Monday, March 4, 2013

I Am My Posession

Identity in Physical Things

Let's face it: physical things are seductive precisely because they are physical. We can feel their texture, see their shape and beauty, and smell their aroma. Biblically, we know that the most important things in life are unseen, yet physical things are stiff competition when it comes to what gets our attention and shapes our living. It's very tempting for all of us to define ourselves by the size of our pile of stuff.

We may not even realize the extent to which we define ourselves by the pleasures of the physical world. The three big ones here are food, sex, and leisure. Some of us are always trolling for the next best restaurant, continually being seduced by the "more and different" draw of sexual temptation, or willing to spend far too much time and money planning and buying a vacation.

Physical appearance can also control and define us. We live in a culture that has institutionalized the practice of being defined by our appearance. Isn't it true that most of us spend far more time in a given week caring for and adorning our bodies than we do nurturing our souls? We're the kind of people who will fret over exactly the right outfit to wear to a service of worship (think about the contradiction there).

The material world provides a powerful and seductive replacement for true identity. A big house isn't just nice to look at and live in; if it's yours, it makes you feel good about yourself. A luxurious car isn't simply a reliable source of transportation; it functions also as an identity marker. Beautiful clothes have the power to make you feel differently about yourself. Physical fitness and beauty make you feel self-confident and alive. A gourmet meal not only fills your stomach, but for that temporary moment, it also makes you feel good about yourself.

Now, let me just say that God is the Creator of all physical things. That means that food, comfort, money, pleasure, and beauty were all created to be good things. They're not evil in and of themselves. But, the Bible also says that "man shall not live by bread alone." That means that we were never constructed to subsist ONLY on the physical. We're spiritual beings who need spiritual sustenance in order to be truly healthy and happy.

In fact, we're wired to "feed" on the Lord himself! He is to be our meat and drink; He is the one who gives us identity and meaning. He alone is able to satisfy our deepest hungers and our most pervasive thirsts. Many people are experiencing an atrophy of the heart from seeking satisfaction where it simply cannot be found.

Below are some reflection questions. You can use them personally, but they're also helpful in a small group or Bible study setting. It's an opportunity to take an accounting, to make honest confession, and to begin walking on a new and better pathway.

1.What physical thing(s) do you struggle with most?

2.Why is that physical thing(s) so important to you?

3.How can you "feed" more on the Lord?

4.How can identity in Christ help you view your possessions?

God bless,

Paul David Tripp

Friday, March 1, 2013

I Am My Righteousness

The past two weeks we've been looking replacement identities. We either tend to put our identity in our achievement, or we seek to put our identity in our relationships. But there's a third area where we're at risk:

Identity in Performance

In the early days of his faith, Joe was overwhelmed by the desperateness of his need for God's grace. He was seeing his sin everywhere, and he was constantly thankful for the daily mercy and patience of the Redeemer. Joe was also patient with the people around him who were struggling. He knew that they were essentially no different from him, and that he was only kept by God's grace.

As Joe continued to grow, however, something began to change in his heart. He began to feel as though he deserved to belong in the community of God's children. He was proud of his theological knowledge and had little patience for Christians who were "just too lazy" to really know their faith. He looked down on brothers and sisters who struggled faithfully to participate in public worship and small groups.

When he put his check in the offering plate on Sunday, he scanned the sanctuary wondering who was getting a "free ride." He loved to show people the photo albums of the many short-term missions trips he had been on, and he didn't understand why some people were never willing to give up one week to serve God. The tender, grateful Joe had given way to a hard and self-assured man.

Joe approached every Christian activity as an opportunity to put another notch in his belt of righteousness. He was active and involved, but there was little sense of gratitude because he had little sense of need. Although he could not see it, Joe was much like the Pharisee Jesus describes in Luke 18. Joe had once been a man who had found his identity in Christ; now he was a man who got his identity from his own performance.

Although Joe was in church every time the doors were open, there was little true love and worship in what he did. The bottom line was that Joe was doing it all for Joe. The praise always went to Joe, while the judgement went to anyone who was unable to live up to his righteous standard. Joe was in the middle of his life, but he had lost the joy of his salvation. He was a sullen and critical Christian with little heartfelt excitement for his faith.

1.Could it be that "Joe" might be you? Where can you see similarities?

2.Is there a chance that you replaced the joy of identity in Christ with the pride of identity in your own righteousness?

3.Are you more critical and judgmental toward the people around you than you are about criticizing yourself?

4.Ask yourself: "Do I feel today like I need Christ's grace as much as the first day I believed?"

God bless
Paul David Tripp