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.

Glory Exchange

Blue_angels I had the privilege of witnessing power and supersonic speed up close this past weekend as we had "front row" seats to a local air show to see the Blue Angels perform mind numbing feats of aerodynamic greatness!  I was literally shaken to my core as these beautiful blue jets screamed past my face followed by a delayed ear-crunching roar!  There was one time in particular when one of the jets stealthily
flew over my head throwing my body into an involuntary "curly shuffle"
to the amusement of family and friends! This was indeed the closest I
had ever stood to such imposing physical energy. I was not only seeing and hearing this awesome display, I was
feeling it a spiritual way!

It was only later when I began to ponder my own feelings of
astonishment that a self
examining question arose.  Why am I amazed with these 6 Boeing F/A-18
Hornet Jets? Why does their death-teasing 700 mph maneuvers
seemingly awaken a part of my soul? Is it because of the ingenuity of
the men who engineered these marvelous machines?  Is it due to the
skill and expertise of the pilots who push the limits and operate them
in unified precision?  I concluded that while the
visible evidence precipitates an engagement of the senses, there is an
invisible reality that serves as the fountainhead of endless
affections;  An inate urge to deeply admire what is perceived as glorious. The same can be said of our enjoyment as we gaze upon the
glories of snow capped mountains, vast canyons, and
massive star fields.  Ironically, the same joy equally enthralls as
we're hypnotized by the melodic coos of newborns.  Simply stated, glory is the stimulus for worship.

I suspect much of the crowd this weekend walked
away attributing glory to great engineering, masterful
piloting or great human ingenuity. Still, I wonder how many
considered the natural laws in place that inspired
men to build flying machines in the first place? I wonder how many
marveled at the ingenuity of a Creator who designed the universe in such
a way that finite beings would constantly strive to tame it's inherent dangers? 
Would these flying machine amaze us so much if there
was no gravity to defy?  I concluded that while I stood in awe of these
powerful machines, I was even more awe-inspired by the God who created
a universe that begs its inhabitants to challenge its perilous
wonders!   This doesn't imply there is no measure of glory in the
finite for
even a reflection of glory is glorious in itself. 

But what happens when these affections focus on the reflection?  If the plane crashes, if the mountain crumbles, and if the baby
dies, then the affections for these beauties either die with them or
continue in postmortem pursuit.  This is because affections appropriate to the infinite were never meant to terminate in the finite. Instead, the finite is designed purposefully as a sheer reflection of
what is infinitely glorious!  It would be absurd if not tragic to prefer
a photograph of a jet to a seat near the runway.  To trade in the magnificent depths and dimensions of 12 ton
jets flying over you for a mere 2D gaze would be a self-inflicted
swindle of a deal!  Likewise, to exchange the glory of God for finite images is both tragic and absurd.

Flip a coin

8408TwoFaceAs a fan of the Batman movie franchise, I'm reminded of one of my favorite villains, Two-Face.  Originally a moral hero and combatant of crime, Harvey Dent suffered a horrible fate when half of his face was burned off.  As a result, he was not only left with a badly scarred face, but a loss of sanity as his mental instability caused him to waver between good and evil. In an effort to settle his indecision, he carried a coin in his pocket that was scratched on one side, and pristine on the other from which all of his decisions, good and bad, derived.  Whenever a situation presented itself, he would flip the coin.  If it landed on the marred side, he would commit the crime, and if it landed on the shiny side, he would refrain from the offense.   Interestingly, the fate of the coin flip did not have any affect on the very character of Two-face.  No matter which side came up, he was still a demented threat to society because it takes only one crime to make a man a criminal regardless of all the right decisions he makes along the way.

The natural man faces a similar dilemma in the pursuit of goodness. Likewise, he carries a coin defined by the two sides of legalism and moralism.  The legalistic side is scarred perhaps because his soul has been crushed not only by its excess of human requirement, but also an accompanying attitude that enjoys it!  Although he is already naturally blinded to the glory of Christ, he is tragically driven deeper into darkness by the venomous spirit of legalism.  Superstition seems to be his disposition as the "things he wears" and the "places he goes" equate to the broken mirrors and black cats of divine acceptance.

By grace alone, he will wake up and escape from this satanic philosophy, but in an unwitting attempt to run and never look back, the moralistic side of the coin inevitably appears which is usually preceded by a season of liberation.  Indeed, in his desire to be freed from legalism, he goes to great lengths to decontaminate himself as he engages in the activities once considered iillegal.  One thing is for sure, he has no intention of going back to the dark side of the coin again!  Eventually at the end of short-lived freedom he will be entranced by the allure of the shiny side of the coin.  It's moralistic identity assures a kinder and gentler human striving. It doesn't focus as much on impermissible action but rather on pragmatic action.  It preaches the need to reach his human potential as opposed to a lingering of human failures.  This philosophy often proceeds (behind the guise of Christianity) with a technique for goodness, but ultimately it is proved to be mere human endeavor and the result is not unlike that of legalism! Why?  Because moralism and legalism are just different sides of the same coin!  Legalism promises acceptance through rule-keeping while moralism promises self-improvement through pragmatism.  Both in stark contrast to biblical Christianity, legalism views the Bible as a rule book while moralism uses the Bible as a handbook. However, the damning effect is not attributed to either side of the coin, but to the coin itself! For no matter where the coin lands after it is cast, the exertion is innately human, and until then it remains deep-seated in the pocket of human raiment. 

Conversely, the Gospel is a completely different coin where divine revelation is rendered from both sides.  First there is the revelation of our spiritual non-existence that is the sheer human inability to achieve divine goodness. By it, we are informed of our corrupted nature with which we have no chance apart from grace to cause our own existence.   Just as an infant cannot bring about the cause of his own conception, we are not the cause of our own spiritual birth!   The other side of the coin affords us a glimpse of the Glory of Christ displayed predominately on the Cross.  Together, the two sides illumined by the Holy Spirit give us true spiritual sight!  When you begin to really "see" the glory of Christ against the backdrop of the ruined human soul the Gospel increases in focus, igniting faith, and leads to genuine goodness!