Who Am I?

Figuring out who we are is something everyone has to go through. Some are fortunate to have parents or mentors to help them with the process, but many have to do it on their own. We used to hear about people going away for a while to “find themselves.” I’m not sure anyone does that anymore and I’m not sure how they went about it, but I suppose everyone eventually does figure out who they are. 

I read a great novel called Chasing Fireflies, by Charles Martin, about a young man who discovers he’s not who he thought he was. I won’t give away the story, but at one point on his journey, he realized a better question than who am I? is whose am I? He said, “Identity does not grow out of action until it has taken root in belonging.” 

In this world where we all want to belong, many haven’t answered the second question and as a result, latch on to various groups or affiliations in an effort to be part of something, to feel a sense of belonging and of being included – to establish their identity. This is putting the proverbial cart before the horse. Until we know who we belong to, we won’t know who we really are. 

If you’re a Christian, the answer is easy – we belong to Christ. We can have no stronger or better sense of belonging and inclusion than we have in him. And when we know whose we are, we find out who we are – loved, saved, redeemed and ready for action.

For Us or For Us

Language can be tricky, and sometimes when we hear or read something, the words and the wording can seem ambiguous. Then add in our perspectives and frame of mind and our understanding can be different from what was actually meant. 

I experienced this as I was meditating on Romans 8:26. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (NIV). I’ve always understood the verse to mean the Holy Spirit prays to the Father for us, as in defending or pleading our case as a lawyer would. Maybe you’ve thought of it this way too. I’ve heard it explained like that. But when I looked at other translations, I found wording that caused me to say “miners, not minors.” For those of you who aren’t familiar with the movie, this is a line from Galaxy Quest, one of my top ten movies of all time. When the crew are out searching for a beryllium sphere, they come across some child-sized alien creatures, who extract the beryllium from the ground. Gwen says, oh how cute, they must be minors. Dr. Lazarus says, miners, not minors! 

The Contemporary English Version puts it this way: “In certain ways we are weak, but the Spirit is here to help us. For example, when we don’t know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words.” The Holy Spirit doesn’t pray for us, he prays for us. He takes our garbled, jumbled thoughts that we aim at God and call prayers, and translates them into wordless or inarticulate groanings. 

Even though we often don’t know how to pray, what to pray for or just can’t find any words, we don’t have to worry about it. The Holy Spirit is always helping us by merging our own wordless groans with his. Knowing that he prays for us makes me thankful for the freedom he gives us through his grace, even when it comes to praying.

God Really Sees Us

A lot of people go through life feeling invisible. Sometimes it seems we are just a number and our lives don’t really matter much. This is especially true when dealing with government agencies, but we can also get this impression from doctors (not all of course), sales people and corporations. As Christians, we are sometimes told we are too sinful for God to look at, unless it is through the lens of Jesus’ righteousness. This can give the wrong impression of who God is.

It seems discouraging and even disturbing that God would think of us this way. He created us out of love and even though humanity as a whole turned its back on him, we know that love is still there. God as Father, Son and Spirit, decided before we were ever created to send Jesus as our Savior, knowing ahead of time of our rebellion. He saw us through the eyes of love and died for all, while we were his enemies, steeped in sin and as good as dead. He saw us then, he sees us now and he sees those who don’t yet know him.

In Genesis 16, after Hagar was turned out by Sarai, she had an enlightening encounter with God. Alone in the wilderness, she felt at the end of her rope and was probably preparing to die. But God came to her, told her to return to her mistress and that she was going to have a son. She must have felt amazed and even astonished because from then on, she called him The God Who Sees Me.

He is still the God who sees us, no matter who we are, what we believe or what we think of him. We are not and never have been invisible to God. He sees us as the unique individuals he created. We are known, valued and appreciated by him and he loves us so much he clothes us – his children – in the beautiful robes of Jesus’ righteousness.

Jesus Our Intercessor

When we want information, most of us turn to Google or perhaps another search engine. How did we live before the Internet? Does anyone even have a set of encyclopedias anymore? If you do, it was out of date before it was printed. I often do searches before writing or speaking but it certainly is buyer beware out there in information – or should I say misinformation – land. 

Case in point – if you want to know more about why and how Jesus is our intercessor, you will find articles and sermons that will lead you to believe this kind of conversation is taking place between God the Father and Jesus: 

Father: Look at her, she did it again. She knows better. Guess it’s time to lower the boom. 

Jesus: Aww dad, you know she’s trying. Please don’t forget she received forgiveness when I went to the cross, so don’t hold it against her. And I’m helping her, I really am. Give her another chance. 

Father: OK, you’re right. I’ll hold off for now. But get her in line, and the sooner the better!

The typical explanation is that while we were forgiven at the cross, we still need Jesus to stand up for us as we continue to sin and to remind God not to get angry. He intercedes, or pleads our case, just like a lawyer going before a not-too-happy judge. But is this really what it means when we say Jesus is interceding for us? 

Mixed in with the above scenario, I found this on gotquestions.org: “Advocates offer support, strength, and counsel and intercede for us when necessary. The Bible says that Jesus is an Advocate for those who’ve put their trust in Him: ‘My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous’ (1 John 2:1). In other verses, Jesus calls the Holy Spirit our Advocate (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). The English word advocate has been translated from the Greek word parakletos, which means ‘helper, adviser, or counselor.’” 

This makes much more sense in light of who God is and the finished work of the cross. The advocate we have in Jesus is not trying to talk the Father out of punishing us every time we sin, but is there to help us, give us advice and counsel us in the way of his kingdom of love. God knows we’ll sin again and again – that’s who we are – but he only wants what’s best for us and is there to help us finish the race Paul talked about, with the strength, courage and grace we have in Christ. 

Perhaps this is how the conversation goes: 

Father: Look at my beloved daughter. She’s doing so well, but she’s having trouble with that issue again. 

Jesus: Holy Spirit and I are with her every step of the way, encouraging and strengthening her. 

Father: Keep it up. You know how much I love her.

Jesus: Me too, Abba, me too.

My Hope and Stay

Many of us are familiar with the classic hymn, “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less,” by Edward Mote, written in 1834. But have you ever stopped to think what is meant by the phrase, “he then is all my hope and stay”? The word stay has many meanings, but I’m pretty sure Mote was thinking of this definition when he wrote those words: to provide physical or moral support for (sustain); to fix on something as a foundation (merriamwebster.com). 

The British pastor most likely based this hymn on the parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew and Luke. In this parable, Jesus explains how we are to build a foundation for life on the written word of God, which points to Jesus himself, the living Word. He is our support and our sustainer through anything life throws at us. 

Another meaning of the word, one which Mote may or may not have had in mind, is of a stay that holds a corset together, or a heavy rope used on a ship to secure the mast or spar. In the corset, stays were typically made of bones and on a ship, the rope stays were necessary to keep the masts in place.

If you’re like me, you have probably been through times when you felt you were barely holding yourself or your life together. It’s amazing and unifying to think this song from almost two hundred years ago can still point us to the security and stability we find in God, who is our only hope and most secure stay.

The Smile on His Face

Much has been written about Easter Sunday and the resurrection of Jesus, which we will celebrate this coming weekend. It’s one of the three pivotal events (his birth and death being the first two) in not only Christianity but all of history. Contemplating the events leading up to the crucifixion evokes many emotions, including deep sorrow over what Jesus had to suffer as he willingly and lovingly laid down his life for all of humanity. 

When I meditate on the resurrection itself, I am always flooded with hope and joy – what an amazing and powerful finale to an incredible week, and an incredible life. I can’t help but think of the last scene of The Gospel According to Matthew, made almost 30 years ago. The script was the book of Matthew, word for word. At the very end of the movie, we see Jesus walking away. Then he turns around and with a huge smile, waves for us to follow him. 

The look of joy on his face, his welcoming smile and his gesture of inclusion make me want to get up and go. That smile reminds me why I have been willing to follow him anywhere and will continue to follow him. He did it – he conquered sin and death – for me, for you, for all of us, and cemented our place in eternity with him. Happy resurrection celebration!

Punishment or Loving Choice

As we look forward to celebrating the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday, we also sometimes wonder just why he had to die in the first place. Why couldn’t his plan to save and redeem humanity be accomplished some other way? Was the suffering and torture he endured really necessary? 

Many believe his death was punishment inflicted by his Father to satisfy his all-consuming rage. You almost can’t read an Easter devotional that doesn’t include this kind of reasoning. But in light of who God is as a triune being, in essence love, existing in relationship as Father, Son and Spirit, this doesn’t make any sense. It would mean the one whom Jesus called his Abba decided to punish his dearly loved son because he couldn’t control his rage, which also means he punished himself, as they are one in the same.

Jesus partially explained why in Matthew 21:33-46. It’s the story of the owner of a vineyard who had leased it and then sent servants to collect the earnings, who were killed, then sent more servants who were also killed, and finally he sent his son. The tenants murdered him as well, thinking they would steal his inheritance. Just as the greedy tenants killed the owner’s son, so we, all of fallen humanity, killed Jesus. As enemies and haters of God, we put God himself to death to satisfy the rage we feel as victims of our own self-inflicted fallenness. Jesus’ death had nothing to do with “satisfying the wrath of God.”

Jesus went to the cross for one reason – the indescribable, selfless, self-emptying love that not only defines who he is but is the motivation and impetus behind everything he does. Love sent him there, love kept him there and love continues to hold us in his redeeming embrace.

Knowing God the Trinity

Like many people, I used to believe God is rather monolithic. I imagined him, as he is often described, as one God, a lone being handing out mercy or judgment as necessary according to his whim and our behavior. Learning about the triune nature of God completely changed my understanding of who he is and how he relates to us. A solitary god by definition must be alone, so when we talk about God’s love and his nature of love, it would follow that he needs someone to love. He can’t just love himself so he must have created man to fulfill his need. Perhaps he was lonely. But that doesn’t fit, because an all powerful, self-sufficient being wouldn’t be either of those things if he were lonely and in need. 

As I began to learn about God as three-in-one, my aha moment came when I discovered Father, Son and Spirit share an intimate, loving relationship, full of love, which means he wasn’t lonely or in need of anything. He never needed us, but he did want us. God is love and his love overflows. Creating the universe and all its inhabitants was a natural emanation of his loving, tenderhearted, compassionate and generous nature. 

A few years after that aha moment, I had another one. For a long time, I was unsure about having a relationship with God. I had no idea how to go about it, mistakenly believing it was up to me to somehow create it. At a silent retreat, with loads of time to pray and listen for what God had to say, he opened my eyes to see that it wasn’t up to me – all I needed to do was jump in. It seemed as if he were saying, it’s like a river, alive, flowing, moving; don’t just get your feet wet, go all the way in. Join us in the circle of life. 

God is so much more than a solitary being out there in space somewhere. He’s dynamic, 3D if I may, and vivacious. He is three-in-one in glory, light and energy unimaginable. All glory and praise to Father, Son and Spirit, in us, with us and for us.

Knowing God the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is probably the most misunderstood member of the Trinity. There are all kinds of ideas out there about him and I used to have some of them. I believed he wasn’t God, rather an extension of God’s power, which made him an “it.” When I began learning more about the nature of God as Trinity, my eyes were opened to this mysterious third distinction of God. He’s still a mystery but we are given a lot of clues in the New Testament as to his nature and identity, which would be a good study.

I had to ask myself who he is to me, personally, in my life. Our relationship with God means we have a relationship with the Holy Spirit as well. For the most part, he points us to Truth, to Jesus and that’s good, because he is our Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit is the one who keeps me focused on Jesus – first in my heart. He keeps my conscience tender, tapping me on the shoulder when I do or say something I shouldn’t. He’s the one who is the light on my path through life. I’ve also started thinking of him as my “ghost” writer, my inspiration and muse. He doesn’t need special attention – when you pray to one, you pray to all because all are one. And he would only turn around and give any glory and attention we give him back to the Father.

One wonderful thing we learn in Acts 10:45 is the Holy Spirit is a gift. He is the third person of the Trinity, the one who was there at creation, the one who completes the divine circle and he is a gift to us. Most gifts lose their luster or are soon abandoned for something better, but he, if I may paraphrase the cliché, is the gift that never stops giving. He’s the one Jesus sent after his death to comfort, teach, guide and remind us of all Jesus did and all he is to us. How amazing to be given such a gift. May we never lose our wonder and awe at being his blessed recipients.

Knowing God the Son

I was a Christian for many years before I knew Jesus. I had a vague idea who he was but almost everything I thought I knew back then was wrong. I have a much better understanding now but I’m still learning. One of the most important things I’ve learned about him is that not only is he God’s son, he’s God too. He’s the Word, the Creator, the Lion, the Lamb and the Lord of the universe. And he’s so much more. 

I’ve learned something else about him that affects me deeply every time I ponder it – his humility. When he knelt down to wash his disciples’ feet at the last supper, he wasn’t just giving us an example of how to treat others. He was showing us how he thinks of us and treats us, even now. God in the flesh was willing to get down on the floor and wash the dirty feet of his friends. Then he went to the cross to clean our lives of the filth of fallen human nature. 

We still walk in the mud and muck of this life and we still get dirty. Our friend Jesus, who emptied himself to become one of us, continues to empty himself, and in humility, washes our feet. It’s hard for us, just as it was for Peter, to humbly accept his ministrations. But as he also told Peter, if he didn’t let Jesus wash his feet, he could have no part with him (John 13:8). At first, I want to vehemently protest just like Peter, but then dissolve in tears as I picture him kneeling on the floor with water and a towel, looking in my eyes as he cleanses, forgives and loves me – again. 

This is Jesus the Son, the one who stepped out of heaven to come to us in our deepest need – to be accepted, forgiven, cleansed, loved and brought into the circle of life with him, the Father and the Spirit.