The Unnecessary Search

I’m convinced that Satan’s weapon of mass destruction against humanity is this. “Search for your own identity.” It started in Genesis didn’t it? Adam and Eve were secure in their Imago Dei. They really knew nothing else.  And they were completely immersed in unfettered peace and joy. They were the brightest of all God-created gems. There’s a reason He created them after he created everything else. Everything else, and that includes Everest, the oceans, the Amazon, the mighty and majestic beasts of the field, the universe, the micro-universe, were all created first so that this Diamond known as humanity could discover and cultivate the aforementioned to the glory of the Creator.  Another inference to the magnificence of humanity was that God actually “got down in the dirt” and molded man to His likeness whereas everything prior was “spoken” into existence.  And to create woman, God once again bypassed the spoken Word and with His mighty hand extracted a rib from man and inexplicably formed another human being even more beautiful than the first one.

The fact that God created humanity in this extra-special and personal manner should not be lost on any of us. It was a foreshadowing of a time thousands of years later when He, once again, got “down in the dirt” and by His shed blood rendered Satan’s WMD powerless forever!

Post-Eden, all of Biblical history leading up to and including the now has been a recycling of the same old tired story. It is a human genealogy of men trading their Imago Dei for something infinitely less valuable. Adam’s son Cain searched for his identity in the works of his hands. I can almost hear him proclaiming to anyone who would listen, “I’m Cain the hard-working farmer, see what I grew!”  How about Esau? He actually sold his identity for a bowl of stew! King Saul worked so hard to preserve his, that he went on a manhunt to exterminate the Davidic line. David, a man after God’s heart, managed to credit himself for God’s victories by creating for himself his own identity of a powerful King who could take anything or anyone he so pleased!

It would be easy to travel through the rest of the Bible and cherry pick more examples, but instead let’s look at more contemporary examples. What about the professional athlete who finds his identity in being a star and somehow manages to have no money left when he retires? What about the rock star who buys into the hype of thousands of screaming 12-year-old girls and snorts his way to an early grave? What about the intellectual who has found his identity in Atheism and deduces that the way to ignore your created image is to ignore the Creator?

So, you’re thinking, “What about normal people like me? I’m not a rocker, movie star, or pro quarterback. I’m just plodding through life trying to raise a family and earn a living to support them.

I would beg you to ask yourself the question? Would you be able to stand on firm ground if things were taken away from you? If you lost a child, if your spouse left you, if your company downsized and left you flipping burgers, if you worked with your hands and they were amputated in an accident, if you were an honor student with multiple degrees and you find out you have a brain tumor?

If you answer any of these questions with answers like, “I couldn’t go on, I wouldn’t want to live, I would end up in a mental hospital” then it’s probable that you have made these things, mind you, blessings from God, the identity that you are pursuing at any cost.

Life is a delicate balance. God has blessed us with life, good health, family, talents, skills, intellect, and a whole slew of gifts, but for what purpose? Why did God give Adam and Eve a paradise?

It certainly wasn’t so they would seek their own identities, which essentially meant leaving paradise. That’s the thing; the bowl of stew they chose drove them from paradise! It drove them from the One who made Eden a paradise. God Himself!

I just turned 45 last month, and my journey has not been much different from those in the Bible or those who walk the earth now. I have worked like hell to peddle my identity to the highest bidder. As someone who has played music since age 5, I tried to find my identity in being a musician. I had dreams of being famous, rich, successful, and powerful, and all this, because God blessed me with a gift.

That’s what Satan has done for centuries as he entices you with the very gifts that God bestows. He tries to convince you that God gave them to you for your glory and not his. He tries to convince you that your gifts will make you a god and that God doesn’t like that. There’s always a little bit of truth swirled into his lies. Yes, God doesn’t want us to be “gods”, but it’s not because He’s some petty, jealous human like we are, but it’s because there is only one God and He’s it! God being God IS our identity!  God being God is our paradise!  God is the context where all of our gifts and talents should be cultivated! In effect, God is our Eden.

Here is my mantra for 2012, and while I expect to get off track like I always do, I am really praying to God to rest on this for the coming year.  These words come from Eric Mason, pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He said “Whatever talent or gift has been affirmed as yours, hone it, study it, fuel it with bible and gospel and unleash it for God’s glory!”

If you are a musician like me, don’t let “musician” be your identity. If you are a stay-at-home mom, don’t let that high calling be what defines you. If you are an athlete, teacher, civil servant, minister, CEO, burger-flipper, ditch-digger, whatever, don’t allow the allure of these callings replace your Imago Dei.

All of our good gifts come from above and can be taken away, and in fact will be. The only thing that has a chance to remain standing is our identity, provided we haven’t traded it away for a bowl of stew.

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What I don’t know CAN hurt me!

IgnorantCancer is frightening!   It's often been said that the mere mention of the word in the context of a doctor's visit will sap the strength of the patient in knee-buckling fashion.  Why does the word have such a fearful effect?  The answer is simple if not obvious. It's because of knowledge.  It's because of the knowledge that informs us that this deadly disease has taken the lives of friends and family, and because we know about the destructive nature of cancer cells on the body.  A diagnosis of cancer strikes fear in us because our mortality is presented to us in an untimely and inhospitable manner, and because we know it breeds fear in the minds of our worried families.  The diagnosis of cancer is a knowledge I pray never to possess, yet it is one I need to possess if ever I am stricken by the disease.

The Remedy

Cancer is one of the many difficulties of our physical world!  But it also provides a striking parallel to the great difficulty of the spiritual world, namely the disease of sin.

The fundamental difference between cancer and sin is simple.  Not everyone will be diagnosed with cancer, but every living human has been already been diagnosed with the spiritual disease of sin.  (Romans 5:12 Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death
through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned; Romans 3:23 "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God")

The similarities, however, are astounding.  Both destroy life, usually in incremental stages, and can exist undetected for long periods of time.  They also have remedies with one major difference.  The treatments for cancer don't always work, but the remedy for sin is guaranteed and unfailing!  Cancer treatment usually consists of strong doses of chemicals or radiation, whereas the treatment for sin is an application of the Gospel!   Interestingly, knowledge is the common denominator in this parallel.  You have no chance to defeat cancer without applying the methods of treatment.  Moreover, you will not accept the treatment without some basis of knowledge to its effectiveness.  For example, if someone told you the way to get rid of your cancer was by sticking your finger in a light socket, you certainly wouldn't follow their advice.  Why?  Because there is no basis of knowledge to support such a crazy theory!  If there were, Oncologists everywhere would be writing prescriptions for electrocution to their patients.  Instead, thousands of people each year are submitting to chemotherapy and radiation as proven methods of fighting cancer. Why?  Because there is a basis of knowledge to support their limited but proven effectiveness. 

The same is true of the Gospel!  The Gospel is knowledge, more specifically, "good news".  It is truly a miraculous reality that this knowledge is God's prescribed means to cure sin and all its hopelessness!  Let me be careful to note that is not just "any" knowledge! It is Gospel Knowledge!  

Where's the Knowledge?

In the past 200 years, the Bible has been relegated by the western world as "lacking knowledge" while science and mathematics are viewed as reliable sources of knowledge.  In our postmodern world, Christianity is considered one of many options in determining  how to live your life, but not as the basis of knowledge for how everyone should live their lives!

What if the medical community adopted this stance of knowledge? What if published medical journals heralded the freedoms of choosing any method of treatment you prefer to fight cancer, even if it did involve light sockets!  As thousands died because the treatment they preferred didn't work, there would be an uprising in this country to revolutionize the practice of medicine with a demand for a real basis of knowledge in the treatment of diseases!   Why? Because knowledge is essential to everything whether it be physical or spiritual.

Reclaiming Knowledge

As the church, we have retreated from our right standing as truth bearers when we separate faith from knowledge as if they were opposites. Actually, there is no such thing as faith apart from knowledge.  Although the Bible tells us that faith "is in that which is unseen", it never extracts knowledge from the equation.  While it is true that we have to exercise faith without knowing all the specifics involved, it is still based on a knowledge that God is who He has revealed Himself to be, and that we are not who we would like to be.   When the scriptures tell us that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God", it is proclaiming the necessity of knowledge.  In other words, you can not have faith, much less a faith to overcome sin, unless you receive knowledge, namely, the Gospel! While the medical community would never sit put while thousands of people tried to cure their own cancer with their own preferred treatments, the church should not remain silent about what the gospel is and its necessity for the healing of the soul!   The lost are telling us that their lives would be better if we would just help them with their immediate felt needs, and we are obliging them by giving them what they prefer, not what they need.  We think we are loving them, but in fact we are not.  Perhaps driven by our need to eradicate legalistic approaches to evangelism, we have thrown the baby out with the bath water.  Like the western world, with our actions and even our words, we have proclaimed that truth is relative and we can not be depended upon as a reliable source of knowledge!  Does knowledge puff up? Yes!  So let's get rid of the pride, not the knowledge!

Deep beneath the surface, the world has rejected the gospel not because its failure as a reliable source of knowledge.  It is because a gospel accepted as knowledge, is one that must be submitted to!  (We see this evidenced in Islamic nations which recognize the Koran as the basis of knowledge and they respond accordingly.  Their whole way of life, though misguided, is a result in their perception of their religion as a reliable basis of knowledge.) 

The best way to evade submission to truth, as the world has demonstrated, is to discredit the source of truth.  This is certainly seen in the way of politics with the use of mud-slinging and thorough investigations of the private affairs of politicians.  In the political arena, if a man or woman can be made to look incompetent or immoral, then great damage is done to any truth they represent.  Likewise Christianity has been demoted from its once  authoritative perch of knowledge to a lower realm of entertainment, hobbies, and philosophies which are by nature subjective. 

In response to this demotion, has the church to some degree ceased to be truth-bearers (light and salt)?  In our zeal to attract unbelievers, have we have hidden the knowledge (Gospel) from those who need it? Have we have actually hidden the knowledge of the gospel in our attempts to soften it which ends up being a powerless gospel or no gospel at all? 

The Treatment Hurts then Heals

When it comes to cancer,  it's often been said that the treatment is worse than the disease, but the implication is that one feels sicker from the effects of the treatment than from the actual invasion or metastasizing.  In reality, if the treatments were worse than the disease, then no one would seek treatment.  We have seen cases where people refuse treatment because of its nauseating effects and tragically underestimate the seriousness of the disease.  Essentially, they have refused to act accordingly to the proven knowledge that various treatments can often eradicate cancer or send it into remission.

The intended natural effects of the knowledge of the Gospel will make us feel worse than the actual sickness of sin which is itself pleasurable for a season.  When we receive this dose of knowledge, we are sapped of our strength as our hearts buckle beneath the weighty revelation of our fatal condition, but then a remedy is offered in another dose of knowledge!  This gospel remedies our condition with the revelation that God has accepted us on the basis of Christ's righteousness!  Our malignancy turns benign in relation to the wrath of God and although we need lifelong gospel treatments of tumor shrinking, we rest in the knowledge that God has redeemed us and restored us to eternal wholeness!

The Spirit of Legalism

I’m not going to worry about writing a grammatically perfect blog post. I’m not going to sweat out the form too much. I’m just going to blurt out what I have on my mind. I am a legalist.

Pharisee
I'm not going to worry about writing a grammatically perfect blog post.  I'm not going to sweat out the form too much. I'm just going to blurt out what I have on my mind.   I am a legalist.  And here's the part you're not going to like too much.  You also are a legalist.  Obviously, this is going to be a post for Christians because the unbelieving world will have no idea what I am referring to, albeit they're legalists too. They just don't know it yet.  They will read this and think I'm talking about courtrooms and lawyers.  For that matter, there is probably a great segment of Christianity that will not know what I'm talking about either. 

Legalism is a term I came to know late in my teenage years although I can't pinpoint the event or place I first heard it.  What I did learn quickly was that I was surrounded by legalism.  I was, in fact, immersed in it.  My mind was legalistically saturated like a chicken leg in Crisco!  I came to understand that to be legalistic meant to be "rules driven".  Even though salvation was preached as a free gift of God, you found out after you "get saved" that apparently it wasn't free after all.  Now after you make a decision and get baptized, you are required to jump through hoops of fiery legalism one after the other until the end of time or eternity, whichever lasts longer.  When I tell friends of mine who didn't experience this growing up that these hoops were things like hair cut above the ears, prohibition of movie theaters, no drinking (don't even let it touch yer lips!!) no slacks for women,  no mixed "bathing" (they meant swimming, but somehow it turned into a bath…yucch!) and certainly no dancing of any kind and  Oh, no card playing either, not even gin rummy, they stare at me like a statue.

Thank God for the truth of His Word that teaches that I am not morally capable to meet God's standard of holiness! Thank God that He made so clear that there is nothing I can do to earn His love!  It is by Grace that I am being saved through faith!   It's not due to my self-righteousness, but his righteousness transferred to my account that I am considered in right standing with my Creator! 

In my zeal to run as fast I could from legalism the past 20 plus years, I really thought I was making headway.   What I failed to realize was that I was becoming a legalism legalist!  In other words, escape from legalism became my religion!  Distancing myself from the self-righteousness of my past resulted in another form of self-righteousness!

What I've come to realize in my journey, is that legalism comes in many forms.  There's legalism in every religion and denomination.  Case in point, there are churches who are anti-religion so they become non-denominational, but in reality have become their own denomination. "Non-denom" has become their "denomination".  How silly! 

There are many forms of legalism, yet one spirit that drives them.  It is the human spirit.  When you get down to it, legalism is really superstition.  Superstition is the idea that good things or bad things happen to you because of external circumstances like a broken mirror, a black cat and/or human actions like crossing your fingers or carrying a rabbit's foot.  

By nature, we think that external circumstances like illness, tragedy, natural disasters are indicators of our own personal lack of Godliness.  We also naturally think that there is somethng we can do in our own power to earn God's pleasure such as church activity, moral behavior, or good citizenship.  As Christians we are quick to dismiss this because we all believe the Bible about these things.  Yet, our actions indicate otherwise.  This is how the Pharisees lived.  They viewed lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, women, and children as spiritually destitute.  Their cup was clean on the outside and a toilet inside according to Jesus.  That is true of all of us.  Our natural selves are unflushed toilets that need a good scrubbing!  (there are legalists who don't like that I said toilet)

As I search the scriptures, I have found only one solution to the human dilemma of legalism.  It is painfully simple.  Receive.  Receive Grace from God.  Receive the gift of His righteousness!  Receive the preached Word of God! Receive receive receive!  Don't do anything.  Just sit down and trust Christ to serve You!  Christianity is not driven by Christians serving God.  It is driven by God serving us!  Sounds selfish doesn't it?  Don't hear me wrong, God is not our butler.  In reality, it is more self-serving and dishonoring to God when we reject His gift.  Since Eden, mankind has been rejecting infinite joy and choosing self serving emptiness!  This is the highest offense to God imaginable.  Imagine, choosing an apple over the creator! 

Be careful when you become a fugitive of legalism.  It might be the very spirit of legalism that sustains your fleeting steps.