We don’t want anyone “lording over us.” Using us. Forcing us to do things we don’t want to do. In many ways, we would rather die than be anyone’s servant.

But the very essence of the Kingdom of God resides in a servant’s heart. What is more, God comes nearest to those who humbly bow to serve others in need.

draw-near-to-god-printable

In short, the most Significant Person ever… draws near to those who live a life of giving themselves for others. We give of our selves – and God gives us… Himself.

Our spirits actually long for the Presence of God – and those who practice a life of serving, actually find His abiding Presence in their everyday lives.

Jesus said: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” (Luke 9:24) It is fascinating to me, that when we seek to gain our own significance we will never really find it… but when we lose our desire for our own significance (so we can better love God and serve others) we actually gain what we were never seeking. True significance… as the God of ultimate significance lavishes His love upon us… and loves the world, through us.

The identity we seek does not make us somebody… it makes God everything – and places us in the proper position to be a permanent vessel of His amazing love and grace.

Prayer Focus: God, make me aware when I am trying to seek my own importance… and let my heart focus upon making You important, through my life.

francis-chan-quotes

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Hate

August 19

I hear a lot of talk these days about getting people together.

“We have to connect. We have to learn to appreciate one another. We have to lay our hatred aside and come together. We can’t afford any more of being torn apart.”

I appreciate the sentiment. In many places, tensions are high. People are angry. Frustrated. They feel marginalized. Left out. Discriminated against. Demonized.

Pick a group. Any group. And you become the target of someone’s contempt.

Black Lives Matter. Blue Lives Matter. All Lives Matter. It doesn’t matter.

blm     blue-lives     a l m

Everyone seems to be up in arms about something or somebody – and every group gets so singularly focused on their particular issue that there is little chance of seeing anyone else’s view. When all we can see is our own viewpoint – there is so little common ground.

But… “we just need to get people together.”

In our current cultural climate that may just be a bit like bringing together gasoline and a flame. I think that is the lesson we are learning by what we have seen in Charlottesville VA. People got together alright – and their anger for each other won the day.

charlottesville

Everyone is talking about the mess that is our current state of affairs – and the profound storm that we see brewing in our country. It seems that everybody knows there is a huge problem… we just don’t really know what to do about it.

Can we be brutally honest? We are reaping what we have sown over the last fifty years. As a society, we have largely kicked God to the curb, proclaimed that He is dead (Time magazine; April 1966); pronounced Him irrelevant (because we now have science to reveal the secrets of the universe); made Him optional (for those who feel they need faith); and largely ignored His commands and His truth (the Bible is often seen as some antiquated and out-of-date book).

In short, we have found another god to take His place – and we are him/her/it.

You_Are_God

Whenever The God is removed from the center of our attention, all we have left is our selves. And when our selves get hurt or offended or feel we are mistreated in any way, we get frustrated, upset, and angry. And when we are stewing in our anger, all we need is someone (with whom we don’t agree) to cross our path and we are like a bomb ready to explode. We are practically looking for the detonator!

Until we actually deal with what is causing our anger – all that getting together will do is provide a room full (or street full) of potential trouble.

Hate is never cured by anything human beings can do or say.

Only God can change a heart

Only God can change a heart – and turn it from self-centered to others-centered. Only a deep love for God will ever restore a deep love for other human beings. Only when we value others, as God values them, will we ever overcome our own narrow viewpoints and begin to see other people, not as enemies to be confronted, but as potential allies against all injustice and inequity.*

When God turns a heart to Himself – hate becomes a fading memory.

Prayer Focus: God, help me to see people as You see them… and to never give a foothold to hate.

billy-graham-changed heart

*(By the way, this goes for “Christians” as well. Whenever any Christian fails to love as Jesus loved, we fall into the same humanistic patterns and solutions that everyone else tries – with the same ineffective results!)

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The Still Small Voice; part 2

August 18

A couple of days ago, we began talking about “that little voice” that is in the back of your mind, that tries to steer you out of impending trouble. Some equate this voice to our conscience – but I feel it is more likely connected to the voice of God. It is God, trying to help us to avoid trouble, or mistakes, or sin. And it is a voice that is almost imperceptible… until we are willing to listen for it.

8 18 god_whispers

The fact that God’s foremost way of intervening in our lives is to whisper a suggestion says something really important about HOW God chooses to interact with us. He doesn’t barge into our lives (though He deserves to do so) – He seeks to gently persuade, quietly impress, tenderly suggest what is right for us… He doesn’t always throw the clamps on us when we are about to do something harmful (though we might wish He would) – He whispers to us… and leaves us to listen… or ignore Him.

This observation leads us to the answer of a question that plagues so many…

People are always wondering why God doesn’t just put a stop to evil – why He doesn’t just end the world’s suffering. Why He doesn’t keep bad things from happening to people (especially the helpless or the innocent).

8 18 Intervening godIf what they mean by this is that God should step in and stop every bad act, every wrong word, every misguided intention – then He would have to forcefully intervene in every human action from the beginning of time. A God of infinite power could preserve a perfect, unblemished world… and many think that He should

But here is the significant problem… If God were to intervene in every wrongful situation… there would be no wrong, no evil, no famine, no crime. BUT there would also be no such thing as human choice.

And if there is no choice, there would also be no such thing as faith, or hope, or love, or joy, or purpose, or meaning – the very things that make life worth living, would not exist SONY DSCat all. The wonder of being human and experiencing this world (and real relationships with each other) would never exist. We would be no different than the flowers of the field. Lovely, in and of themselves, but possessing no possibility of faith, hope, or love. We would exist – but have no real life in us.

In order for life to have any meaning at all, there must be the ability to choose – and, with this, the potential for everything to go terribly wrong. Good must be an option. But so must bad. Without choice, we are merely the results of every whim of God – and though that would produce a perfect world… we would never really enjoy it. It would be meaningless to us.

And, apparently, to God as well. He did not design this world to be a place where His will is always automatically applied. From the very beginning, He has revealed that He designed this world so that human beings would have to choose to apply His will (see Genesis 2-3). We would have to decide to heed His voice – or ignore His voice. This is true for those who would seek to do what is right… and what is wrong.

God has designed things so that He does not forcefully intervene in every potential act of harm – but that doesn’t care… or isn’t trying. Every wrong act is the choice of someone who is ignoring (or has completely blocked out) that little voice that is seeking to prevent harm. God is there. God is at work. He is being ignored.

The Bible tells us that there WILL come a time when God will choose to end this current format. When Jesus returns… everything will change.

But until then, God’s way of interaction remains “the still small voice” – and the key to true life and living is found in listening to, and heeding that voice.

8 18 small-still-voice

Prayer Focus: God, I seek to listen for You… help me to quiet my life and just hear and obey what You are telling me. 

God's voice

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How is it?

August 17

wedding-rings-2284153_960_720Today is the day that I and my best friend, and love of my life, celebrate our marriage together. Truly, besides my decision to follow Jesus… this is the best decision I’ve ever made (not sure she can say the same thing!) 😉

Trying to put love into words is not the easiest exercise… and this is my own feeble attempt. I shared these words a few years ago – and received so many positive responses, I thought I would share them again…

 

How is it that so many years have come and gone… yet it seems like only a moment…

     You give me the gift of timelessness.

How is it that someone who so prefers to be in the background

         can be so predominant in my thoughts…

    You give me the gift of companionship.

How is it that I can know you so well…

       yet am still so enamored with your eyes, your face, your smile, your heart…

    You give me the gift of true beauty.

How is it that we have journeyed so far… yet it seems like only a single step…

    You give me the gift of lasting friendship.

How is it that we’ve faced so many trials… yet we still walk together, hand in hand…

    You give me the gift of unity and camaraderie.

How is it that I can barely even remember life without you… and I don’t even care…

    You give me the gift of a memorable life.

How is it that your voice always strikes a chord in my heart…

       and that chord is the music for my day…

    You give me the gift of joy.

How is it that we think so much alike that we can finish each other’s sentences…

    You give me the gift of a common bond.

How is it that, often, it seems we can barely make ends meet…

       yet I feel like the richest man in the world…

    You give me the gift of limitless treasure.

How is it that I can feel so trapped or useless at times…

       yet, you help me to see what’s beyond the horizon…

    You give me the gift of hope.

How is it I can sometimes feel totally lost… yet you are able to see things that I cannot…

    You give me the gift of help and guidance.

How is it that I can be alone… yet never ever have to face being lonely…

    You give me the gift of permanence.

How is it that I never have to worry about your secret thoughts, or your private doubts…

    You give me the gift of faithfulness.

How is it that you are not perfect… yet you are, in every way, perfect for me…

    You give me the gift of completion.

 

I was empty… and you made me full

   I was needy… and you gave me the gift of yourself

     I was seeking… and you became all I needed to find.

       I was broken… and you were sent to heal me.

I was so undeserving… yet, you were grace outpoured.

 

How is it that I am so blessed… so favored… so loved…

   You are God’s gift to me – the special, personal incarnation of His love…

I will cherish you…      I will hold you in my heart…

       and I will treasure you all of my days…

 

he who finds a wife

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Identity… 

August 16

Today, I ran across the strangest of stories.

There is a young European woman that took a childhood fascination and turned it into reality. You may have heard of her… she is known as the “real-life Barbie.”

Her life’s passion is to be an exact life-size replica of the famous child’s doll.

Now, if you have ever really looked at a Barbie doll, the first thing you notice is that her body shape is not very… realistic. One report “upscaled” her body measurements to be… 5’9″ tall, have a 39″ bust, an 18″ waist, 33″ hips; wear a size 3 shoe; and weigh approximately 110 pounds. In fact, most have concluded that her body shape would be extremely difficult to achieve – some would say, even impossible.

barbie-make-up-11But enter the power of the human mind and the relentless capability of the human will – and you get a 28-year-old “real-life Barbie.”

When you learn what she had to do to accomplish her dream, you are both shocked and amazed. The plastic surgeries are obvious. But to obtain such an unbelievably hour-glass waist, many have concluded that she likely had to have some of her lower ribs surgically removed.

And as for her diet… mostly liquids. She has even claimed attempts at becoming a “breatharian” – which is exactly like it sounds… she attempts to sustain her body’s physical needs by simply practicing special breathing techniques.

I won’t go into all the other aspects of the story (believe me, it gets weirder and weirder!). It is not my point to comment on this person (either positively or negatively). It is my intention to point out the fact of how important identity is to each of us… How our need for identity is deep within our DNA – and how some people surface, from time to time, to draw our attention to this fact.

It may not be our passion to identify with a Barbie doll, but there is something at work deep within each of us that cannot be ignored.

We are all longing to be known… and to be known for something that matters. We do not want to live out our lives as a face in the crowd – to breathe our final breath having never been significant… ever.

c & H Insignificant

This is what is so exciting about life in Jesus. Our Creator designed us to BE significant – to have an identity that is tied to His purpose for our lives. And that identity brings a fresh revelation of His Own Character to everyone we meet.

We are each brought into relationship with God, through Jesus, to bring a unique revelation of Him, through our lives. God takes away the old identity (as a sinner, as unrighteous, as an enemy of God, as a self-serving, self-destructive mess) and gives us a new identity (as a holy, righteous, friend of God; as a God-loving, people-loving grace-bearer). What was old and ordinary… is now new and exciting. We ARE new creations in Christ Jesus!

And that gives us a significance in every day of our lives… And makes us supremely significant to the One Person Who matters most.

Prayer Focus: God, grant that I would have a fresh revelation of my identity in You… and of Your significant purpose in and through my life.

significance in Christ

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The Still Small Voice

August 15

Yesterday, we talked about God’s voice… and how it is almost imperceptible and unnoticeable. God’s voice is not big and booming, but tender, gentle, quiet… even unobtrusive… The Bible describes it as the “still small voice.”

We find this description in an account in 1 Kings. You probably know the story…

elijah-in-cave1Elijah, the prophet of God, has just been involved in cleansing the nation of the prophets of Baal and Asherah, through a mighty act of God (1 Kings 18). But Israel’s corrupt king is not happy about it – and vows to hunt Elijah down and kill him. In 1 Kings 19, we find Elijah running for his life. Tired and frustrated (sulking!), Elijah complains to God.

God decides to give Elijah a lesson in His Presence (vs. 11-12) – and tells Elijah to stand outside of the cave in which he is hiding. A mighty wind came (shaking the rocks of the mountain loose) “but the Lord was not in the wind.” Then a powerful earthquake, “but the Lord was not in the earthquake.” Then a blazing fire from heaven, “but the Lord was not in the fire.”

8 15 Elijah cave

Finally, God’s Presence comes to Elijah – and it is in the “still small voice.” A gentle whisper.

I think this really tells us something important about God. Though God is undeniably, and infinitely, awesome, He doesn’t seek to overwhelm us. Though He deserves our complete attention – He doesn’t demand it. He greatly desires to lead us and guide us – but He will not “shout us down” or force us to go where He knows we should go. He tenderly offers His divine assistance – but He will not hinder our way.

This is so surprising. We would expect that the Almighty would be overwhelming, demanding, frightfully fearsome, even overbearing – but He reveals Himself as tender, compassionate, and gentle. He should be a terrible wind, or a powerful earthquake, or a raging fire – but He chooses to come to us as a “still small voice.”

gentle-jesus1As further proof of His nature, when He came to walk among us, He was known as “gentle and humble in heart” and He brought “rest for (our) souls.” (Matthew 11:29) He was seldom lightning and thunder. Instead, He was meek and unimposing. He was almost always drawing people unto Himself, tenderly.

This is so vital because we NEED to see God as He desires for us to know Him. He can certainly be “shock and awe” – but He prefers to be gentle, meek, and tender. He would rather shower us with His love and compassion – and He willingly chooses not smother us, or coerce us, or force us to hear Him or obey Him or love Him.

God speaks in the stillness. Maybe that is why we are advised to “BE still…” and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). In all the white noise of this life we need to hear His voice – and the only way to do that, consistently, is to quiet ourselves… quiet our surroundings… and just listen for His gentle whisper.

8 14 never let

God still speaks today. Probably a lot more often than we hear Him. And perhaps one of the most important things we can do is to take the time to listen for Him.

Jesus gave us the key. The course of our lives depends upon “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God!” (Matthew 4:4)

In the midst of a cacophony of voices… there is One Voice that matters the most.

Prayer Focus: God, lead me to quiet my soul before You… to listen for you in the stillness… and to hear and respond to what You have to say.

8 14 STILL_SMALL_VOICE

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Remorse…

This post marks my return to daily devotionals. It has been a difficult two-week absence. Maybe, at some point, I will share some of my experiences and what I have learned about myself… You get a bit of a hint in today’s post.

Thank you to all who offered prayers for me… and who encouraged me to keep on writing these posts. It is always good to know that someone is reading them, and enjoying their content.

August 14

You know that little voice that talks to you in those questionable moments in our lives? You know, the one that is barely audible against the background of all the other thoughts that are running through your mind. The one that is just a whisper amongst the din of other voices. The one that tells you NOT to do something… but you end up doing it anyway.

stormIt is in the storm of repercussions that follow that you reflect back and realize… you DID hear that voice loud and clear. You just didn’t want to listen. Or you had a superb justification for not listening. Or you felt comfortable in the (insane) thought that you were smart enough, or careful enough, or clever enough that there really was nothing to fear – that everything would be just fine.

It is that voice that offers you just the right path to keep yourself out of a peck of trouble – that voice that wants nothing more than to keep you from hurting people you care about, or to keep you from ending up looking like a world-class jerk.

The Bible calls that voice… “the still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12 KJV).

You would think that the voice of God would be… much bigger… more obvious… more commanding of our full attention. More of a thunderbolt that shakes the very ground of our souls… than a tiny, almost indistinguishable whisper.

But it isn’t.

And I think that is why we get into so much trouble. We hear… but we don’t listen.

repentant-remorse-250It is when we ignore that tiny voice that we discover the full brunt of the enormous echoes of our mistakes. And then, we are surrounded and encumbered by our guilt… our shame… the full weight of our remorse.

If only we could go back in time and prevent ourselves from saying that hurtful thing… or doing that harmful action… or making that terrible mistake…. or having to scramble to pick up all the broken pieces of our lives… If only…

You would think that we would learn. That voice should be heeded at all costs. That voice offers us insight and wisdom that is beyond ourselves. That voice has no agenda but to surround us with love and to protect us from… ourselves.

8 14 still voice

As I look back at my life, I realize there are so many moments where I have ignored that voice – and it has cost me dearly.

But I also know this about that voice. It is patient. It is kind. It does not hold a grudge. It recognizes that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14). It knows that we are feeble and frail and prone to ignorance… and rebellion… and to thinking, we are so much smarter than we really are.

ps 103 14

And still, it comes to us. Whispers of love. Of continual second chances. Of no condemnation for those who (deep down) really want to love God back. In spite of the fact that we are so undeserving – the voice still seeks to speak to us, is eager to help us, heal us, lead us – and to become the guiding voice of our every action…

I have just come through one of those seasons of devastation. Where I really wish I could go back and undo what I did. Without knowing it, or ever intending it, I hurt some people that I care about (maybe not enough?!).

In these moments, I have needed God’s grace to cover my shame – to mend my mistakes – to lead me out of my self-inflicted darkness. To remind me that, in spite of my self, I am still beloved.

And would you believe it… the voice is there.

Prayer Focus: God, give us ears to hear Your Voice — and hearts that are quick to respond with trusting You.

8 14 delicate-whisper

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