February 19, 2013

Identity: How God Sees Us

I don’t know about you, but I’m notorious for talking to myself. I not only talk, but I answer back. Because sometimes, depending on whose company you are in, you have to talk to yourself in order to have intelligent conversation.

Whether you admit it or not, pretty much everyone talks to themselves. We wrestle with problems by talking it out either inside or outside our heads. We think and ruminate on something and weight possibilities. Something outside of us triggers a problem and we start to wrestle with it.

But sometimes the talk turns hateful. In the field of psychology they call it the Inner Critic  or Negative Self-Talk.

This happens when someone starts replaying the tapes of just how bad they really are.

What an idiot! You always do that!
I can’t believe you messed up again!
You never get it right!
How could you do that!

Several studies have shown how this negative self talk affects athletes in the heat of competition, and how it affects students in our schools. One young golfer would destroy the competition until the final few holes of the course...then she blow it and lose it! Her coach began watching her and noticed that somewhere around hole 13-14 she would start talking to herself...saying stuff like, “Don’t blow it again!”

When someone is told or tells themselves enough times they are bad or they never get it right or they will fail at this like all the times before...they eventually begin to believe it and internalize it and live it out. And this sort of thing is never what God intended to happen.

And He certainly never intended for it to characterize those who believe in Him. But we have our own form of negative self-talk in the church. It is often found in hymns and more so in the modern choruses we sing. It is found in the slogans and mottos we repeat to ourselves.

We sing songs about how broken and sinful and horrible we are...
I’m just a sinner saved by grace. A sinner...
Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven....I’m not perfect
“We sin everyday in word, thought, and deed.”

As I pointed out a few weeks ago, conviction, confession, and repentance are all part of it. We need to recognize when we are part of a broken world that is not functioning the way God intended. The Holy Spirit works in our lives to reveal our sinfulness and allow God to bring healing to those areas so He can restore our lives...but sometimes we get carried away...and move into a negative self-talk as Christians.

There is a ring of truth when we sing and say these things. Many of us will say, “But it is so true! I falter and fail so much! I am not perfect. I sin all the time!”

It rings true because we are speaking out of what we live rather than what God has called us to live. We speak out of the brokenness we have inherited from out world rather than the new and restored life God has implanted in us.

He has called us to so much more!

We read Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and FALL short of the glory of God.” and know just how true that is, but we neglect to read v 24 which is the last part of the sentenced, “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

A few weeks ago I listened to a message by Louie Giglio. He pointed out that Paul writes, “To the Saints...” and then talks about the sins they are committing. He doesn’t say you sinners need to be more saintly. He says you Saints need to stop sinning. God has called us to live out of the new creation...to see ourselves the way He sees us...to speak to and about ourselves not from the viewpoint of brokenness, but from the viewpoint of being restored.

As we learn to gain our Identity, our purpose, and our self-worth from God, it is important to see that we are not sinners saved by Grace. We are not broken, pathetic, and horrible people. We are not Sinners who need to find a way to be more saintly.

We are saints who need to live up to our higher calling!

So today, let’s take a closer look at how God views us...and hopefully, how we can begin to see ourselves. So let’s look at one of the Letters of the Apostle Peter...

1 Peter 2:9-10
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

In 1 Peter 2:4-8, Peter compares how some have responded to Jesus versus how those in the church have responded to Jesus. For some Jesus is “rejected by men.” But to those who believe, Peter says, “this stone is precious.” The real separator, though, is our obedience. There are those who disobey the message, and then there are those whom God is at work in their lives...

The first thing we see is...

We are Chosen!
It feels good to be chosen. To know that we have been selected. For some of us, we still carry the scars of not being chosen on the playground. Every other kids gets picked...and you are last.

Here in 1 Peter, the Apostle writes calling us a chosen people, and reminding his original listeners how God chose the people of Israel to represent Him on the earth. In the same way God chooses the Church, and us as part of the church, to represent Him to a desperate who needs Him.

A few years ago, we were at an amusement park with some friends of ours. She was normally a bubbly, happy kind of person, but this day she was...grumpy and angry. Lori and I tried not to say anything, but over lunch we saw her get more angry and turn away. Lori asked, “What’s wrong?” Her husband says, “An old girlfriend of mine is here. She’s over there.” She turned and said, “It wouldn’t be so bad if she wasn’t so pretty!”

Then he said the stupidest thing I have ever heard someone say. He meant well. I know what he was trying to say, but in typical foot-in-mouth-husband-say-the-wrong-thing fashion...he said, “I don’t know why that is such a big deal. I chose you!”

Her response was something like, “Thanks for taking pity on me! Glad you slummed it for a fat ugly girl like me...” Yeah, it wasn’t good.

I know what he meant. He wanted to be with her because he loved her and had chosen to be with her...not with his ex.

For us, we are chosen by God because He loves us and wants to be with us...not because He has to. Not because he wants to catch us doing all the wrong stuff. But because we are special and loved by Him.

You are loved by God. He died for you. He has chosen you to be part of His church, His family, His Kingdom...You are wanted. That should be the backbone of our relationship with Him.

The second thing we see in this passage is...

We are Royalty!
There is this old story used by preachers for decades. It made its appearance about once a month when I was growing up. It is about an old ditch digger who is sing a song when a rich man pulls up alongside, rolls down the window, and asks, “Do you have any Grey Poupon?” No...the guy asks “What are you singing?”

The old ditch digger replies by singing the old chorus, “I’m a child of the King, a child of the King...”

The rich man interrupts and says, “You are not the child of a king. You are ditch digger.”

The old man simply continues singing. The point was to remind us no matter our station in life...no matter how low...we are children of the True King of Heaven. He has adopted us into His family, and we have the standing of true born children in the family.

In the culture of 1 Peter, adopted sons were given the exact same rights as natural born children. Augustus Caesar, who made a great salad, was succeeded by his adopted son. In fact, an emperor, whether he had children or not, would adopt the person he wanted to succeed him as leader of Rome.

Romans 8:14-17 says,
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ...” 

We are adopted and brought into the Royal Family. We are heirs with Christ...which means we inherit a future Kingdom that has present ramifications. In the Vineyard talk a lot about the Kingdom of God. If you would like a quick introduction to what we mean, I highly recommend George Eldon Ladd’s book, The Gospel of the Kingdom.

Part of that is an understanding that like a King, God is taking back control of things here on this earth, and one day He will re-establish His Kingdom here on Earth and set things right. Then we will see things run as they were intended to run...no pain, no tears, no sin.

And we are part of the Royal Family living out of that Kingdom today and bring that Kingdom to be a future reality.

So we are chosen, we are royalty, and

We are Priests!
Priests are hold a special place in the social structure of the Bible. They were necessary middle men standing between God and Man. They represented God to men, and they represented man to God.

In the Old Testament there are 2 important instances of this.

The first example of someone acting in the role of priest was Moses.
Exodus 20:18-19 says,
“When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

So Moses interceded on behalf of the people before God, and Moses also spoke on behalf of God to the people.

Later in Ezekiel 22:30-31
God says, “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none. So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

God’s wrath came in response to there being no one to stand in the gap...no one to represent God to the people and no one to represent the people to God...no one was willing to stand in the Gap.

We are priests. We have the privilege and the responsibility to represent God to the world and to represent people to God.

When people have problems with the Christian faith and with belief in God...it is often not so much with God as in a bad experience with Christians. They look at us to see how God would treat them. How does God forgive? How does God love? How does God care about me? They look to the church for answers to those questions.

But we also represent people to God.

When people are struggling with sin...our call is to represent them to God, and pray for their forgiveness. We believe in the power of prayer to see God bring physical healing to people. We represent these people’s need to God.

That is one of the most powerful aspect of Intercessory Prayer. At our monthly prayer and worship time we pray for people in our community. At our Prayer Outreach earlier this month, we drove through the neighborhoods praying for our community.

God places you in your neighborhoods and in your jobs not just because you need a place to live with good schools or a career to make money...he places you there as a priest...and intercessor...someone to stand in the gap...to represent your coworkers and neighbors to Him and to represent Him to them.

Everyday we walk among people, and we are called to be their priest. We have the privilege to minister to a world filled with hurt and pain out of God’s love for them when no one else will do it. We have the privilege of interceding for people before God...to seek forgiveness for them...to seek out healing for them...to stand between them and God.

We are chosen, we are royalty, we are priests, and

We are Set Apart!
That’s what being a Holy Nation means. It means we are set apart for God to use.

This has two aspects, first, we are called to live holy lives. Lives reflecting God’s Kingdom and His way of doing things rather than the world around us. He transforms us from sinner to saint so we can be an example of obedient living. As we grow in our discipleship we learn to reflect Christ more and more.

Second, we are set apart for service to the world. The Christian life is not about us getting into heaven, it is about us extending the Kingdom and purpose of God into our world. We are set apart for God to use in accomplishing His purposes in our world.

We are part of something so much bigger than us! There are times when I get discouraged and consider doing something other than planting a church...and then I remember that God has set me apart. I don’t know why He chose me, but He did. And He placed me here in Huber Heights to build a church that reaches lost people, that serves and loves with a radical grace, and that helps people grow closer to Him. And if you call this your church home, God is placing that call on your lives as well.

Church is not a spectator sport. God works through us to accomplish His purposes in the world, and I am afraid that so much get left undone simply because we cannot or will obey the voice of God and act. There is so much to accomplish. There are people who need to know who Jesus is and that He loves them.

There are people to be served and loved...Yesterday I met a man who was so thankful for a few bags of groceries. He eats Ramen noodles, he said, so his kids can have the real food in the house.

We are set apart to extend God’s Kingdom here in Huber Heights...in our neighborhoods...in our families...in our jobs. Many people will experience God’s love when we don’t step up and just do it.


We are a Special Possession!
This stresses ownership. We are owned by God. Owning people doesn’t sound like a very pleasant way to describe this...we have a bad history of that in our country, but think of it more like the toys in Toy Story.

Andy wrote his name on the foot of each of his toys...and rather than this being a controlling thing...it was comforting. They were Andy’s toys. It is a great image of God.

We are God’s People. We belong to Him. We are made in His Image, and while it has been damaged, He loves us enough to restore it in our lives. He loves our world enough to redeem all things and eventually restore our world to what He intended it to be back in the Garden. All the sin and the damage and the problems...He is working to heal and forgive that in our lives and in our world.

We are His. That is comforting...not controlling.

The Result:
The result of all of this is..

  1. We Declare His Praises. Our lives are a living testimony...proof positive that God is at work in our world...and that leads us to declare the praises of God. We are privileged to see Him at work. We get to see the miracles of God. We get to hear His voice. We get to experience His presence and that results in praise.

  2. We become His people! There is no chance most of us would ever have met or developed the friendships we have with each other apart from this church. Our lives would have been less full.
  3. We receive His mercy! There is a whole sermon wrapped up in the idea that we are saved as a people, and not just as individuals. God promises salvation to His church. But now, being part of God’s people, being brought into His family, we receive mercy.

It is time to stop the tapes that are playing inside some of our heads. We are valued, loved, and forgiven by God. We are a chosen people whom He calls to represent Him to a hurting world. Let’s go out and live as the Saints God calls us to be.

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