Saturday, October 22, 2011

An Inadequate, Inept, Incapable Loser

An inadequate, inept, incapable loser! That was me. I know, I know, there are those who might read that and think to themselves that using a present tense verb would be just as accurate of a statement. However, that is an incorrect assessment of who I am today. The person I used to be is no longer the person I am. I actually don't even resemble that loser anymore. Some who knew me then and know me today, might struggle with that last statement, but it is the absolute truth.

Many years ago, I died. No really, I died. The person I was had a real encounter with death. Yet, here I am alive today. However, the life I live today is not me anymore. What??? I must admit it can seem a bit confusing. Paul said it like this in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

The cross of Jesus is a powerful thing. While dealing with my sin was an important thing, His crucifixion and the blood He shed did more than erase my sin. It erased me. That cross dealt with me, the sinner. Yes, my sin was nailed to that cross, but so was I. As a believer, many times we understand the concept that our sin was washed away by His shed blood but we fail to wrap our brain around the truth that the sin manufacturing plant that we were was crucified with Christ. When Jesus cried out "It is finished," He meant it. His death has once and for all dealt with our sin and us as sinners. He dealt with what we've done and who we are. Our identity was changed on that cross.

We often make statements like, "I'm just a sinner, saved by grace." While it sounds humble, that statement is not consistent with the new birth experience. If we were crucified with Christ, and according to Scripture we were, then the sinner we used to be is dead. We are new creatures according to II Corinthians 5:17. The new man we are is completely different than the old man we were. It is true that we still sin, but what we do does not define who we are. What God says about us is what determines our identity. Our Christian life is more about trusting what God says about us rather than striving to be something He already declares we are. We need to learn to trust God when He says the sinner we used to be no longer exists and the new person we now are is a son/daughter and a saint. It is not prideful or arrogant to declare what God says about us, but it is actually humility when we understand that who we are is completely the result of what He has done and has absolutely nothing to do with what we have done. When we insist on holding on to our old identity it is not an act of humility but it actually belittles the sacrifice He made for us.

When we look in the mirror it may be difficult to recognize the person that God declares we are. Our perception however doesn't change the truth. We may see an inadequate, inept, incapable loser. We may see a person bound by habits or sin they can't get victory over. We may see someone who is defeated and depressed. It's in those moments when we must determine to trust what God says about us. Striving to prove to ourselves or to others that what He says about us is true, is actually the result of not believing what He declares about us. When you know who you are, it is not necessary to prove anything to anyone. We see a great example of that truth in the life of Jesus. At His baptism, speaking of Jesus, God declares "You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" (Luke 3:22). I find it interesting that when Jesus is in the wilderness and is tempted by satan, the very first thing satan tempts Him with is to doubt what God had said about Him. "If you are the Son of God, then turn this stone into bread" (Luke 4:3). If Jesus struggled to believe what God says about Him then He would have been tempted to prove who He was. Notice how Jesus, who is confident that what God says about Him is true, responds. "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word of God'" (Luke 4:4). It is abundantly clear that Jesus finds God's declaration at His baptism the only necessary proof the He is indeed the Son of God. It is therefore unnecessary to perform any miracle to prove to Himself, satan, or anyone else who He is. He is the Son of God because God declares it, and no other proof is needed to establish that truth.

In the same way, we too should learn to trust God's Word concerning us above all else. Above the opinions of others, above our own self-assessment, and above every other voice out there. As a believer, our identity is not rooted in what we do, or in what we or anyone else thinks about us, but in what God says about us. While the cross serves as a reminder of Christ's sacrificial death for us, we desperately need to understand that it also serves as a reminder of our death. It is only then that we can view the resurrection as a new birth and the creation of a new man/woman. Only when we understand that there was a death, can we comprehend that what now exists is someone entirely different.

Like Paul, I've come to the realization that I have indeed been crucified with Christ and that the life I now live is no longer I but Christ in me. So, if you happen to see someone that looks like me that appears to be an inadequate, inept, incapable loser, just know that he is nothing but an impostor. For that man died many years ago and the man I now am is no longer even related to that loser.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Apart From Him We Can Do NOTHING!

We all have natural abilities. While we may not be able to play like Michael Jordan on the basketball court, there are certain natural skills that we all possess. Some may be good with numbers, while others may be great at fixing things with their hands. Some may have excellent problem solving skills, while others have a 4 octave vocal range. Some may be great speakers, while others can throw a football 60+ yards. While I would love to throw a football 60 yards, or glide through the air like Jordan, I was not endowed with the ability to do either. Regardless of how hard I tried or practiced, I would never be able to measure up to Jordan or even a bench warmer on the worst team in the NBA.

I'm a musician. While there may be some who would debate that statement having heard my skills, I do play guitar a little. I'm not sure how much "natural" ability I have when it comes to playing guitar, but I have to think there is at least a little bit. Afterall, I have tried to teach some people to play that after a few lessons I'm convinced can never be taught to play. So, my theory is that if you can even play a little bit, there has to be just a hint of natural talent at the least. Perhaps I could become a better player if I practiced more, but the truth is if I haven't reached my peak, I'm pretty close. Over the years I have logged in many, many practice hours on the guitar and although I seemed to improve in the early days, that improvement has either stopped or become little more than stagnant. Kind of like my basketball skills. When I was young, I played and played and played and played and at some point hit my peak. I came to the end of my ability to improve.

I know there is always room for improvement, but let's face it sometimes we just have to come to terms with the fact that there is a pinnacle and once that is reached, all that we do from then on is an effort to stay at that level. So, it could just very well be that as far as my guitar playing goes, everything I'm doing now is simply an effort to maintain rather than increase my skill level. What I need now is for God to breath on it. Actually, from day one, that's what we all need.

We are very good at doing life apart from God. While that is certainly true about unbelivers the tragedy is that it is often equally true about believers. We have these natural skills and abilities and navigating through life without God is not all that difficult. Sure, we claim to know God, but we invite Him in only when we truly need Him. Only when we come to the end of our ability. We walk through life leaning on our own abilities and often trust ourselves more so than we trust God. Ouch! Some would argue that it was God who gave us our gifts and abilities so are we really doing life apart from God? Picture Adam and Eve in the garden. Was is not God who breathed life into them? Was it not God who gave them a free will? And what did they do with it? They chose to do life apart from God with the very breath He gave them and the ability to choose granted to them by their Creator.

We do the very same thing as the two of them. We take our natural abilities and we choose to do life apart from God. If and when we come to the end of our ability then we ask God to get involved. Somehow, I think we are missing the point of how we are to do life.

Picture if you will a famous rock star. Maybe a great guitarist. While it might be true that he has a great deal of natural talent, apart from God, it is nothing but the flesh. He may receive the glory and praise of thousands of followers, but in the end his natural ability, that is void of the life of God, does little more than entertain.

In Scripture we are told of David who was a musician. Now, you can't find any of his concerts on youtube, so we aren't sure how great he was at playing his instrument, but the Bible does tell us that he was a skilled musician. We are told that when he played before Saul, the atmosphere in the room shifted and the tormenting spirits that plagued Saul left. If we aren't careful, we'll make the mistake of thinking that David must have been some awesome musician. The fact is that the atmospheric shift in the room was less about David's skill and more about God's presence in the room. Apart from God's breath on His playing, David would have been unable to do little more than entertain Saul.

Leaning on our natural abilities will always leave us inept at living the kind of life God designed us to live. Scripture tells us that apart from Him we can do nothing. Jesus speaking of Himself makes this statement, "The Son can do nothing on His own." Perhaps one day we'll discover that what is true about Jesus is true about all of us. Whenever we lean on our own abilities and try to attempt life apart from God, then all that we do amounts to zero, nada, zip, the big goose egg, NOTHING! Flesh is flesh. Whether its extremely talented flesh or mildly talented flesh, the result is always the same. On the other hand whenever we determine to do life in such a way that we lean on God and trust in His ability more so than ours, we'll tap into the kind of life He designed us to live.

The Lord never intended for us to simply connect with Him when we have reached the end of our ability. He wants to be a part of the ride from the beginning. He longs for us to understand that He is the vine and we are the branches and only when we are connected to Him can we experience true life. Doing life apart from Him is pretty much the equivalence of a branch disconnected from a tree trying to attach itself to something other than the trunk in order to find life. All I know is that all the branches in my back yard disconnected from the trunk are dying or are already dead. So it is with everything we attempt apart from our Creator. It all ends up to be death in the end.

While I could spend endless hours trying to get my fingers to play Bbmaj9, I'm thinking it would be more advantageous for me to figure out how to get God to breath on my playing. Afterall, the former would do nothing but stroke my ego a bit, while the latter just might bring glory to God.