Our Identity in Christ

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Recently I had an interesting conversation with a very good friend about our identity in Christ.

She was telling me she had purposed this year to focus and study in depth the issue of our identity in Christ because she wanted to grow in the knowledge of who she was in Christ and thus grow and deepen her relationship with Him.

That made me think.

It made me ask myself about my own identity(thank God for good friendships that stimulate good conversations!). She made made me wonder if I really understood the depth of what my identity in Christ meant.

I asked myself: Who am I?

Am I my name? My reputation? My material possessions? What identifies me? What gives me worth?, I kept asking myself.

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Trusting the Lord

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Trust.

Such a short yet challenging word.

I’ve been convicted lately of my lack of trust. I’ve noticed my mouth tends to shout, “I trust you”, while my heart stays silent. It’s easy to fall prey of merely vocalizing trust in God while not really internalizing that trust and depending on God. Theoretical trust is merely a posture of the mind whereas practical trust is the humble bowing of the heart. And there’s no real trust unless it is one that harmoniously embraces both mind and heart.

There could be many reasons for why we may be lacking trust and for our faith being more of a superficial external display of spirituality than a solid anchoring of our hearts to God’s love.

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Invictus

William Ernest Henley, a poet and literary critic, is well known for his wordsmithing skills but best-remembered for his poem Invictus. Echoing throughout the halls of time, this poem has inspired many, including among the many Nelson Mandela who recited it to other prisoners while incarcerated on Robben Island prison.

Henley suffered of tuberculosis since an early age and as a demonstration of resilience and an iron will, wrote this poem following the amputation of his left foot. He had looked at misfortune squarely in the face and defied it, deciding to never let temporary defeat become permanent failure. Very inspiring indeed.

Robert Louis Stevenson, the well-known and acclaimed author, also a friend of Henley, took notice of this and acknowledged the idea for his character Long John Silver(for his book Treasure Island) was taken from Henley. Stevenson later wrote him the following, “I will now make a confession: It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot Long John Silver … the idea of the maimed man, ruling and dreaded by the sound, was entirely taken from you.

Henley possessed a resilience that had to be reckoned with and this poem is a reflection of this. Will the same be said of us?

 

INVICTUS

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul. 

William Ernest Henley(1849 – 1903)

Book Recommendation: I Just Need Time to Think!: Reflective Study as Christian Practice

I found this little gem, I Just Need Time to Think!, on Amazon.com and thought on sharing it here because I think it goes along with what this blog advocates and proposes, namely developing a critical and thinking mind, and I believe this little book  can be of help in guiding us to develop that habit.

According to the Amazon book review, this book will support us to:

 

 

Slow down in a fast-paced culture

• Replace distractions with peaceful focus

• Adjust schedules for retreat

• Discipline our minds

• Commit to reading

• Promote the vocation of “student”

• Sidestep the obstacles of study

• Continue down the path of learning

• Establish a place to think

• Change the character, the core of our being

 

…in other words, I really need this.

 

It’s too bad I’m in the middle of two other books(“Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions” by Gregory Koukl, and “One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World” by Tullian Tchividjian), both so far excellent(and highly recommended!), but it’s already been added to my list and I can’t wait to start reading it.

Click here to go visit the book’s site and check it out for yourself. If you do buy it and read it, please let me know if you liked it.

 

* Disclaimer: No, I don’t make a cent if you buy it, I’m not affiliated to amazon.com.

 

The God of Mountain Tops and Valleys

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Only three things are guaranteed in life: death, taxes, and tough times. Nothing else is certain in our life time. Anything that lives will die, anything that has the ability to reason will pay taxes, and every human person will experience trials and tribulations. Life is a roller-coaster. As humans we go through cycles, and it’s easy to get discouraged.

We all have our ups and downs. We all have our happy moments and our hurting moments. But why is this? Why is happiness such a fleeting moment; why is it just that—a flickering light?

I’ve come to ask myself this question many times over. I see people getting happy because they won the lottery, because that girl they asked out said yes, because the bank approved the mortgage for that house, because the wife is pregnant with their first kid. They’re excited. Almost bursting at the seams. They can’t contain themselves. Their smile stretches from ear to ear. They are happy.

But you see, the word happy and the word happen come from the same root hap, which means “an occurrence, happening, or accident”. It’s no wonder a known synonym for hap is happenstance which is nothing more than the word happen+( circum )stance.

So happiness is circumstance-driven. You only become happy when something happens to you. Happiness is only caused by an external factor. Your emotions swing to and fro manipulated by the circumstances that happen to you. Circumstances have unashamedly made a slave of you.

That’s why some people commit suicide when they lose all the lottery money they had won, get depressed when that girl they asked out dumps them, feel their world crumbling down when the house they bought is now on foreclosure, or feel hopeless because the pregnant wife just lost the baby. They were originally ecstatic and happy but now they feel paralyzed and beaten by these new developments that obviously have affected their lives.

I don’t mean to diminish their hurt. Things that are outside of our control do happen. Their hurt is real. Your hurt is real. My hurt is real.

So how does our faith play into helping us during these tough times?

Well, let’s consider now the word joy. Joyfulness means just that: joy+fulness, namely, being full of joy. Joyfulness it’s a state, it’s not based on circumstances. Joy cannot be swayed by external factors. It’s possible to be sad and crying and still be joyful inside.

But where does that joy come from? What is the source of this state of being? What fills our hearts with hope and joy in the midst of suffering, crumbling relationships, death in the family, having no shelter nor clothes nor food or being unjustly incarcerated?

Remember we were talking about ups and downs? Well, the joy comes from remembering during our ups that our God is the God of the mountain tops and, during our downs, remembering that our God is the God of the valleys.

Everybody feels good when in their ups. We feel invincible, ecstatic, and larger-than-life. But during our downs the only thing we have left is to say, “Lord, help me”.

And that’s how our faith helps us during our tough times. God, the creator of the universe, always hears the prayers of those who love Him, and because He loves us unconditionally, there’s no need to masquerade before the throne of God. There are no “ifs” and “buts” with Him, there’s only unconditional one-way love.

In this conditional world where we are easily rejected for our weaknesses and failures, or are accepted only if you’re rich, beautiful, skinny, or have the right friends, we can rest in the fact that we’re accepted by Him when we’re unacceptable, and forever loved when we are unlovable.

Jon Foreman’s Amazing Response

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Thought of sharing Switchfoot lead singer Jon Foreman’s response when asked if Switchfoot is a “Christian” band. As the original author of the blog where I found this post remarked, “his response is worth pondering.” I couldn’t agree more with both Jon Foreman’s response, as well as with the blog post author’s comment. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

“To be honest, this question grieves me because I feel that it represents a much bigger issue than simply a couple SF tunes. In true Socratic form, let me ask you a few questions: Does Lewis or Tolkien mention Christ in any of their fictional series? Are Bach’s sonata’s Christian? What is more Christ-like, feeding the poor, making furniture, cleaning bathrooms, or painting a sunset? There is a schism between the sacred and the secular in all of our modern minds.

The view that a pastor is more ‘Christian’ than a girls volleyball coach is flawed and heretical. The stance that a worship leader is more spiritual than a janitor is condescending and flawed. These different callings and purposes further demonstrate God’s sovereignty.

Many songs are worthy of being written. Switchfoot will write some, Keith Green, Bach, and perhaps yourself have written others. Some of these songs are about redemption, others about the sunrise, others about nothing in particular: written for the simple joy of music.

None of these songs has been born again, and to that end there is no such thing as Christian music. No. Christ didn’t come and die for my songs, he came for me. Yes. My songs are a part of my life. But judging from scripture I can only conclude that our God is much more interested in how I treat the poor and the broken and the hungry than the personal pronouns I use when I sing. I am a believer. Many of these songs talk about this belief. An obligation to say this or do that does not sound like the glorious freedom that Christ died to afford me.

I do have an obligation, however, a debt that cannot be settled by my lyrical decisions. My life will be judged by my obedience, not my ability to confine my lyrics to this box or that.

We all have a different calling; Switchfoot is trying to be obedient to who we are called to be. We’re not trying to be Audio A or U2 or POD or Bach: we’re trying to be Switchfoot. You see, a song that has the words: ‘Jesus Christ’ is no more or less ‘Christian’ than an instrumental piece. (I’ve heard lots of people say Jesus Christ and they weren’t talking about their redeemer.) You see, Jesus didn’t die for any of my tunes. So there is no hierarchy of life or songs or occupation only obedience. We have a call to take up our cross and follow. We can be sure that these roads will be different for all of us. Just as you have one body and every part has a different function, so in Christ we who are many form one body and each of us belongs to all the others. Please be slow to judge ‘brothers’ who have a different calling.”

Click here to visit the original post at http://www.ctkblog.com

Shadows of Death


“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” Psa. 23:4

I recently was reading Psalm 23, and while I was reading this verse I remember stopping cold after reading the phrase “valley of the shadow of death”. It struck me odd. I remember asking myself, “why did the author write “valley of the shadow of death”, instead of “valley of death”? Why use shadow in there? Why this adjective? I believe the Bible doesn’t add words for the sake of adding words, but that every word in it has a purpose, a meaning, a message to relay.

I started to think about it. Why the word “shadow”? What’s the idea behind this word? Well, this word has many meanings depending on the context and what you’re talking about, but based on the context we read in this Psalm, I believe it means a faint indication of something, a foreshadowing. We can see this idea behind Plato’s allegory of the cave.

In Plato’s allegory, he describes a group of people who for all their lives have been chained to the wall inside a cave facing a blank wall. Inside this cave, the people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and they begin to ascribe forms to these shadows. According to Plato, the shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality. He explains how the shadows on the wall do not make reality at all but are just mere shadows of the true form of reality.

I believe the author uses this idea of shadows to convey the message that whatever we encounter in this valley is just a shadow of the true form of death. But not death itself.

Through this text the author reminded me of a couple of things. First of all, that these shadows of death, namely afflictions, are only temporary. He talks about the “shadow” of death, not death itself. So God is talking through the author telling us that whatever we endure in this life is nothing but a shadow, is temporary, it doesn’t last forever. That relieves me. That strengthens me. Life is but a dream, a blink of an eye. We die and only then starts real life. Life for all eternity. So we can rest knowing that whatever the tribulation we are going through, whatever is bringing you down, is nothing but only temporary. It won’t last forever.

But wait, there’s more. I haven’t gotten to the best part, the meat and good news of this verse.

This shadow of death is nothing but a shadow of the true form of death, the second death, namely eternal condemnation. And this is what we deserved and were bound to: Death.

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because wall sinned.” Rom. 4:12

“For the wages of sin is death.” Rom. 6:23a

The foreshadowing in this verse points to Jesus’ work for us. The reason why the author describes the “death” we would find in this valley as a shadow is because Christ has already conquered death for us and now we are alive in Him! And how do we know this? Because He died in the cross for us? Yes, that’s true. But that’s not the whole story. Sometimes we get caught up only in His death. But the way He conquered death was by His resurrection!!! As Paul says, if He wasn’t resurrected then our hope is in vain! But He was! So our hope is not in vain and now in Him we’re alive and won’t find the true form of death in the valleys of affliction and tribulation in this life, but only temporary suffering, only shadows of death!

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.” 1 Cor. 15:20-21

“But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom. 6:23b

“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for fall men.” Rom. 4:18 [ Emphasis added ]

Because Jesus died for our sins, and because He conquered death and we’re now alive in Christ, and because He first loved us and gave us life when we were dead in our trespasses and we weren’t able to ever save ourselves, and because we get this life and gift for FREE, we humbly only get to say: THANK YOU, OH LORD, FOR YOUR GRACE AND MERCY.

O Death, where is your sting?