Identify!

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There are times when we don’t quite believe who God says we are. But that never changes who we are or the plans He has for us.

There are even times when we put a lot of energy into making excuses and explaining to God why we aren’t who He says we are. But that doesn’t change anything either.

Case in point: Exodus chapter 3.

A man named Moses finds himself in a conversation with God, who informs him that he, Moses, will be the one to go bring the Israelites out of Egypt. He is going to be the voice that frees six hundred thousand men and their families from slavery.

Moses’ response?

  • “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh…” (3:11)
  • “[But] If I come to the people of Israel …and they ask me ‘who sent you?’ what do I say then?” (3: 13, paraphrased)
  • “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice…” (4:1)
  • “I have never been eloquent…I am slow of speech and of tongue.” (4:10)
  • “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” (4:13)

With each comment, God continues to explain how He has chosen Moses, how He will influence the Israelites to listen to Moses, how He will enable Moses to handle whatever is ahead, how He will display His power through Moses, how He defines who Moses is and He has decided Moses is the man for the job.

But Moses responds with more excuses. Moses simply refused to buy it. He was sure he was a nobody, and that the best place for him was right where he was, in obscurity taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep.

So finally, in 4:14-16 God essentially says “Fine. Your brother Aaron will go with you and he’ll do the talking. Does that make you happy?” (My personal interpretation, of course…I’m pretty sure none of that was in the original Hebrew text.)

But here’s the rub  – pay close attention now – because if you read through the next 9 chapters of Exodus, in all the interactions that took place with Pharaoh, not once do you read “And Aaron said unto Pharaoh…

The only place we see Aaron taking the lead is when they first talk to the Israelites (4:30). From there on out, Moses is the point man.

To me, this is significant, because it is one of the starkest examples in scripture of what Bob Perdue and others refer to as the concept of the true self.  It says “You are who God says you are, not necessarily who you think you are.”

As much as we try to hedge and detour and deflect and make excuses, God knows who we really are. He knows because He defines who we really are.

Our maneuvering, our excuses, our doubts, what we think we’re capable of or not capable of – none of that trumps what God planned from the beginning of time.

Our mistakes, our past, our faults or failures – none of that disqualifies us from what God planned from the beginning of time.

The Creator of the universe, designated you for a purpose and then designed you to meet that purpose.

Trust Him, you’ll find that the person he designed you to be is exactly what brings deep fulfillment, more so than your highest personal aspirations. (I’m pretty sure that in the end Moses knew that what he accomplished was a whole lot more fulfilling than another 40 years of tending sheep).

So stop making excuses and believe who God says you are.

He knows what He’s talking about.

 

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Commend

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“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8 KJV

It’s not often I prefer the King James Version for study, or launch from it in my blog posts. I love its poetic prose and rich imagery, but versions written in today’s vernacular make it much easier for us to grasp the concepts and intentions of the text, in my opinion. (No intent to launch a firestorm with that comment – I know there are passionate opinions on both sides of the KJV fence…so I’ll move on quickly).

Something in this verse jumped out at me recently, though, and the word that struck me is one that is only used in the KJV – “commend”. Most modern day translations render the verse “God demonstrates…” (NASB, NIV, NKJV) or “God shows…” (ESV) or “God proves…” (HCSB) “…His love for us.” These are all good words. But let me spend a few minutes on why I think “commend” is so much richer.

Dictionary.com defines “commend” as “to entrust; give in charge; deliver with confidence.”

God “delivered with confidence” His love to us. Not any confidence based on our ability to carry it out. But confidence because of who He is and because of His ability and determination to carry through (see Philippians 1:6).

How should that change my life? That God would ‘entrust’ His love to me? He didn’t give it to take it back. He didn’t give it to ‘see how this works out.’ He didn’t give it with reservation or hesitation. He entrusted it to me! He ‘gave it in charge’ to me! He ‘delivered it with confidence’! He gave it with the full intent of my possessing it for eternity!

What a terrific word! How rich that one word makes this promise. How could I ever take advantage of or dismiss such a commitment?

And what freedom! Knowing that God not only offers His love but commends it – this symbolizes a commitment that allows me to live in total freedom, knowing that He has full confidence in me and my ability to possess (and share) His love.

There is no obligation or striving, because it is based completely on Him and not on me in the slightest. His faithfulness and His promise and His work in the person of Jesus Christ make it so – not my ability to earn it or to maintain some level of worthiness.

So no matter what my weaknesses, what my failings, what level of ugliness I might see in myself – God commended His love to me with no take-backs or do-overs. He demonstrated it (to tie it all back to the word used in other translations) before I ever had a chance to prove my worth.

Because our worth is in who He has determined us to be.

Let that sink in.

Let it become part of how you see yourself.

Let it become who you are.

And live free!

Named!

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Your name is who you are. It’s that unique combination of words that encompasses your identity.

A couple months ago, I had a birthday. My wife and our Sunday night small group surprised me with a cake. Inscribed on the cake were the words – wait for it, you’ll never see this one coming – “Happy Birthday Doug!”

(We won’t go into the other décor on the cake such as the number 50 or the little rocking chair that was perched atop it – they’re a real humorous bunch, that group).

About three days later, while getting a cup of coffee, I decided to have a sliver of cake. As I opened the box and looked at the remnants inside, I noticed all that remained was the piece that my name had been written on. My name was wholly intact, but everything else was gone.

In that moment, God whispered, “I’ve kept your name intact. Not the name you’ve striven for. Not the name you tried to build for yourself. Not the name you thought you had established. But the name I gave you.”

And I knew it was true. Through the trials and the turmoil, bad decisions and their consequences, hurt I caused, hurt others caused, gossip, rumors, temptations, struggles, failures, exposed ugliness…through it all God had kept my name intact.

But the important thing is which name He preserved.

You see, God isn’t interested in the name we build for ourselves. He’s interested in the name He has given us.

The Doug who was striving to be significant through credentials and performance was not actually the Doug that God had blessed since the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).

The Doug who caved in to temptation, hurt people, and sank into the mire of guilt and shame over those failures was not the Doug He had known before He formed me in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5, Galatians 1:15).

Even the Doug that tried to serve and encourage and counsel as a pastor was not the Doug that He declared to have plans for (Jeremiah 29:11).

Those Dougs may have at times been living out some aspects of the Doug God created, but it wasn’t him.

That was someone trying to build the labels that he thought necessary to make him valuable.  But the truth is God had already declared him valuable!

Stop for a moment and think about where you are today. Are you striving to check boxes so that you can be the person you think God wants? Are you working your tail off so that you can somehow attain acceptance with God and make a name for yourself?

If so, stop! God gave you a name before you ever entered this world. You don’t have to make a name for yourself, because the name that is important is already firmly a part of you. Each of us is already “complete in Him” (Colossians 2:10). Live out of your true name.

Or, are you carrying around labels resulting from past failures? Are you allowing your inner voice, or accusations of others, to define who you are? Are you resigned to thinking that you have to live the life of an addict or loser or convict because of your past?

If so, enough! Those failures were certainly not part of God’s plan for you. But that doesn’t mean they change who you really are in God’s eyes. Don’t get caught up in thinking that failure inevitably leads to continued failure. Live out of your true name.

No matter what you have done. No matter what others have done to you. No matter how wildly successful or miserably unsuccessful you think you’ve been, your true God-given name has not been enhanced or tainted one iota. He has preserved it just as He intended, and will continue to do so.

Put all those false self-imposed or others-imposed names behind you and live out your true name. Live redeemed!

What Lies Within

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“Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  2 Timothy 1:6-7

Each of us has a gift – a message to carry to others about what God has done for us. But often it lies dormant because we don’t make the conscious effort to stir it up and put it to use.  Fear causes us to bury it or hold it back.

Sometimes that fear is the result of guilt and shame, feeling we’re unworthy or disqualified.  

Sometimes it’s due to doubt and low self-worth, a certainty that nobody really wants to hear anything we have to contribute.

Sometimes there’s just a feeling of inadequacy, that we don’t have the skills or talents to properly deliver our message. 

And sometimes it is the fear of others – what will they think or say? Will they think less or differently of me? Will my boldness stir up anger or resentment, or blow the fragile lid off of latent bitterness and unforgiveness? Will people make assumptions about my motives?

But God does not intend for that gift to be stagnant and neutralized by fear, no matter what form it takes.  As Paul encouraged Timothy, we are also urged to “stir up the gift of God which is in” us, because “God has not given us a spirit of fear.”  Whatever the source of that fear – guilt, shame, doubt, feelings of inadequacy or inferiority, potential reactions of others – it is not from God.

So what does God give us?  

Power to live larger than our flaws and failures.  With the aid of His Holy Spirit, we have the power to blast through any barriers that will rise before us.  The power to cling to the truth of our real identity in Him, throwing off the labels and the doubts, whatever their source.

Love, the only attribute against which nothing can stand.  Hatred (including self-hatred), doubt (including self-doubt), gossip, lies, labels, accusations, unforgiveness, anger, bitterness…whatever tends to reinforce our chains – all these things eventually crumble in the face of love. Read 1 Corinthians 13 and 1 John 4:18. There is nothing in the universe stronger than love.

A sound mind that isn’t riddled with insecurities, hesitancy, or negative labels.  One that knows what He intends for us and steps forward in that knowledge, regardless of what the world or those negative voices inside our heads may think or say. A mind that is renewed (Romans 12:1-2) and confident (Philippians 1:6). 

This is how God intends us to live. Living out the message He has placed within.

Don’t allow your gift to lie dormant any longer. Don’t let the Enemy or anyone else convince you that you are not useful or valid. You are that and so much more – you are a vital part of God’s plan.

 

Use and Care Instructions – When Not to Follow the Label

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Labels are damaging. Labels are self-fulfilling. Labels are a tool of the Enemy. Labels undermine us at our very core. All this is true, insightful, compelling…and completely useless, unless you know what to do about the labels.

What are we to do with the labels? Merely knowing they exist does nothing to pry us from their grip. Action is required for freedom to be attained.

First, we need to identify them. You have to have something concrete at which to take aim. And the best way to identify labels? Simple….listen.

When you make a mistake, what is the first thing you hear from yourself?

What thought goes through your mind? Often that knee-jerk initial thought is something that goes by without much notice, so stop and pay close attention.

What do you hear yourself saying outwardly? Self-deprecating humor usually holds more truth than humor. Muttering “I’m sorry, I’m such a dummy. ha ha ha” can usually be simplified down to “I’m a dummy”. Look at it for what it is.

Self-talk is where your labels become most evident, but you have to be listening. Because it can be hard to recognize. But just because we don’t recognize it, that doesn’t mean it has no effect on us. It has a deep effect on how we think, act, make decisions, and relate.

Second, once we identify the labels, we replace those labels with truth. Who does Jesus say that you are? Does God say I’m a dummy? No, He says “that in every thing [I am] enriched by Him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge” (1 Cor 1:5).

This is a simple example. Our labels are usually much more complex. But complexity doesn’t change the face of them.

Here’s a suggestion:

Carry a small notebook with you through the day. When you recognize a label, write it down on the top of a page. You don’t have to do anything with it on the spot, just write it down, and leave a few pages blank for later.

Then, when you have time, try to write down what caused you to think that way. What thought processes helped form that label? What assumptions did you make? Writing these things down helps you to think through the underlying patterns that form the label, and in many cases those underlying thoughts, assumptions and patterns will look much different on paper than they sounded in your head.

Now turn the page and write down what the truth is. Write down anything that comes to you about the things you just wrote on the previous page. If an assumption looks silly now that it’s on paper, write that down. If a thought process that seemed rock solid in your mind dissipates into mist on paper, make note of it. Pray and listen to what God has to say about the label. If scripture passages come to mind, write those down. This is essentially a brain-dump. Write freely. No one has to see this but you, so write what comes up.

In time, you can go back and look at these exercises, and focus on the truth pages. Replacing inaccurate labels is a matter of practice.

This is one suggestion, something else may work better for you.

But regardless, when it comes to labels, we need to put the status quo behind us. Don’t keep plodding through life letting negative labels define you. You’re better than those things. I know you are. God says so!

Nothing to Prove

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    I have two dogs.  An 85-pound Black Lab and a 17-pound Jack Russel Terrier.   

    Shadow, the Labrador, has nothing to prove.  She doesn’t get worked up about much of anything.  If we pass a barking dog while we’re out walking, she doesn’t feel the need to respond.  She may stop and stare for a minute, but then will just move on leisurely.  As we’re walking, she is content to mosey along at her pace, with no ambitions to take the lead.  Shadow is secure in her ‘doghood’ and doesn’t feel like she needs to prove anything to anybody.  The other day while we were out walking a poodle got loose, ran up, and began to jump and nip near Shadow’s ear.  Shadow stopped walking and waited patiently until the other dog’s owner came and got her.  No attempt to  nip back, protect herself, or establish dominance.

    Maggie, the Jack Russel Terrier, on the other hand, is a little Napoleon with a major ‘alpha dog’ complex.  She retorts at any animal that dares be vocal toward her.  She has to be in the lead and will literally choke herself pulling on the leash until she secures the forward position.  It’s always a competition with Maggie, and she has to be winning.  Maggie has everything to prove.

    As my wife and I walked the dogs the other day, amused at this dynamic, it occurred to me how representative that is of our freedom in Christ. 

    When we are striving and working in an attempt to gain freedom, we are like little Maggie.  We are relentlessly putting one foot in front of the other, responding aggressively to every threat, straining against the chains to get in front of the pack.

    Contrast that to when we are resting in Christ and relying on what He says: “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).  When we trust Him at His word, we no longer have anything to prove.  

    Just take a moment to review Ephesians chapter 1: Jesus says you are blessed (1:3), chosen (1:4), without blame (1:4), adopted as a son/daughter (1:5), accepted in the Beloved (1:6), redeemed (1:7), forgiven (1:7).  He says He is the guarantor of our inheritance (1:14), and backing us up is the power that raised Christ from the dead (1:19,20).  With all of that on our side, why should we ever feel the need to prove ourselves to anyone on this earth?

    So when the ankle-biters of life run up on you – whether they be poodles or accusers or gossips or Pharisees, or your own guilt and shame – you don’t have to push back.  Rest in Him and know that we are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).