Who Am I? (June Article) – Pastor Greg

How much time do we take looking at ourselves in a mirror? Why do we do that? Sometimes it is simply to make sure our hair is not messed up or to straighten a tie. Sometimes it is because we want to change something we might not like or to see how we look. During these times we often measure ourselves by what we see and then make a judgement about whether it is good or bad. We do this daily and at times it affects how we view ourselves and our place in the world. 

Our identity is often formed in a similar way, we compare ourselves with someone or something outside of ourselves and then make a judgement whether it is good or bad. We then feel good or bad by the judgments we make regarding our view of our self. 

I read an author, Dennis McCallum, who expressed it this way; “Suppose nothing existed in the universe except you. There you are floating in a transparent bubble in the midst of infinite, empty space. What would your identity be? What would you consider important? Suppose you asked yourself, ‘Would I be considered tall or short?’ Tall or short compared to what? Ideas like tall and short or smart or dense come from your perception of yourself relative to others. The point is your sense of identity depends on definitions and values that originate outside of yourself.”

The problem with establishing our identity this way is that our reference points are also relative and finite. How do I know what the standard is and what can be considered as real or true?

Often when you meet someone for the first time one of the first questions that is asked is “what do you do?” It is a question that we ask to break the ice and to get a point of reference regarding how to relate with this new person. Most of the time the answers will be, “I’m a plumber, or I’m a banker or I’m a teacher”. We state that we are what we do. While we would not say that is the total of our identity, it is a big part. When those things are gone through job loss or retirement or any other major life change, we can lose our sense of identity. Again, this reference point is outside of our selves. 

God is an external reference point, but He is infinite and unlimited, He is also universal or absolute rather than relative. What He says about you and me matters the most since He is that perfect fixed point. For the believer, God has declared a host of things that are true of you and that define you. His view is the true view regardless of how you or I feel or what others say about me. 2 Corinthians 10:12 says, “When people measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.” So the question is, what does God say about me? Glad you asked. Here are but a few of the things that God says are true of you.

You are in Christ, that means you are identified with Him. This took place when you first believed the Gospel and trusted Christ as your savior. The Creator of the universe views you as having the same standing before Him as his Son Jesus does! This was something that God did and is now true of you as His child. This is true because God says it is true. “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection.” (Romans 6:4-5) And His opinion is the one that matters. 

Another truth is that because you have been justified (declared legally righteous), you now have peace with God. This is something that will never go away no matter what you do since you did nothing to get it!  (Romans 5:1) As a result you are now looked on with favor and there is no condemnation! (Romans 8:1)

There are so many more truths about you and who God says you are. It is a journey of joy as you investigate God’s word to discover what He thinks. Our God is a creator God, He makes all things new. The old things have passed away, behold new things have come – and that includes you and me. So embark on a journey of discovery, look into God’s Word, and learn about this wonderful new creation called “you”.

-Pastor Greg

Garrison of the Heart & Mind (May Article) – Pastor Greg

Phil. 4:6-7

Ever think about something so much that you cannot think of anything else? There have been those instances that I have been so preoccupied by a thought or a concern, that I have lost track of time and it consumes all my mental energy. That is not good and is in fact destructive.  Many a foolish decision has been made in the heat of the moment of anxiety.  Michele and I had some dear friends that served on staff at New Tribes Bible Institute in Jackson in the early 90’s while we were students there.  They were older and had been missionaries for a long time.  One day Mrs. Schultz gave Michele a great piece of advice that we still use today.  “Never make a major decision in the middle of a crisis” What great advice!  That has helped us many times over the years.  Why? Because we do not often see clearly when our minds are occupied with the stress and worry of the moment. We need clarity. 

Being anxious is a choice.  Its true, otherwise we would not be told to stop being anxious.  (Phil. 4:6-7) It is a decision we can make, to be anxious or not.  The antidote?  Go to the One who can do something about your situation, ask Him for help (be specific) and be thankful for _________, fill in the blank!    It is not a formula, but an attitude of prayer and thanksgiving directed to God.  God in turn promises something for the one who trusts Him in this way.  He says through Paul that, His peace, which is not something we can ever plumb the depths of, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.  That peace is an inner tranquility that is based on peace with God because our sins are forgiven and what we experience when we commit all our cares to Him. This peace is also a contentment with our lot, no matter what it is. This peace transcends our ability to fully grasp by reason alone.  

A garrison is a military outpost that provides protection for an area. This is the idea that the word translated “guard” communicates, in Phil. 4:7. The peace of God shall garrison and mount guard over our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  A garrison reminds me of fort Mackinac and its purpose to protect the north trade routes of the great lakes.  It was originally built at Michilimackinac but in 1781 was moved to Mackinac island as the British felt it was more defensible. I love going there and seeing the fort sitting high on the hill in clear view of all who would approach, providing protection for those below and those on the water.  A garrison in Paul’s day had the same purpose to guard something of value i.e. a village, trade route or region.  This is the idea of God’s peace providing a protective force for our thoughts and emotions.  Many times, our thoughts of anxiety overwhelm us but when we take our requests to God He gives us a peace that is present regardless of the circumstances we face.  Not just happy thoughts but a tranquillité  that is ours as His Spirit communes with our hearts and minds regarding the rock solid promises He has made. 

So, we are not defenseless against the wild and clamoring anxiety that seeks to overwhelm us.  We have a God who is for us and has provided a garrison to guard our minds and our emotions in times of trouble.  We just need to choose to go to Him. 

Patmos Journal – #10

May 20, 2020

The tests of the wilderness

Matthew 4:1-11 
1  Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
2  And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.
3  And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
5  Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple,
6  and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU’; and ‘ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.'”
7  Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'”
8  Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory;
9  and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”
10  Then Jesus *said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'”
11  Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

The Word of God is rich with the accounts of testings that come to mankind. Through sin, illness, chastisement, perfections of faith, or fallout from a fellow man in a fallen world, there are accounts of these tests that range from days for an individual, to multiple centuries for a people group.

The accounts of those enduring the ordeals are striking, because in sufferings of a similar type, the range of responses are so varied.  For some in their trial, it yields an outcome of complete surrender and turning to God for safety and deliverance. For others, it is the opposite extreme: the abject rejection of God, and blasphemies that ring out all the way to their grave.

The best example for us, for our response to testings, is found in the life of the Lord Jesus. The sinless One endured the attack of the enemy at the end of a prolonged isolation with fasting. This time in the wilderness was an intense period of fellowship with the Father; a preparation for our Lord’s public ministry days. This mission would include multiple tests, and ultimately the greatest test, the Cross of Calvary.

The enemy paid his call after forty days, when Christ was physically weakened but as we know, spiritually fortified. His isolation had been purposeful, and directed by the Father. I find a lesson in this alone, amid my days of forced stays at home. God has purpose in the quiet, and I must seek Him for the preparation for what lies ahead, here in my isolated days.

The first test Christ deflects, in verses three and four, reminds me that a strict obsession with my needs, however real, can be detrimental to my spiritual life. The Scripture Christ refers to is from Deuteronomy 8, reminding me that taking my creature comforts as first-priority, even in a time of upheaval and real needs, will not profit me in my walk with God. Jesus would speak in other days:

“Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:31-34

The next testing, in verses five through seven, show Satan trying to twist the words of God to push his own twisted agenda. The Psalm the enemy quotes from is Psalm 91. I would recommend reading this psalm in its entirety, for even protections from plague and pestilence for those trusting in the Lord are spoken of here. Jesus corrects the deception of Satan, by using the Word aright, for He is the Word, and birthed the Word for us. Referencing the principle of Deuteronomy (and other passages), the Lord states that God’s protections are not a license to manipulate Him to rescue us from willful acts of reckless abandon.

For these present days, I find a resonating truth in the Lord’s triumph over this testing. The truth is unchanged: God offers me His protections in Himself, and ultimately I am indeed forever secure in His care. Yet I should not take the challenges of this day lightly. There is wisdom in heeding some practical safe practices, rather than recklessly assuming the Lord is obligated to extract me from my mess I create from foolish presumptions. It’s also why I use seat belts and observe driving rules, or use extreme caution when working around live wires.  Proverbs contrasts wisdom and foolishness, and we should meditate there more often.

The last test of this encounter is found in verses eight through ten. Satan offers a counterfeit triumph and worldly power by shifting worship away from the Father to himself. Jesus reprimands Him again with the Word, showing that nothing is to be worshiped but God, and service is to Him and for Him alone.

 Jesus was focused on His relationship to the Father, and doing as the Father willed. The mission was not for mere earthly kingdoms, and certainly not for pride or personal ambitions on Jesus’ behalf. All was to bring praise to the Father, and to be done for His Glory. Satan offered the best he could put forth, and the Lord quickly pronounced the paltry value of those earthly deeds and titles.

My application of this principle in this present pandemic is thus: While there is a continual clamor for power, acquisition, chief seats, public adorations and unwavering servitude, there is only one King. There is only one Kingdom. There is only one God, and I must keep the allegiance to Him always before me, in my going and coming, my thoughts, words and deeds, and all that becomes in effect my “testimony” that I either speak or show to all around me. Then Satan left, and the angels ministered. May we all know the ministrations of the angels, as we overcome the attacks of the evil one.  This is done through rightly dividing the Word, reliance upon His powerful Spirit within, and the fellowship of the saints who very much are united in Christ, though for the present are enduring a prolonged wilderness test.