Where Do I Fit In?

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S (Scripture): Psalms 107

17 

Some of the redeemed were fools because of their sinful ways.

    They suffered because of their wickedness.

18 

They had absolutely no appetite for food;

    they had arrived at death’s gates.

19 

So they cried out to the Lord in their distress,

    and God saved them from their desperate circumstances.

20 

God gave the order and healed them;

    he rescued them from their pit.

21 

Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love

    and his wondrous works for all people.

22 

Let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices

    and declare what God has done in songs of joy!

O (Observation): The Israelites have suffered – at times – not because of what God did to them, but because they failed to live in wholeness within themselves, towards their neighbors, and with God. These failures bring about a situation in which people become desperate and lose hope.

Yet, in God, the people re-discover a hope that endures. God heals. God helps them to re-discover their purpose in this world. That mission then drives them onward and to pass on the faith from generation to generation.

A (Application): We all want to know answers to these questions (which I most recently re-discovered via Fuller Youth Institute’s research-based book: Growing Young).

  • Who am I?
  • Where do I fit in?
  • Why am I here?

These are questions of Identity, Belonging, and Purpose. Today’s psalm helps us to explore these questions a bit.

Who am I? A redeemed sinner.

Where do I fit in? Amongst people who give thanks.

What is my purpose? To declare the Good Work that God has done.

Explore these questions today.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me to see You in my day. Amen.

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Who Am I?

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S (Scripture): Romans 11:16 But if part of a batch of dough is offered to God as holy, the whole batch of dough is holy too. If a root is holy, the branches will be holy too. 17 If some of the branches were broken off, and you were a wild olive branch, and you were grafted in among the other branches and shared the root that produces the rich oil of the olive tree, 18 then don’t brag like you’re better than the other branches. If you do brag, be careful: it’s not you that sustains the root, but it’s the root that sustains you.

O (Observation): Paul speaks to Gentile Christians in a way that assured them that they, too (in addition to the Jewish Christians), received salvation in full. Any who believe in Christ are saved.

At the same time, they should not boast of their salvation as if they earned it for themselves. They are a branch grafted into salvation. The root sustains the branch.

A (Application): How many of us think we sustain ourselves? Don’t we just need to dig down deep inside ourselves to feel happy? To feel like we are enough?

I struggle with self-worth. To what is my identity tied?

Here are some suggestions of the “root” that Paul mentions…which point to my (and your) self-worth:

  • Child of God
  • Seal of the Holy Spirit on my forehead in my baptism.
  • Candle to remind me to shine God’s light before others
  • Luke 15 – the older brother (“everything I have is yours”)

In what ways do you sense your identity for the good?

P (Prayer): God, remind me that I am yours…and that is enough…for you are Good! Amen.

May I See Some ID, Please 

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S (Scripture): Psalm 103

6 The Lord works righteousness;
does justice for all who are oppressed.
7 God made his ways known to Moses;
made his deeds known to the Israelites.
8 The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
very patient, and full of faithful love.
9 God won’t always play the judge;
he won’t be angry forever.
10 He doesn’t deal with us according to our sin
or repay us according to our wrongdoing,
11 because as high as heaven is above the earth,
that’s how large God’s faithful love is for those who honor him.

O (Observation):  God’s promise of justice and mercy is not empty.  Moses is proof that God’s people will not be abandoned.  Jesus Christ crucified and risen is proof that God’s people will not be abandoned.  

A (Application): God’s justice and mercy are dealt with compassion. God’s desire is not to punish us. Our identity is not in our sinfulness, but rather in God who is holy and who redeems us.  We are God’s forgiven sinners.   That is our identity. 

P (Prayer):  God, remind us that we are yours!  Amen. 

Through Faith Alone

S (Scripture): Romans 4:13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would inherit the world was not fulfilled through the law, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if they become heirs by the law, faith is empty and the promise is nullified…20 He did not waver in unbelief about the promise of God but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God. 21 He was fully convinced that what God promised he was also able to do. 22 So indeed it was credited to Abraham as righteousness.

23 But the statement it was credited to him was not written only for Abraham’s sake, 24 but also for our sake, to whom it will be credited, those who believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was given over because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our justification.

O (Observation):  Paul is starting to dig a bit deeper into the identity of the Jewish people.  Over time, they have become convinced that the works of the Law made them who they were: God’s people.  

Paul is helping them to see that Abraham’s faith in God was not a work of the law, but rather, came about as a gift of faith that originated in God, and thus allowed Abraham to believe at all. Salvation came to Abraham NOT because he performed a “good work” by believing.   Rather, seeing the blessing available to him and Sarah, he responded to the blessing by actually believing in the blessings to come.  

Salvation came to Abraham OUTSIDE OF his own doing.   He recognized that, and ONLY THROUGH FAITH APART FROM THE LAW did Abraham believe.   

Faith was the key to Abraham’s salvation and blessing.  The same goes for those who believe in  the one who raised our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.  Paul tells the Jewish Christians in Rome:  just as Jews credited faith in God with Abraham as a model of faith, so too is the opportunity available for ALL to believe that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, apart from any understanding in the Law or Jewish customs.  

In other words, Gentile Christians have just as much opportunity to be a part of the Church as Jewish Christians.  

A (Application):  I have learned from Mike Breen’s book on discipleship, Building a Discipling Culture, that our identity as Christians stems not from our work towards God, but in God claiming us and bestowing faith upon us.  (This is illustrated in the triangle picture above.). Once that identity in God is established, then we are able to do the work that God calls us to do.   The summation of this, found in Breen’s book is this:  God >> Identity >> Obedience; God is the originator of our identity, which leads to our confidence to be obedient to do God’s work (albeit imperfectly).  

Here is how lots of people express faith in a way that says we earn God’s grace.  Notice how it is the opposite of Breen’s (and Scripture’s) suggestion:

Obedience leads to >> Identity as God’s children >> which then grants us access to God.  

This breaks down when you think about all of the times that we slip up, like when we are angry at someone and speak ill of someone or when we blatantly sin in any way (we’ve all done this, unfortunately).   In this sense, we are always exhausting ourselves to stay in God’s good graces.  Yet this is not the way that the Scriptures describe our relationship with God.  

Rather, God claims us, gathers us, enlightens us, and makes us holy, in order that we might then fulfill God’s will by doing God’s deeds on earth.  The way of God looks like this:

God claims us >> that we might be indentified as God’s children >> that we might be obedient to do God’s deeds.   

Abraham was chosen by God.  Abraham knew (through faith alone) that God would bless him and Sarah and that he and Sarah would be a blessing to others.   Then God brought about righteousness through Abraham’s lineage.  

May we know that God has chosen us and that God can choose to help anyone believe…even those who might not look and act like us…who might not speak our language…who might live a different part of the world.   

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see that the path to you is by faith alone.  Amen. 

What You Own is not Who You Are


S (Scripture): Luke 12:13 Then someone from the crowd said to [Jesus], “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But Jesus said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator between you two?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out and guard yourself from all types of greed, because one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 He then told them a parable: “The land of a certain rich man produced an abundant crop, 17 so he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to myself, “You have plenty of goods stored up for many years; relax, eat, drink, celebrate!”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded back from you, but who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 So it is with the one who stores up riches for himself, but is not rich toward God.”

O (Observation):  This is one of those rare cases were Jesus gives us a certain theological point and then tells us a parable to illustrate that point.

Jesus warns this man (who wants a share of the inheritance) about letting greed get the better of him…that his abundance of goods should not distract him from the beauty and the joy of being “rich toward God.”

The drive for more crops shows how this person in the parable turns completely inward…letting the ego run wild.  Notice all of the first person pronouns?  

And what does the person in the parable have to show for all of his crops, once he dies?  Nothing.  He can’t take it with him.  

A (Application):  Just yesterday, I was driving to the church building and the car in front of me had a bumper sticker that said, “What you own is not who you are.”  How appropriate for this text.  

We tend to be very worried about the stuff we have and our status we inherit by owning that stuff.  Like, somehow, that stuff defines who we are.   

In baptism, however, we have our true identity marker that can never be erased.  Regardless of wealth, status, age, gender, sexual orientation, race, country of origin…all who are baptized in Christ are a new creation…and each can stand before God, whole.  

Being rich in God starts with being washed in the waters of baptism.  Then, we have faith practices that call to us:  daily prayer, weekly worship, developing relationships, service, reading the Bible, giving.  These are just some practices that allow us to be rich in God.   These practices take us outside of ourselves, and call us on to loving God and loving our neighbor.  

We are made new and we are called to practice living into this new reality through faith practices.  

May we yearn for being rich in God.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, we are washed and made new, every day.   Remind us of our call to follow you and to love our neighbor.   Amen.  

What are You Hungry For?

  S (Scripture): Matthew 4:1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After he fasted forty days and forty nights he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

O (Observation): Jesus was obviously hungry – famished is the word used here.  He has fasted 40 days!   Of course Jesus wants something to eat…but he refused to turn the stones to bread.  Why? Identity. 

Jesus does not want his identity to be shaped by his carnal desire for food (or anything else on this earth).  Jesus is clear that his nourishment, his appetite, would not be shaped by the devil’s suggestions. Rather, he will let God’s Word fill him.  

A (Application):  So many things are available to sate our appetites: food, sex, drugs, spending money…   Some of those are good. Some are bad.  

What are the appetites that are controlling you?   

For me, spending money used to define me, which caused me to spend more money than I had.   Thanks to a bit of maturing and a wise wife (thank you, Kelly), God has allowed my appetite to shift away from spending frivolously.  I still like to spend, but the fact that we have no credit card debt (for about 5 years now!) is a testament to the fact that I can say “No” to some things.  

What appetite defines you?

P (Prayer):  Lord, remind us that in you we have all we could ever want or need.  Amen.  

Christian Practices 

  

S (Scripture): James 5:13 Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you ill? He should summon the elders of the church, and they should pray for him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick and the Lord will raise him up – and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.

O (Observation): More advice from brother James.  These are good thoughts and suggestions.  Ideals towards which we should strive.

A (Application): I’m going to split some hairs, now.   These actions that James suggests are great and wholesome.   We need to be careful, though, to understand these actions as the natural outflow of our Identity in Christ.   We don’t want to go through ceremony for the sake of ceremony, or lean on these practice to try to prove our Identity.

Having said that… 

Let your prayer be full of hope.

Let your praises be sung as if God is your only audience. 

Let your hands become a vessel for God’s healing, not because you or the oil you use to anoint are “special,” but because God is that awesome!

Let your whole self be surrendered to God, so that you might feel comfortable praying, praising, healing, and taking one another’s confessions.  

With which of these practices are you most comfortable?  Least comfortable? Why is that?

P (Prayer): Lord, you make us able to do most anything you desire.  Help us to help our neighbor from a place of love and generosity, springing forth from our Identity of abundance in you.  Amen.