Sunday, May 31, 2015

Your Identity: Who You Are Not, and Who You Are

Mad Max - captive in a wasteland of identity dissolution
Linda and I are in New Jersey this weekend speaking to a wonderful group of friends on the matters of personal identity - what is the nature of personhood? Who am I, and who are you?

I presented the atheistic alternative, which is, briefly: a person is a purely physical thing, which means a material thing with no immaterial properties such as "mind," "soul," "free will," and "moral values." (Physical things, as physical, are not value-laden.)

Philosopher J. P. Moreland writes: “For the physicalist, I am merely a functioning brain and central nervous system enclosed in a physical body. I am a material substance characterized completely by physical properties and in which occur merely physical events, a creature made of matter—nothing more, nothing less.” (Moreland, The Soul: How we Know It's Real and Why It Matters)

The Christian theistic worldview on personhood is this:

You are a creation of God, in the image and likeness of God. You share spiritual characteristics with God, things like personality, intelligence, and free will. You are made for relationship with God. You have been given authority to rule on behalf of God (Genesis 1:26). You are made to reflect the glory of God (Psalm 8:5).


John Walton defines “image” as “a physical manifestation of divine (or royal) essence that bears the function of that which it represents; this gives the image-bearer the capacity to reflect the attributes [such as love, faithfulness, justice, and wisdom] of the one represented and act on his behalf.” (Walton, Genesis, 131) John Goldingay says that “God is a different league of person from us, but God is a person like us, not an abstract force or a principle. So despite the huge difference, Genesis says we are made in God’s image. You as a human being are the kind of thing God would be if God were earthly. 

You have a soul. (See Moreland, op. cit.; and see A Brief History of the Soul, by Stuart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro.)

As a follower of Jesus, your status is "in Christ."

You are a God-created, soulish, embodied, "in Christ" person. This means there are some things you are not

You are not what you doTo define yourself by what you do is to live on a spiritual and emotional roller coaster that is a function of your accomplishments. Your identity does not depend on what you have accomplished. Your productivity does not define you. Your worth is not the same as your usefulness. (From Henri Nouwen)

You are not what you have. Do not define yourself by your stuff. Because when you lose any of it you will slip into the indentityless darkness.

You are not what other people think of you. If people think well of you, say thank you. If people think ill of you, pray for them. But  do not go up and down and in and out on the basis of others' affirmation and disaffirmation. Refuse to let other people define you.

YOU ARE WHAT GOD THINKS OF YOU. Period. Case closed. Colossians 1:27 says: To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. When you understand this in your heart three things happen.

  1. You are set free from the punishing of the hierarchical honor-shame systems of your surrounding culture.
  2. You are free from the striving that happens on the ladder of the honor-shame hierarchy.
  3. You are free to love others.
I look at our culture and see a massive identity crisis. What once was a normal period of human development is now Western humanity's sad, seemingly permanent condition. The good news for me is that when God found me I also found my true self, who and what I am, and who and what I have been made for. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Jesus Prayed (PrayerLife)

The Mount of Olives, Jerusalem


Jesus prayed.

I am a disciple of Jesus. I am a Jesus-follower.

Therefore, I pray.

Using the logic of modus ponens:

1. If I am a follower of Jesus, then I pray because Jesus prayed.
2. I am a follower of Jesus.
3. Therefore, I have a prayer life.

Did Jesus "take time" to pray? This is not the way to talk about Jesus and praying. If prayer is talking with God about what the prayee and God are doing together, then "prayer" is a lifestyle of ongoing conversation with God. This entails getting alone with God - just you and God - and conversing.

Jesus prayed out of relationship with God. Prayer is relationship with God, just as ongoing communication with my wife Linda is the relationship. Prayer is a conversation with God.

In Scripture we see that...

a.   Jesus “was often found in prayer, not merely on formal and public occasions, i.e. when attending the synagogue, but informally and in private contexts, sometimes in lonely places.” (N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 149)

b.   Jesus spent time in solitude. Jesus began his ministry by spending 40 days alone in solitude (Mt. 4:1-11).


c.    Before choosing the 12 Jesus spent the entire night alone in the desert hills (Lk. 6:12).

d.   When he heard of John the Baptist's death Jesus "withdrew from there in a boat to a lonely place apart" (Mt. 14:13).


e.   After feeding the 5000 he dismissed the crowd and "went up into the hills by himself" (Mt. 14:23).


f.     After a long night of work, "in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place" (Mk. 6:31).


g.    After healing a leper, Jesus "often withdrew to the wilderness and prayed" (Lk. 5:16).


h.   Before his time on the cross he went alone to the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt. 26:36-46).

If our Lord took times of solitary prayer out of his own need to be in conversation with the Father, should we do any less?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Boredom (Merton on...)

"The modern American is kept in terror of boredom and unfulfillment because he is constantly being reminded of their imminence - in order that he may be induced to do something that will exorcise him for the next half hour. Then the terror will rise up again and he will have to buy something else, or turn another switch, or open another bottle, or swallow another pill, or stick himself with a needle in order to keep from collapsing." (Thomas Merton, Contemplation In a World of Action)

Boredom as Anomie


"Boredom" is not having nothing to do; "boredom" is finding no meaning in what you are doing.


A person works for hours at a job and the clock drips down the wall like a Salvador Dali painting. One student sits in class bored out of her skull while another student is fully engaged and time flies by.


I live in a land where there are more things to do than ever and yet many are bored out of their minds. Evidence for cultural boredom is seen in things like: the inability to be still; non-reflective capacity; the Facebook Nation and its many games; oxymoronish appeals that couple money, sex, and power; the mass marketing of diversions; the loss of true happiness (see Aristotle [eudaimonia], and J.P. Moreland); "church" as entertainment of the masses [Thou shalt not bore the people!]; and Kierkegaardian herds of wandering norm-less amoralists entertaining one another with their boredom-fueled evil.


Anomie: a personal condition resulting from a lack of norms. 

Sociologist Emile Durkheim wrote"The state of anomie is impossible whenever interdependent organs are sufficiently in contact and sufficiently extensive. If they are close to each other, they are readily aware, in every situation, of the need which they have of one-another, and consequently they have an active and permanent feeling of mutual dependence." "Durkheim defined the term anomie as a condition where social and/or moral norms are confused, unclear, or simply not present. Durkheim felt that this lack of norms--or preaccepted limits on behavior in a society--led to deviant behavior."


Anomie = Lack of Regulation / Breakdown of Norms (Ib.)


The bored person lacks life-meaning. The meaning of "meaning" is: fitness within a context. The reason we don't get a joke is that we fail to understand the context. Where there is no context there is no joy. The bored person is out of touch.


Some "churches" have lots of stuff going on yet are boring. Why? They've lost their sense of fitness in the context of the Grand Narrative. THE MOVEMENT is not boring.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Importance and Power of Knowing Our Identity in Christ - Conference in New Jersey



This coming Fri-Sat-Sun I'll be near Newark, NJ speaking at a conference on "The Importance and Power of Knowing Our Identity in Christ."

Where: Stelton Baptist Church, Edison, New Jersey

I’ll be preaching and teaching on:

Fri. night, May 29 – “You Have a Soul and Have Been Created in God’s Image.” 7 PM.
-          
Saturday morning, May 30 – Workshop: “What Transformation Into Christlikeness Looks Like.” 9:30-11 AM.
-         
Saturday night, May 30 – “The Importance and Power of Knowing Who I Am in Christ” 7 PM.
-          
Sunday Morning, May 31 – “How to Life a Life of Meaning and Purpose” 11 AM.
-         
Sunday night, May 31 – “How to Be Set Free from Self-Condemnation”  7 PM.

Contact: Pastor Louis Ao, 732-985-1484  
Stelton Baptist Church
334 Plainfield Avenue
Edison, New Jersey

Deeper Bible Study: Revelation, Daniel, and Ezekiel




HELLO EVERYONE!

Deeper Bible Study (DBS) is something I've started with people in our Redeemer Church family. 

Purposes: 

  • to more fully engage our people in study of the Bible.
  • to prepare people to hear the biblical texts preached on Sunday mornings.
  • to provide guides to study the Bible more deeply.

This coming Sunday Pastor Joe Atkinson will preach on Revelation Chapter 4 - the great throne room scene (the entire chapter). The following Sunday morning, June 7, I will preach again on Rev. 4. Joe and I are coordinating this. 

For Revelation 4:

  1. Copy the chapter and carry it with you. Read it slowly, over and over.
  2. The commentaries I am referring to in preaching through Revelation are found here.
  3. How to use Google books to study Revelation is found here

Summer DBS Study - the Books of Daniel and Ezekiel

Welcome to those of you who will be studying these books with me who are from outside our church!

I'm going to begin my Daniel-Ezekiel studies beginning June 8. (This weekend I'm speaking in New Jersey, and then Linda and I will be taking a week of vacation - back June 6.)

My way of doing this will be:

  1. Read through the book of Daniel, slowly.
  2. I'll keep a "Daniel Journal," recording thoughts, insights, and questions that come to me.
  3. I've purchased one commentary for my studies: The NIV Application Commentary: Daniel, by Tremper Longman. 
  4. I'll use Google books for further studies as needed.
  5. I will especially look at verses in Daniel that form a background for understanding Revelation better.
  6. I'll make posts on my blog and send you teaching and other insights I have about Daniel.
  7. If you are in the Monroe area I'm going to host 2 or 3 get-togethers to look at Daniel, and then at Ezekiel.

The commentary I'll be using to study Ezekiel is: The NIV Application Commentary: Ezekiel, by Iain Duguid.

I'm so glad you will be studying these biblical books with me this summer!

Please send any thoughts or comments or questions you have as we go through this.

Blessings,

John

P.S. - If you want to do this with me send me an email at: johnpiippo@msn.com

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Friends as Signposts Pointing to God

Bike trail up the hill at Munson Park, Monroe

Les and Leslie Parrott teach us that: "If you try to find intimacy with another person before achieving a sense of identity on your own, all your relationships become an attempt to complete yourself." Two relationship lies are:

1. I need this person to be complete.

2. If this person needs me, I'll be complete.

- From Real Relationships, Chapter 1, by Les and Leslie Parrott.

"It is only when we no longer compulsively need someone that we can have a real relationship with them."
- Anthony Storr, in Ib.


Henri Nouwen echoes this when he writes: "The power of friendship is great if it doesn’t find all its meaning in itself." (Nouwen, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, p. 72) People who expect too much from each other can do each other harm. "Disappointment and bitterness can overpower love and even replace it." (Ib.)

But, "friends may be guides who see what we may not be able to see ourselves/" (Ib.) A good friend is not God, but can function as a signpost pointing towards God. This is about two basic truths:

  • I cannot change people, and people cannot change me.
  • God can use me to influence people towards him, as God has used certain people to influence me towards him.
I often thank God for those people he has placed in my life, through whom he has effected needed change in me.

Prayer, Presence, and Absence (PrayerLife)

Monday, May 25, 2015

Remembering (Combating Spiritual Alzheimer's)

Del & Linda

Linda's mother suffered from Alzheimer's Disease for many years. This horrible illness caused her to slowly lose her memory. One result of her memory loss was an increase of fear.

One afternoon Linda, her mother Martha, her father Del, and I were shopping in a mall. At one point Linda and Del left for an hour to shop together while I stayed with Martha. We sat together for a minute and then she looked at me, her eyes filled with panic, and asked "Where's Del?!"

"He's shopping with Linda. He'll be right back," I responded.

This put Martha at ease. But only for a few minutes. Forgetting what I had just said, Martha looked at me again and asked, "Where's Del?"

"He's with Linda. He'll be right back."

This happened several times in an hour, with Martha forgetting, me reminding her, she calming down, then forgetting and filled with fear, asking "Where's Del?", and me reminding her again. Martha not only had forgotten what I said to her, but she had forgotten a more basic truth, which was: in Del she had a husband who would never, ever leave her or forsake her. He was always by her side, Alzheimer's or not.

There is a "spiritual Alzheimer's disease" which results in forgetting the many times God has rescued and delivered us, provided for us, and been with us. Such forgetting breeds fear. The more one forgets the deeds of God in one's own life, the more one becomes fearful in the present moment.

The antidote to this is: remembering.

"Remembering" is huge in the Old Testament. The post-Exodus experience of Israel is grounded in remembtance. The Jewish festivals are remember-events, such as Passover, when the head of the household sits with his family and asks, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" In response the past is recounted, how God delivered their people out of bondage in Egypt. This remembering, which reminds them of God's past faithfulness, brings fresh hope.

My spiritual journal functions as the written memory of the voice and deeds of God in my life. I take time every year to re-ponder my journals. In doing so I remember what God has done for me, how he has delivered me from bondage, and how he answered many prayers. I re-read of past times when I was afraid, or worried, and then re-read how God came through and my worry dissipated.

I do not, I will not, forget the deeds of the Lord in my life. The spiritual discipline of remembering brings renewed hope in the present, defeating the onset of spiritual Alzheimer's disease.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Praying on the "Thank God Ledge" (PrayerLife)

Several years ago I watched a "60 Minutes" segment that fully engaged me. I dvr-ed it and showed it to several people. It was on rock climber Alex Honnold's "free solo" of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

Half Dome is a nearly vertical 2000-foot sheer granite wall. Alex climbs it... without the assistance of ropes or harness. It's just him, his hands, and his tennis shoes. It made me nervous watching him, even though I knew he survived. The shots of him clinging to the wall, with the trees and river a half mile below him, are astounding.

No one else in the world has done this. Perhaps no one else can. Alex's focus is amazing! One cannot help but think: one mistake and you are dead. No second chance. It's either perfection and completeness or total failure. This sport is unforgiving. To conquer Half Dome you have to be perfect.

Nine-tenths of the way up Half Dome there is a place climbers call "Thank God Ledge." This ledge is a 35-foot-long ramp that is anywhere from 5 to 12 inches wide. If a climber can get himself on this ledge he can jam his fingers into small cracks in the wall and "take a break." "Thank God Ledge" is a place of relief. It's a slim moment of mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

Alex Honnold on
Thank God Ledge
Fortunately, when it comes to God, it's all about forgiveness, mercy, and grace. In Matthew 18 we read: "Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."" (vv. 21-22) Which means: we just keep on forgiving other people when they fail and when they fall. Why? Because we have been forgiven. Of much. Paul writes, in Colossians 3:13: "Forgive as you have been forgiven."

Thank God that he is forgiving! His forgiveness is not narrow. God's love is wide. Back in the 70s I wrote a song called "How Many Times?" The words go: "How many times we all fall down, broken and bent by the wind. How many times His love comes down, lifts us up again." In the forgiveness of the Cross God has placed us on "Thank God Ledge." When we experience his forgiveness we are lifted up to this place of beauty and rest. It is a place of restoration and healing. When experienced and understood, it provokes praise. When we forgive others we invite them to join us in this place. Unforgiveness lets people fall to their destruction. Forgiveness rescues.

In the Cross of Christ you have been conquered by God.

There's plenty of room on Thank God Ledge. Pray there.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dr. John Piippo - "Hearing God: The Distinction between Discernment and ...





With American Baptist Pastors of Pennsylvania and Delaware.

"Servant Leadership Emerges from the Presence-Driven Chu...





With American Baptist Pastors of Pennsylvania and Delaware.

"Leading the Presence-Driven Church" 4/16/15





With American Baptist Pastors of Pennsylvania and Delaware.

"Prayer and Healing" 04/18/15





With American Baptist Pastors of Pennsylvania and Delaware. 

Living In the Presence of God Is the Greater Call

Climbing a dune at Warren Dunes State Park, Michigan
When Henri Nouwen met Mother Teresa he asked for advice concerning his spiritual distractions and temptations. Nouwen described his "unique complications" and gave "elaborate explanations" of the trials of his life. After listening to him Mother Teresa responded: "Well, when you spend one hour a day adoring your Lord and never do anything which you know to be wrong you will be fine!"

This answer startled Nouwen. He had expected her to diagnose him. Instead, she pointed him into God's presence. Nouwen writes:

"She knew that even if I better understood my distractions and problems, something else remained: a call to live closer to the heart of God. At first her answer didn’t seem to fit my questions, but then I began to see that her answer came from God’s place of healing and not from the place of my complaints. Getting answers to my questions is not the goal of the spiritual life. Living in the presence of God is the greater call. The gift of discernment is the ability to hear and see from God’s perspective and to offer that wisdom from above to others. Truly, God spoke to me through the mouth of Mother Teresa. She called me back to the discipline of prayer and being in God’s presence, which is the starting and ending place out of which guidance emerges." (Nouwen, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, p. 67)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Deeper Bible Study - Study the Biblical Text with Me


We were at the Tigers game last night.

I have over 100 Redeemer adults (and some from other churches - thank you!) doing Deeper Bible study with me. They receive the text I'm going to preach on for the coming Sunday. Plus notes on what I am doing, how I am doing it, and so on as I prepare to preach the text. I want to point them in a direction and not do the research for them.

If you want to join me in Deeper Bible Study email me at: johnpiippo@msn.com.

My Revelation sermons can be accessed here. You can see how I have integrated my studies into my sermons. And occasionally someone else in our church preaches. We mentor people to preach, and to do it this way.

PLUS: I will be studying the biblical books of Daniel and Ezekiel this summer, since they are key texts to help understand Revelation. I will be sending DBS participants notes and thoughts and resources, and we'll have three group meetings to discuss these books. And in the fall we will do an entire class on the book of Isaiah.

HOW I AM PREPARING
Here’s how I am preparing, today, for next Sunday.
1.   I’ll print these verses out (Revelation 3:14-22) and carry them with me. I’ll pull them out and read and re-read. If I have a thought or a question, I’ll write it down.
2.   Occasionally, I read – again – the entire book of Revelation. This is good to do to give me the broader context. In interpreting the Bible (or anything for that matter) context is necessary.
3. I turn to biblical commentaries on Revelation. As in anything, some commentaries are better than others. The Revelation commentaries I am especially looking at are by Ben WitheringtonN.T. Wright , Robert Mounce, Grant Osborne, George Beale, Craig Keener, Gordon Fee, George Ladd, and Eugene Peterson. You can see all these at amazon.com. You can access major sections of each at Google books. 


JOIN ME
Here are my suggestions for you, this week:
1.   Read the verses. If possible, over and over. Perhaps carry them with you on a 3X5 card.
2.   If there is something you do not understand, this is where you will want to do some study.
3.   This week, at least once, read the entire book of Revelation.
4.   Try pulling up one of the Revelation commentaries using Google Books.

RESOURCES
I use biblegateway.com to pull up the text. It’s easy to look at other translations on this website.
I mostly use the NIV translation. I really like what Eugene Peterson has given us in The Message.
One excellent study tool I use is Google Books. It’s free! 

When I use Google Books to look up biblical commentaries, I do this, for example:
1.   Pull up Google.
2.   Type in, e.g., “Revelation Laodicea" (because these are two of the key words).
3.   Click on “More”
4.   Click on “Books”
5.   Then, a number of commentaries appear. Some are definitely better than others!

Relationships Class - Boundaries,a Bibliography, and One More Meeting on Dating and Marriage





Hello everyone who was in our Relationships class at Redeemer. Linda and I are so thankful you have been in our class!


Here are few things I want to share with you.




  • The video we showed on "boundaries" is above.
  • Linda and I will lead one more Relationships session. When: Sunday, June 14, 6 PM. We will talk about and teach the second half of the Real Relationships book - On Dating and Marriage. read Chapters 6-7-8-9 ("Falling in Love Without Losing Your Mind"; "Sex, Lies, and the Great Escape": "Breaking Up Without Falling Apart"; and "Relating to God without Feeling Phony"). Please feel free to invite anyone to this special session.
Here are five of the best books on Relationships we have found. If you want to continue to grow in your relationship abilities read these, slowly.





Monday, May 18, 2015

Why Heartless Worldviews Fail




I have asked my MCCC philosophy students (60-100 per semester), over a period of 15 years, the question: "How many of you have heard of Richard Dawkins?" One student in 30 has responded yes. A slightly larger percent say they used to be Christians but have become atheists. Maybe 2 or 3 out of 30 say this. 

When my students are presented with logical, philosophical (and essentially non-religious) arguments for or against the existence of God, at least 50% say they are interested. Their interest is evident in the classroom discussions and interaction. A small percentage of my students, as a result of taking my classes, have converted from atheism to theism. (I estimate 5 out of 30 students do this; and probably slightly more.)

So I think students are interested in rational argumentation about God's existence. Virtually none of them have ever thought this way before.

For my students, as well as for humanity in general (and even myself), experience is more persuasive and needed than argument. Christian theists like myself should make a case for our beliefs. I do think God can encounter an irreligious person through sound argumentation. (Like, e.g., we see in Acts 17.) But experience is  very, very powerful, and should not only not be relegated as veridically inferior to reason but as epistemologically essential. Experience, not theory, breeds conviction. (I think it is ultimately impossible and misleading to separate "reason" and "experience.")

Terry Eagelton, in Culture and the Death of God, writes:

"Hegel notes in the Phenomenology of Mind that the abiding concern of the Enlightenment is the battle against religion - although he also insists that since religious faith has in any case been reduced to propositional status, as a body of theoretical knowledge or science of the deity, it has grown every bit as impoverished as the rationalism which lays siege to it." (Eagelton, Culture and the Death of God, 4) 

One reason (perhaps the reason) my students have never heard of Richard Dawkins or his worldview siblings is because his rationalism (so-called) is experientially vapid.

One reason some of my students have left Christianity (so they say, and well may have) is because their experience of "church" is as a head without a heart. Unless church captures people from the neck down we'll find more leaving. And, BTW, they'll eventually be leaving their newfound unbelief for the same reason. (Some, like Julian Barnes and John Gray (following Nietzsche, to Nietzsche's credit), have attempted to write about the experience of godlessness.)

Stripped-Down Worship (The Presence-Driven Church)

My back yard
David Platt writes: “What if we take away the cool music and the cushioned chairs? What if the screens are gone and the stage is no longer decorated? What if the air conditioning is off and the comforts are removed? Would His Word still be enough for his people to come together?”  (Radical)

In some churches it might not be. When all is stripped away, who would simply come?

How in the world did the early church make it, being not only without awesome media but lacking funds for whatever the latest pre-flannel-graph technology was?

The answer would be: the early church thrived because God was with them. They had God and His presence and His power and His voice and His love and His guidance and His correction and His grace and mercy, experientially

This is stripped-down worship, the heart inside the body, the core within the container, the engine in the framework, the software mediated via the hard drive.

It's Monday morning and the sanctuary is empty. I'm at home and it's quiet.

When the music fades,
and all is stripped away,
and I simply come.
Matt Redman



Saturday, May 16, 2015

5 Things the Church Must Do to Reverse Declining Christianity in America

Mike Luckovich  Copyright 2015 Creators Syndicate


Here are 5 Things the Church Must Do to reverse declining Christianity in America.

1. Preach the Biblical Text.

Forget about trying to make people happy, or relaxed, or comfortable. (See here, e.g.)

2. Tap into Power.

Major in two biblical words: dunamis (power) and exousia (authority). Culture these. (Like this.)

3. Lead people into The Presence of God.

Think like Moses here: "Unless Your presence goes with us, we're not moving." (See here.)

4.  Teach Apologetics as Spiritual Warfare. Help people know why they believe what they believe. Watch, e.g., this

5. Form Community around 1-4. This is something the "nones" will never have. Community does not form around what people don't believe in. See this, e.g. And read this. No one in history has formed community better than Christianity has.


Friday, May 15, 2015

The Relationship Between Praying and Discernment (PrayerLife)

A petal landed in a gallon of paint
If I want to know what my wife Linda is thinking I have to spend time with her, and spend it in a certain way. We have to communicate with each other. We have to share what is on our minds, and we have to listen. Without this there will be no mutual understanding; hence, no discernment.

The same applies to the God-relationship. Henri Nouwen writes:

"To want to know God's plan and purpose without regular prayer and engagement with scripture and God's people is like trying to bake a cake without assembling the various ingredients. Discernment grows out of the life of faith rooted in community." (Nouwen, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, K 15%)

What does God want? To know this:

1. Pray regularly.
2. Engage with scripture.
3. Engage in community.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Find Your True Identity


Sometimes I look at American culture and see a massive identity crisis, corporately and individually.

As a kid in the 60s I was in love with Elvis. I wanted the Elvis gene in me. One day I took an Elvis album cover into the bathroom, propped it up against the mirror, and began working on my image. I tried to get my hair to look just like Elvis's hair. Elvis would often curl his lip up in a kind of sneer. I wanted that for myself, so I practiced the Elvis lip curl. 

After my self-makeover I went out of the house, through my back yard, straight to my friend John's home. I was feeling good about myself! I was feeling Elvis-ish. I was Elvis. I am Elvis. When John saw me he said, without hesitation, "So you're trying to look like Elvis again?" I had hoped he would mistake me for Elvis. I wanted some shock and awe props! My facade was penetrated, my image-bubble had burst.

Today, many years later, I find myself not wanting to be like anyone else and discovering it to be freedom. I do want to be like Christ, but not like you (even if you are Elvis). I want Christ to be formed in me. (Galatians 4:19) God has spoken through many people to influence me. But this makes me want to be more like Jesus. Other people are not my hope of glory. Christ is.

 When I started off in college I was planning to be a metallurgical engineer. I headed in this direction because my high school counselor said it would be something I could do. And, I did like science. Here is something I know about metal. If you have a block of solid metal you can test its integrity. "Integrity," in metallurgical engineering, means that a block of metal is the same at point A as it is at point B as it is at point Z. If at any point the metal lacks integrity, it will crack when pressure is applied. "Integrity" means: "as of one piece." This is the idea of consistencyI want a life of greater integrity. I want my being to be "of one piece," and that piece is Christ.

If Christ has every part of me, then I have integrity. My life will have consistency as my life consists of Christ. When life's pressures squeeze I will remain firm and unyielding, even content, no matter the circumstances. But if, when under pressure, I crumble, it is at that point that I lack the influence of Christ, hence a lack of integrity. 

If Christ grips every piece of my being then I am Christlike when no one is around, Christlike in my home, Christlike in the work place, Christlike at the worship service, Christlike in the bathroom, and Christlike when invading the darkness. Jesus wasn't someone different when the crowds weren't around, right? Jesus didn't wear a Christ-mask.

Thomas Merton, in Raids on the Unspeakable, wrote: "If we take our vulnerable shell to be our true identity, if we think our mask is our true face, we will protect it with fabrications even at the cost of violating our own truth." 

It took some time for me to realize that, not only is Elvis not my true identity, no one is. My identity is found in Christ. Christ has made his home in me. Christ indwells me. I will allow Christ to be formed in me today. And be free.