Hidden Faces — Are you defining yourself by possessions or Christ?

THE FOLLOWING IS A EXCERPT FROM MY BOOK HIDDEN FACES: DISCOVERING OUR TRUE IDENTITY IN CHRIST

If our base of who we are is the view of the Scriptures, we need to begin where it all started. I mean the very beginning: Genesis 1. It says that we were all made in the image of God: 

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”
So God created mankind in his own image, 
in the image of God he created them… 
male and female he created them.

I love the insight that John Sailhamer gives about this verse. He writes, “God’s command…is not an impersonal (third person) ‘Let there be,’ but rather the more personal (first person) ‘Let us make.’” If you read the whole of Genesis 1, you see the birds, trees, and unicorns (okay, it doesn’t say that one, but I’m still hoping they’re real) were all created with, as Sailhamer points out, “Let there be.” Adam and Eve’s creation, on the other hand, denotes something much more intimate. This passage reveals a personal God who does His creative works out of a community. Sailhamer continues, 

Whereas throughout the previous account the making of each creature is described as ‘according to its own kind,’ the account of humankind’s creation specifies that the man and the woman were made according to the likeness of God… The human likeness is not simply of himself and herself; they also share a likeness to their Creator.

God has sewn His divine image within us. As the Psalmist writes, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” God declared that this creation (that means you) is “very good” (Genesis 1:31). We see in Genesis that this “very good” creation had a special relationship with God. 

We also see in Genesis that there was nothing that inhibited the relationship. Everyone was in right standing with each other. That’s when the enemy of God and humanity came to sew lies, attacking who we are. 

Genesis 3 records that the serpent came and put seeds of doubt in Eve’s head. The serpent begins to tell her that though God has told her that she’s “very good” and made in “their image,” the image of God, that she isn’t good enough. The serpent tells her that there is something else she needs. Something is missing.

The serpent is smart. The lie isn’t that we’re garbage, although often we often believe that. It’s much more subtle. The lie becomes that God’s holding out on them; that God didn’t give them everything that they need. Erwin McManus writes, “The serpent, of course, questions the truth of God’s story. He becomes a conflicting voice. He convinces the woman and the man that God isn’t telling them the whole story, that the voice of God isn’t the one who would guide them to life—that he is, in fact, holding out on them, keeping the best for himself.” 

The serpent becomes the first advertiser. 

Look more beautiful—Buy this. 

Be stronger—Drink this. 

Be envied—Wear this. 

Be powerful—Eat this.

According to the serpent, Adam and Eve could finally find that fulfillment, all they had to do was have a little taste of the fruit, the fruit God had told them to refrain from eating. Genesis 3 tells us that Eve believed the serpent, ate the fruit, gave some to Adam, and brought deadly consequences on us all. 

What are these deadly consequences? 

This deadly consequence is believing the lie. The lie that we aren’t who God says we are. That God’s lying to us—we aren’t very good—we aren’t made in the image of God. The lie is believing that somehow we can do something to fill up our life through our own devices to achieve this “very good” ideal that we seek. 

We pick and prod at our faces.

We buy clothes we cannot afford.

We work hard to keep up appearances.

We strive for status and power.

We get rich or die trying. 

I believe that all the brokenness in the world stems from this one lie. I think that this lie is the root of it all. Whether we believe we’re worse than everyone else or better, this is the lie we believe; we’re not who God says we are. One of the first leaders in the church, the Apostle Paul wrote that the “wages of sin is death.” Paul was speaking of the whole fallout from our decisions, thoughts, actions, and words. 

The reason for the fallout? We‘ve rejected God’s truth and declared our own. When we believe we need something other than God’s love and grace, we begin to compensate emotionally, materially, and relationally. Instead of finding worth in the love of God that can never be lost and will never run out, we try and fill that void with perishable things. 

In the shadow of their choices, both Adam and Eve looked and saw they were naked. They tried to do what we all do, cover up what they now believe they are with perishable things. They tried to cover their shame and their guilt and their brokenness with fig leaves.

Just as Adam and Eve hid their brokenness with a fig leaf, something that will eventually decay, so we fill our lives, sometimes even unintentionally, with stuff. This stuff may be physical but often is emotional. The physical items are usually the compensation for our emotional depravity. It’s a longing to compensate in some way. There are times when this can be dangerous to both us and others. Whether it’s dangerous or not, it’s not healthy.

This compensation can be the most popular topic to talk about in church circles. Too often we side on moralism and doing the correct things. All the while we screech from our perch to not do bad things. Our moralism, in the meantime, turns a blind eye to our brokenness that manifests itself in more socially acceptable ways.

That’s the problem!

For most of us, what we try and cover our life with is what is deemed admirable, a  worthwhile pursuit, one might say even responsible. However, when we  allow our morality to define who we are, all we’re doing is trying to compensate for the brokenness we all have. These things should never form our identity, mainly because they’re all perishable. It’s only when we begin to cover ourselves with the imperishable that our identity begins to come into focus.

The Apostle Paul put it like this: “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.” The immortal/imperishable is what Adam and Eve forsook all because of a lie. Ever since we‘ve been trying to compensate for it.

To read the rest grab a copy HERE

Check out the resources used in this post

A season to plant—A season to water, but God

And so the war begins. Maybe war is too strong of a word. There is however a clear distinction between two styles of churches and both think that they know the best way to do it.

Are you an attractional church? Maybe a church you can invite your friends to. After all, the church is the hope of the world. Or perhaps you’re a church that emphasizes the Word? Didn’t Jesus tell us to teach people to obey? Indeed, the Scriptures help reveal to us who God is, and if we can’t recognize who God is in the pantheon of gods, how can we have a relationship with him?

There often appears to be two types of healthy churches out there, churches that are good at planting seeds and ones that water well. Of course, there are the dysfunctional churches that keep seeds to themselves, and there is no water in sight, but that is for another blog.

What I have too often seen is that these two types of churches battle between which is the better/more-biblical model. What ends up is a reciprocal argument. “We want people to feel this is a safe place to discover Jesus.” “Yes, we need to communicate the Good News, but they need to know the whole of Scripture.” “But, you can’t disciple if there are no converts.”

It reminds me of the battle in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses the discord in the church where the people were aligning themselves to one person of the Gospel or the other. The Apostle Paul was travelling around and telling people of the Good News that Jesus has come to be their Saviour. The other guy, Apollos, was in the teaching/discipleship vein. Sound familiar?

The Corinth Church began to argue on which was correct. They found themselves in camps. It is like modern-day people saying, “I’m a disciple of Billy Graham,” and another saying, “I’m a disciple of Wayne Grudem.” Or saying that one group are disciples of Nicky Gumble and another is a disciple of N.T. Wright, and allowing it to destroy the Christian fellowship between them. The argument is silly. They all want to point people to Christ. They do it in different ways and are for different points of the journey.

We have puffed out chests—inflated egos, rather than humility, and wanting to learn from each other. What ends up happening is that we create idols out of style, personality, models, and theology. Instead, we should be looking to God first and have the humility to learn from one another.

The Apostle Paul writes it like this, ” I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” 1 Corinthian 3:6

I don’t care what you have done, what you know, how charming, experienced, or connected you are, unless the Holy Spirit is working, your church will never grow.

Sure, we may be able to get people in a room by our marketing savvy, maybe even be able to close the “back door” with our groups and programs, but God requires more of us. On the flip side, there’s a tendency to be so engrossed in the Word, that we miss what it is saying. We can be so busy learning about what God is that we never enter into the relationship to know who God is—to know His heart.

We have planters. We have waterers. Maybe you are either or depending on the season. However, we must always always always remember that it is God who makes it grow.

Instead of the war of words—the whose doing it better—we need to seek how to learn from each other and accept the challenge from each other to do better in what Christ has called the church to be.

Yesterday I sat in Starbuck’s across the table from a colleague who used to pastor in the same town as me. We talked about ministry. We encouraged each other in where God has called us, and what God has called us to. We did it because we are united in Christ. He, a Reformed Presbyterian, and myself a (some would say more liberal in my theology) Pentecostal. Challenging and encouraging. A hardcore Calvinist and me, a hardcore non-Calvinist.

It’s not about who does what. It is about pointing people to Christ. It is about knowing the heart of God. It’s about being united because we are all a part of the same family, the family of God. Most importantly, it is about having the humility to know that we don’t have it all together and that no matter how good we think we are, God is bigger and greater and is the only one who can bring real lasting, life-changing growth.

New beginnings or same old story?

As a new year has begun, change is in the air. Times of resolutions, new days, breaking old habits, and begin again’s has come. Researchers say that we decide to change something in our lives at the beginning of things. Whether it be Monday’s, the 1st of the month, or the start of the year, each is a time we make conscious changes.

Some set easily attainable goals. While others stretch themselves to reach to the moon, yet, no matter where we fall on the easy vs. hard spectrum of “new year, new us,” many will fail to reach the mark.

Goals/resolutions must be three things.
1. Clear (we must know exactly what it is)
2. They must be attainable (can you realistically achieve it)
3. Must be time-sensitive (When is it going to be done by)

There’s a saying my father always says, “Having no plan is a plan to fail.” As much as I hate to say this, my dad is right. We fail with the “new us” because we have no plan!

If we want to change something about our life, a plan is only the starting point. We also need, in the words of the Beatles, “A little help from our friends.” We all need community and accountability. As the old Italian saying points out,

“The one who drinks alone, chokes.”

If we want to reach our goals and not have a repeat of all the years before, it is a must. Jobs had Wozniak; Bill Gates had Paul Allen; Jesus had the disciples; Apostle Paul had Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy. We need people—people who will support us, people who challenge us, and people who love us no matter if we reach our goal or not.

Most importantly, what we need to kick our new beginning off is discipline. You need to want the new more than the old. Jordan Peterson points out,

You cannot aim yourself at anything if you are completely undisciplined and untutored.”

More acturate words haven’t been spoken. When life gets hard, maybe your progress seems stalled. When you feel like there isn’t a point to continuing, you do. Why? Because of discipline.

Discipline says that despite the adversity you continue on. Discipline says that you push away distractions so that you focus on what is essential.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul talks about being disciplined in our pursuit of Christ.

“Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

1 Cor 9:26-27

While I believe that the pursuit of a life in Christ is most important, this passage conveys the essence of what it means to be disciplined. Intention, discipline, integrity are just a few things we can take away.

New beginnings or the same old story? That’s what we need to ask ourselves, and it’s what we need to decide between. Are we going to accept the comfortable—settle into what we know and have lived thus far? Or are we going to push, push toward the prize? Sure, we might not see the goal happen the way we think, or at all, but in the worlds of Coldplay, “if you never try, you’ll never know…”

As you seek to become new you this year, let’s do so with clarity of what we want to be. Let’s be realistic with what we can attain, deciding when we want it done. Let’s invite others along for the journey and let’s be disciplined knowing that nothing that is worth it comes easy.

Check out the resources used in this post

Living in Exhale

The physical body is a marvel. We have limbs, cells, plasma, ventricles all working together intricately. It truly is amazing.

Throughout the Scriptures, the biblical writers use the body continually as an analogy to describe our spiritual lives. The most popular being the Apostle Paul’s admonition for the church in Corinth to be united and work together just as a body does, in fact, the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12).

Recently I was doing some learning about the human body when I learned something new, which, when it comes to biology, isn’t hard for me to come by. Regarding breathing,

Expiration occurs passively during normal, quiet breathing, requiring no assistance from muscle action.

As one of my friends stated, “This is why it’s so creepy when someone dies—they breathe out.”

What I find very interesting is that when you exercise your body, no-longer is the expiration of air passive, but is active. What is literally effortless during ordinary moments suddenly requires abdominals, internal obliques, serratus posterior, and internal intercostals, which are pulling the rib change down to force the air out.

As I recall how the Scriptures use the body as a metaphor for our spiritual lives, I couldn’t help but think of my patterns of exhaling. I reflected on taking a breather and the differences between the normal pace of my life and the exercise times.

When my spiritual life is in exercise phase I have regular prayer times and spontaneous moments, I’m in the Scriptures, I’m studying, I’m dreaming of what’s next, and I’m diving into relationships in accountable community. I’m working hard. I can feel the growth. The blood is pumping! I can feel the faith sweats of risk and trust. I’m locked in. Within the midst of this pace Sabbath—rest—exhale is hard.

Just as my physical body needs to work, using developed muscles to push the air out, I need spiritual disciplines to force me to exhale. 

It could be easy to buy-in to the idea of a slow pace—no pushing, strive, working hard on our spiritual life. The problem is you never grow. Just as you can’t get stronger, increase lung capacity or stroke volume by sitting on the couch, so it is the same in our spiritual lives.

When I’m at a normal pace, Sabbath is natural. The exhale is effortless. It requires no effort. After all, I’m not pushing, dreaming, falling into regular relationship building with God and others. I sit and get spiritually unfit.

God has not made me to be spiritually unfit. Nor has he made you that way either. 

We were made to be strong and fit. This is the struggle. 

Work too hard; you can have a heart attack. Don’t work at all; you can have a heart attack. We need spiritual disciplines. Bill Hull tells the importance of spiritual disciplines,

Spiritual disciplines are tools that prepare us to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and as it needs to be done.

Hull also points out to us that this isn’t about it always being “go” time. There is a balance within the work.

Jesus practices the disciplines in a healthy and balanced way. We don’t see him have any angst about them. He simply did what met the need of the moment. Some were staples in his spiritual diet, while he only used others on special occasions.

There are times when we need to work those spiritual muscles. Then there are times when we need to stop and take an effortless breath.

Living in the exhale isn’t real life, but neither is always having to work for it.

Let’s take a moment and breathe.

Now, let’s go work for the kingdom knowing that soon we must stop, let our spiritual body rest, and take some effortless breaths.

Check out the resources used in this post