Theology

The Only Identity You Can’t Lose

Who are you?

That’s a broad question. Perhaps a narrower but maybe not easier-to-answer question is, “Where do you primarily find your identity?”

identity

Here are some options:

  • Spouse
  • Parent
  • Career
  • Wealth
  • Status
  • Power
  • Body
  • Sibling
  • Child
  • Achievements
  • Sexuality
  • Freedom
  • Faith

Every person you know fits into one of those categories.

The problem is, almost all of those identities can be taken from you.

Your spouse can pass away or leave you. Your child, parents, and siblings can and most certainly will, one day die. You can lose your job and your wealth overnight. Your status is always in flux, and likely if you lose your spouse, job, or wealth, you’ll lose your status too.

Your power or influence over others will eventually wane and no matter how much you have, you’ll always want more, as with wealth and status. Your body won’t always look the way it does–gravity is undefeated in that battle–no matter what pop up ads and spam emails say.

Your achievements will dim with time and will become less important. A corrupt government or invading force can axe your freedom. Your sexuality, over time, will impress fewer people and fulfill you less and less, especially in the pursuit of “sexual freedom.”

The single thing identity that can’t be pried away is your faith.

Specifically for Christians, our identity is in Christ.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:1

We are permanently united to the person of Jesus through saving faith in him. This foundation is unshakeable. His promise is unbreakable.

Death cannot strip this away.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38–39

Jesus has defeated the final enemy. His victory has already been counted and established.

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
1 Corinthians 15:54

If the Biblical claims and promises of Jesus are true1A big if for many, to be sure. But nevertheless an if worth exploring. it is the only identity worth building your life upon.

But death takes nothing from the one who already has eternal life.

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
John 17:3

Don’t build your life on something uncertain. Don’t live for something that will, in the end, merely fade away. Take hold of the promises that Jesus offers, for death claims everything else.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1.A big if for many, to be sure. But nevertheless an if worth exploring.
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Theology

Finding the Side Door to People’s Hearts

Some people simply aren’t interested in discussing spiritual things.

At least, that’s what it seems.

Last week I was chatting with a student who, from the outside, appeared completely apathetic about spiritual matters. I’d asked him a number of questions and it didn’t seem the conversation was going anywhere, but instead of trying to force something that wasn’t there, I kept asking questions to try to find an opportunity to genuinely connect with him about faith.

And then I asked him, “What do you think about when you’re alone?”

He said, “I’m probably not the guy you want to ask. Lately, I’ve been thinking about what happens after we die.”

Actually, my friend, you’re exactly the person I wanted to ask.


side door

At times, in conversations with friends or family, it seems we have to latch onto any opportunity, no matter how small, because we believe these opportunities come once in a lifetime.

“This is it! This is my one and only chance to tell them that Jesus loves us and that he died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead and offers eternal life to those, and only those, who believe in him by faith!”

That approach, which I’ve taken plenty of times, is like trying to kick down a door at the moment someone opens it up just to peek around the corner and see who is knocking. It’s difficult to recover from the carnage that a kicked-in door brings.

But if God is at work in someone’s heart, I believe he’ll continue to work and move, like a prybar against a stubborn nail–twisting, turning, and loosening–until the tension releases and the board comes free.

Trying to rip up something in one fell swoop that’s been stuck a certain way for years or decades is a frustrating process. But intentionally working at it, easing, nudging, putting pressure in the right places, looking for gaps and opportunities? Well, that’s a process with a greater likelihood of success and a lower chance of frustration, injuries, and broken pieces.

Intentional questions with focused listening are the carpentry-equivalent of a hammer and nails in sharing our faith. Asking and listening are the keys to finding opportunities and side doors to people’s hearts. Often bad experiences and emotional barriers keep people from opening the front door of their hearts to the message of the gospel. Our genuine care and concern as we hear from can show us the path to the unlocked side door.

For some of us, we need patience as we explore alongside these friends, relatives, schoolmates and co-workers. Asking  more questions instead of jumping to sharing our perspective and opinions often reveals root of what they are thinking and feeling.

  • Why are you thinking about that?
  • When did you start asking that?
  • Have you come to any conclusions?
  • What keeps bringing you back to that question?
  • Have you always thought that way? What changed your mind?

We also need to have the courage and boldness to walk through the open door when we find it. When they ask us what we think or when we see a clear opportunity for the gospel, we cannot shy away.

This is an art, not a science. There’s no single formula for number of questions + time spent listening = gospel opportunity. Fortunately, as God has given all Christians his Holy Spirit, we don’t have to figure these things out on our own. As we listen to others, we need to listen to the Spirit and look for opportunities he opens up.


“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”
Ecclesiastes 3:11

God has set eternity into the heart of every single person. Innately, we all know there is a Creator, and there is a hole in our soul that only he can fill.

We have to live in the tension of life being short and fleeting, and knowing also that every person’s journey toward Jesus is a process–some much longer than others. We must pray and ask for wisdom, boldness, open hearts, and open door.

I’m finding that people are more spiritually open than they may appear at first. It’s just not the front door that’s unlocked.

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Theology

Crying for the Father’s Help

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After a mere three weeks, I’m already going to the well of fatherhood for spiritual analogies.

Our daughter has made the transition to parenthood incredibly easy for us–she only cries when something is wrong–90% of the time it means her diaper is dirty or she’s hungry, which are also the only times I cry.

baby

The thing is, as she’s crying and one of us is holding her and getting ready to alleviate her hunger or discomfort, she often starts sobbing uncontrollably. We’re ready to meet her needs, we know what’s wrong, but she doesn’t have the awareness yet to understand she just needs to wait a few more seconds.

“I know, sweetie. I know what you need. Your crying can’t speed up the process any more and your flailing is actually making this more difficult than it needs to be. Just trust me, I’m working on it. I’m here.”

I say those things (sometimes not so patiently, and many times, surely, she doesn’t hear me at all over her wailing) but it doesn’t help yet.

One day it will. One day she’ll have a better understanding, a greater and deeper trust. She’ll realize that she doesn’t need to cry harder or longer or louder. She just needs to trust her father and let him do what he can but she can’t at that moment.

The Father is in control. He knows what he is doing. We may cry and scream and say we can’t take it any more, but we’re in His hands and He has not left us. His job is caring for us, our job is trusting Him to care for us.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
–Matthew 7:11

We who are evil still know how to love and care for our children. We want to give them good things, and at the very least we want to ease their pain and comfort them. How much more does the Father in heaven desire to do that for us!

Cry, sure. Make your need known. He asks us to do that. But losing control because our need hasn’t been met yet and flailing about thinking that will make it better won’t fix it.

Present the need. Call to the Father. Ask for His help. And then let Him do what only He can do.

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Theology

Experiencing the Warmth of the Word

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It’s not hard to warm up in the summer.

In fact, if you’re in a part of the world where air temperatures exceed body temperatures, you do everything you can to stay cool.

But in the fall and spring and you see glorious sunlight through streaming through your window, it seems to be as warm as a summer day.

Wooden sunlight

When you head outside, however, you quickly find yourself deceived. The air is cooler than you anticipated and the sun isn’t quite as toasty as you hoped.

But even on those days, if you can stand the coolness long enough, you begin to warm up. You feel the rays. Warmth slowly soaks into your pores.

You can’t rush the process. You can’t make the sun warm you up any faster. But if you give it time, it happens. But there is no substitue for time–it’s the only way to truly feel the warmth.

Spending time reading the Bible is exactly the same. It is the Word of God. It warms us as it reveals who God is and who we are in light of him.

I often want to feel the warmth instantly. To see God revealed quickly. I want a microwave-type heat instead of the slow warmth that the Word offers.

But God’s word is meant to be taken slowly. To be meditated on. We must let it warm us up. We can’t rush it. We can’t force it to elicit warmth that can only be felt by dwelling in it, mulling it over, dawdling with the Father.

I know this is true. I’ve experienced this truth. And yet I still open the Word and expect instant warmth.

Just as the sun’s warmth is (essentially) always the same, so too is the Word always the same. It’s our environment and orientation that changes how it feels as we come in contact with it.

Come and rest in the Word. Take it slowly. The effects will come. It can’t help but change us as we approach it with reverence and expectation as the Holy Spirit works.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
–Hebrews 4:12

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Theology

Washing the Outside, Ignoring the Inside

I just took our car in for preventative maintenance–an oil change, a few filters swapped, a new belt, checking brake pads, a thorough overview that I can’t do on my own.

Our car isn’t new, but when I wash it and clean it, it looks really nice. But no matter how much attention I pay to the body of the car, it won’t change the way the engine runs. It can look great on the outside and be a complete mess under the hood. No number of car washes can make the car run correctly. So diagnostics and maintenance are required.

The same goes for our health. People can look fit and trim, have impressively-low body fat and still have cancer or any number of destructive internal diseases that can’t be diagnosed by a mere outward glance. So medical checkups are necessary.

washing

Everything may appear just fine from the outside. Our kids can be well-behaved, our smiles plastered on in every picture, but simultaneously relationships can be full of bitterness, debt piling up, and sin eating away from the inside out. A soul checkup is in order.

Jesus summed this all up quite nicely in response to a Pharisee’s question about hand washing and ritual cleanliness.

“You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.”
–Matthew 23:26

No amount of exterior cleaning can fix the cleaning that needs to take place inside. No amount of behavior modification can do away with the consequences of sin. No exterior manipulation will take care of the inner problem.

Things may appear fine on the outside, but the inside is what matters. A shiny car with a broken engine is of no use.

We need to seek a checkup with the Lord, to ask him to examine our hearts, to put them in the right place. We need forgiveness of sins no amount of going to church or leading Bible studies can fix. We need to drink deeply from the well of forgiveness of Jesus Christ for our internal self to be made right with God.

Don’t just polish the outside of the cup. Go deeper, check the inside, because that’s what really matters.

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