What is Your Identity?

We live in a time of labels. Everyone has to have an identity and we seem to want to group together with people based on certain labels. More than that, we live in times where we are continually standing for “rights” or “privileges” based on those labels.

Some are gender-based.

Some are based on ethnicity or skin color.

Many in our modern culture base their identity on their sexuality.

We describe ourselves by our jobs, or marital status, teams we root for, and more.

It seems that, unless we fit into a certain category, we aren’t accepted by today’s world. It’s almost as if you have to check just the right boxes or you aren’t part of the groups that really matter in modern America.

Here’s my problem, though: I see too many Christians standing for these labels and failing to remember a vital fact. What’s the vital fact?

If you are a Christian, that is your identity!

It is not that I stop being male when I become a Christian, but that’s no longer what defines me. Christ is my identity. (By the way, that means that, while there are different roles that men and women play in both the home and the church, there is zero difference in their worth before the heavenly Father.)

It’s not that I no longer am married; but Christ defines all that I do in that role as a husband, because He is my life. (By the way, that means that I will follow what Christ says and love my wife as He loved the Church, being sacrificial for her in all that I do and not seeking my own way all the time.)

It is not that issues of sexuality do not matter anymore, but I will follow what Christ has to say about even that area of life, because He is my Lord and Master. (By the way, that means that only monogamous heterosexual relations between a husband and wife are acceptable to the one who follows Jesus.)

When Christians start identifying themselves by other things first, those things begin to cloud their thinking. I start to think of myself as a Republican or a Democrat. I start to identify first as an American or a person of another nationality.

But when I remember that I put Christ on in baptism, that I wear His name, and that He is my Lord, that must become the only primary identity I wear.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

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AUTHOR: Adam Faughn

The Peacemaker

Telemachus was a monk who lived in the 4th century. He went to Rome and found chaos in the streets. The commotion was over the gladiators. He was amazed that four centuries after Christ had come people were still killing each other for sport. When he arrived at the Coliseum the gladiators were shouting, “Hail Caesar, we will die for Caesar.” He jumped over the railing and went out into the middle of the field, got between two gladiators, held up his hands and said: “In the name of Christ, forbear.” The crowd protested and began to shout, “Run him through, Run him through.” A gladiator came over and hit him in the stomach with the back of his sword. It sent him sprawling in the sand. He got up and ran back and again said, “In the name of Christ, forbear.” The crowd continued to chant, “Run him through.” One gladiator came over and plunged his sword through the little monk’s stomach and he fell into the sand, which began to turn crimson with his blood. One last time he gasped out, “In the name of Christ forbear.” A hush came over the 80,000 people in the Coliseum. Soon a man stood and left, then another and more, and within minutes all 80,000 had emptied out of the arena. It was the last known gladiatorial contest in the history of Rome.

What does it take for there to be peace? It takes sacrifice. It takes humility. It takes someone who will do what is right regardless of the cost.

Consider all the sources of conflict in life: There are wars over land and property. There are divorces over “irreconcilable differences.” Sometimes relationships become strained by pride. And most of all, there is the conflict between God and ourselves because of our own foolishness and sin.

What motivates us to peace? A man standing in the middle of the conflict. A man who loves us so much that he will not allow us to continue in our sin and death. A man who himself is willing to give his life to save our own. A man who will help us to see what we are doing to ourselves and to others. A man who took a sword and cried, “Father, forgive!”

God has called us to peace. He has called us to peace through the death of His own Son. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Praise God for His love and compassion in the midst of our foolishness!

“Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.” ~ Matthew 5:9

But Daniel — Then Daniel

Most of us will never be in a place of prominence like Daniel. I have no illusions about ever being “…the third ruler in the kingdom…” (Dan. 5:29). I don’t have any expectations about my words or actions ever being reported by the national news media. 

While our “sphere of influence” may not be as large as his, our Lord expects that influence to be positive (cf. Matt. 5:13-16). It seems to me that there are a couple of things learned from Daniel that can help us to do that.

In the opening verses of the book that bears his name, we learn about a number of young men who were taken from their homeland into a foreign country. We learn that they were exceptional young men and that they were to be trained in the language and customs of that country. Of course, Daniel was one of those young men.

Along with that training, there were certain expectations. Daniel understood that some of those expectations were in conflict with the will of God. Specifically, Daniel knew that some of the expectations would have an impact on his diet 

Daniel also knew a couple of other things. He also knew that he was far from home. He also knew he was in a very definite minority.

So, what did this young man do when the “odds were stacked against him?” What did he do when he was presented with the opportunity to “go along in order to get along?”

“But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank…” (Dan. 1:8, ESV).

“But Daniel” – those two words say a lot. They say that Daniel knew he was different. They say that he knew that there were things he could not do because of his devotion to God.

Those of us who at least claim to follow Jesus understand that there are some things we cannot do in order to live up to that claim. It has never been the case that God’s people can “blend in” with ungodly people and/or lifestyles. 

We are to be distinctive. We need to live up to the “but Daniel” portions of scripture. Those portions can be a real challenge.

However, there are two other words in the passage that also present a challenge.

“Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, test your servants for ten days…” (Dan. 1:11-12, ESV).

His resolve led to action! 

I’m concerned that Christians are often only known for what we refuse to do. We may focus a little too much on the “but Daniel” portions of scripture and not give much thought to those “then Daniel” portions. 

I would like to challenge all of us (starting with me) to also consider the “then Daniel” portions. “But Daniel” does little good without “then Daniel.” Salt does no good when it is left in a salt shaker and light does no good when it is covered up. 

It is significant that, after our Lord washed the feet of His apostles, He said:

If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them (John 13:17, ESV).

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AUTHOR: Jim Faughn

Some Thoughts about Your Money This Holiday Season

It’s hard sometimes to stop long enough to think hard about who you really are. We are all wrapped up in this culture. And because we are in it we let everything around us dictate our behavior. We wind up being so swept up in the world that we do everything just like everyone else. I think the holidays are the ultimate example of this reality.

Take this into consideration: On Valentine’s Day, we go to the restaurant. On July the 4th we go to the lake. On Thanksgiving, we go to grandma’s house. And the day after Thanksgiving for about a month we go to the store.

I want to plead with you to be less materialistic this Christmas. Don’t spend thousands of dollars buying Christmas gifts out of obligation. Don’t give your kids everything they want on their list. Don’t make unwise financial decisions that are going to affect your budget for months into the New Year. 

Sit down with your family and make the decision not to make this final month of the year about “things.” Make it about relationships. Make it about spending time together. Make it about thanking God for the blessings of the year. Make it about doing something with those blessings to help others.

Here are a few suggestions about what to do with your money in December:

1. Make sure you are giving to the Lord of your first fruits. Don’t let your weekly giving decline so you can buy stuff at Christmas! Our giving to God should be planned and consistent according to our prosperity. If you increase your giving this month, don’t let it be for the tax break. Do it because you are thankful and because you love the Lord. 1 Corinthians 16:2 still counts in December.

2. Don’t spend more money in December than you did all of the other months. We justify overspending because of the holidays. I am confident that nearly 100% will spend more this month than any other month. Some get end-of-the-year bonuses and perhaps this makes spending more a little easier. But have some self-control. Stay on budget. Don’t get pulled into all the propaganda of the marketplace.

3. Do less for your blessed family and more to help those who are hurting. If you are going to buy Christmas gifts for your children, you can teach them a great lesson by buying for those who don’t have much. Right now is the time to let your family know that you are going to share your blessings with others instead of taking hours and hours to open up presents on Christmas morning.

4. Give presents that are not so expensive. We have all heard the expression, “It’s the thought that counts.” How true! It’s not the size of the gift or the amount of money that you spend that matters. The case in point for us has been our middle child. For years as soon as he gets that one thing (often inexpensive) that he wants, he is ready to go into the other room and enjoy it for hours. He often doesn’t even care about opening the rest of the gifts! You don’t have to break your pocketbook to show others you love them. The greatest gifts are often made by hand and come from the heart, not the store.

My prayer for you is that you can rest and enjoy this holiday season. Make it about spiritual things rather than physical things. Love more. Bless others. Give thanks and honor to the Creator and Sustainer of every good and perfect gift!

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” – James 1:17

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AUTHOR: Jeremiah Tatum

Too Thankful to Sleep

I proved a song wrong recently.

It was just after 2:30 in the morning, and my phone rang. It was a wrong number, but it woke me up and jarred me enough that I struggled to fall back asleep. My mind was racing.

After a little while, my mind thought of some lyrics from the classic movie “White Christmas:”

When I get worried and I can’t sleep,

I count my blessings instead of sheep.

Then I fall asleep counting my blessings.

It was the middle of the night, so I figured I’d give it a try. I started to think of blessings, reminding myself that “every good and every perfect gift” is from God (James 1:17).

I thought of my precious wife and what a blessing she is to me, and how much she does for our family and our congregation that goes unnoticed by everyone but God Himself.

I thought of my kids, and what an awesome responsibility it is to raise them, but also how blessed I am to have that precious girl and soft-hearted boy in my life.

I thought of the rest of my family. No one deserves to be blessed with parents, siblings, in-laws, and more like I am.

I thought of some physical blessings like the house we live in. It may cost us a lot to keep up and update, but it keeps us cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and the number of laughs that have been shared in that place are already innumerable.

And on…

and on…

and on…

and on…

it went.

Finally, about 4:30 in the morning, I decided that I would stop trying to fall asleep by counting my blessings and try reading a book instead. (It worked…after 45 minutes…by the way.)

When I woke up at 6:00 (my usual time), I reflected back on what had been a weird night, and one that might take a day or two to catch up from.

More than that, though, my mind was filled with more gratitude for all that God has done for me. My salvation is because of Him. My hope is because of Him. My very life is because of Him.

It’s hard to sleep when you have that much to be grateful for!

(So, if you’ll forgive me, I might just count sheep tonight.)

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AUTHOR: Adam Faughn

Are You the Victim of a One-Way Relationship?

Over twenty years of counseling has brought some valuable insights to my ministry. One of those insights is that those who are struggling with their loved ones often feel as if they are in a one-way relationship. I’m not just speaking here of husbands and wives. I’m talking about all relationships: dating couples, parent-to-child and child-to-parent, sibling-to-sibling and friend-to-friend.

People get hurt when they are constantly giving and not receiving. They feel unloved and unappreciated. They often come to the conclusion that their love is unrequited and that the other person in this relationship doesn’t really know who they are or what they truly care about. This all translates to one terrible reality – although there is a relationship, they feel completely alone!

How does a person get themselves into the one-way relationship mess? Sometimes it is just a matter of choosing. We may be so desirous of being close to another person that we set all boundaries aside and go all in with our devotion even if the other person hasn’t chosen to be so dedicated. We may want more from the relationship than the other person wants, and we may convince ourselves that this other person loves us as much as we love them. It may be that we are born into situations where there is some dysfunction already occurring in our families with regard to equality and appreciation in interpersonal relationships. Thus we become a victim of patterned behavior that was in place even before we came into existence.

How do we change the tide in a one-way relationship? Well, what do you do when you are going the wrong direction down a one-way street? You back up and assess the safety of your current direction. All relationships take two people to exist. You cannot control the activity or the choices of the other person. If your relationship is in trouble, there are probably some things that you are doing that are contributing to its unhealthy status. Here are a few things you might want to try in order to improve your situation:

1. Don’t allow yourself to be treated disrespectfully. Proverbs 22:10 says, “Cast out the scoffer, and contention will leave.” It is one thing to be patient and endure persecution. It is another thing to allow yourself to be trampled on by someone who is supposed to love you. Take the Father’s example: God loves us but he also demands our respect and admiration.

2. Don’t be so available. “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine…” (Matt. 7:6). There is a point at which it is unhealthy to continue to extend oneself far beyond the genuine interest or desire of someone else. Even Christ walked away from giving energy to the people who did not appreciate his efforts of love and compassion.

3. Don’t become dependent. “Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass” (Psa. 37:5). This biggest mistake people make in their search for happiness is seeking to derive it from someone else. People hold on to relationships that are bad for them, hoping that things will pan out. But our clinging post is Christ and Christ alone. He is the one on whom we should and can always depend. Our joy must be derived in and through Him.

4. Don’t believe that constant fighting is normal. “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3). You may be in a relationship with a person who always wants to fight. Conflict may be how they seek to get their way. But putting away your weapons is a good idea. It takes two to have a disagreement. Peace will only be found by those who are dedicated to its discovery.

5. Increase the frequency of quality communication and conversation. When Paul and Barnabas were seeking to establish and strengthen the church in Antioch, it says, “They stayed there a long time with the disciples” (Acts 14:28). The two most important ingredients in a relationship are time and communication. There must be time for listening if we want to be heard. There must be time for talking if we want to communicate.

6. Create appropriate boundaries until trust is gained. “Keep your heart with all diligence…” (Prov. 4:23). Most people that are the victims of one-way relationships have never taken enough time for the other person to earn what they are willing to give. There is a reason God instructed us to marry before we give our whole selves up. We are supposed to save the most intimate part of ourselves only for the person who is willing to make a full commitment to obtain it. There is a part of you that should be retained until the other person has earned your complete trust.

Now, just for a moment, think about your relationship with God. Don’t you imagine that, based on your past behavior, God must have often felt that he was the victim of a one-way relationship? And yet He is the one SAFE relationship. He never leaves. He never forsakes. He always loves. He always forgives. He always keeps His promises. He never disappoints. He is the only SURE and absolute relationship that we are guaranteed for all of our earthly lives as well as for eternity.

Perhaps His steadfastness will help us to patiently endure when we feel like we are not getting what we deserve from others. And perhaps in His dedication to us, we can be reminded that the one relationship we need to put the most energy into is the one he has offered through Christ Jesus. He must forever and always be the supreme love of our lives. He is the “one-way.” He is the only way.

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AUTHOR: Jeremiah Tatum

Not a Holiday or An Attitude

This week, our nation celebrates my very favorite holiday. It is not “marred” by some of the manmade legends and superstitions of other holidays. Neither has it (yet) become commercialized as much as other holidays.

Thanksgiving, at least in our family, is a day that loved ones get together and enjoy some time together. There are no gifts to be exchanged. There are, at least in most families, no elaborate ceremonies or rituals. People who love one another get to relax (except for those who spend hours cooking), share memories, make memories, and, hopefully, spend some time expressing gratitude to God for the blessings we have. 

During this season, it is not uncommon to be reminded that thanksgiving should not be relegated to a holiday that is celebrated only once a year. We are told that we need to have “an attitude of gratitude” every season and every day of the year.

Usually, this idea is presented as what might be called a helpful suggestion. We are told that our families would be better; our relationships with others would be enhanced; the atmosphere in our workplaces would improve; and that we would even feel better about ourselves if we had this “attitude of gratitude.” 

I would like to challenge the thinking of all of us – including me. What if we started thinking of thanksgiving in terms of something more serious than a helpful suggestion? What if we considered it as a command that our Lord expects His followers to carry out?

The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write the following words in Romans 6:3-4:

Know ye not, that so many of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Now, please consider some things that the same apostle, inspired by the same Holy Spirit wrote to those who had been “risen with Christ” (Col. 3:1). How many of the following things from Colossians 3 sound like “helpful suggestions” to you? 

  • “Put off all of these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth” (v. 8)
  • “Lie not to one another” (v. 9)
  • “Put on, therefore, as the elect of God… bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering, forbearing one another and forgiving one another, …charity…” (vs. 12-14)

Again, I invite you to read those words in their original context. When you do, I believe that you will find that these have the force of commands that are to be obeyed by those who truly follow Jesus.

If that is the case, what is the force of these words?

“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which ye also are called in one body; and be ye thankful” (Col. 3:15, emphasis added).

Is it dangerous for people to fail to be thankful? Do you remember all of those despicable things about which Paul wrote in Romans 1? Do you remember that he wrote that “…they which commit such things are worthy of death…” (v. 32)?

Do you remember where their “downward spiral” began?

“…(W)hen they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful…” (Rom. 1:21).

It is true that my earthly relationships would improve as I improve in the area of gratitude. It is also true that my feelings about myself would also improve.

All of that pales in comparison with the thought that my eternal destiny may be determined, in some measure, by whether or not I see thanksgiving as a holiday, an attitude, or a command.

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AUTHOR: Jim Faughn

Episode 93: Our 2017 Thankful List [Podcast]

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With Thanksgiving coming next week, Adam, Leah, Mary Carol, and Turner all sit around and think about gratitude and things they are thankful for. We hope this encourages your family to do the same thing more often!

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The Value of Complete Information

I have been sick. Like really sick. The kind where I actually missed worship and work and skipped fun family things. Through this experience, I have reaffirmed the need for complete information. Allow me to explain.

Last Thursday, after not feeling well for about 24 hours, I finally gave in and went to the doctor once I began to run a fever. I felt very “flu-y.” However, I tested negative for both strep and flu so they looked at my white blood count to determine if my problem was viral or bacterial. The white blood count showed bacterial, so with the information available, I was given a general antibiotic and told to take Tylenol and ibuprofen in rotation. They wrote me a note to return to work Monday.

I followed the directions I was given. I canceled events for Friday and Saturday and stayed in the bed or on the recliner. I took my medicine. But I wasn’t getting better. Why? When I went back to the doctor Monday, a new test was added: a chest x-ray. Eureka! I had pneumonia. The provider told me the antibiotic I was taking wouldn’t even touch pneumonia.

So where is the spiritual connection? Well, I’m afraid that there are people out there who are doing everything they have been told to cure their sin-sickness, but who don’t have the complete information. Some have been told to simply believe. Others have prayed a prayer that is supposed to work. However, when one looks at the Great Physician’s full prescription, they will find the following:

  • Romans 10:17: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
  • Mark 16:16: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”
  • Acts 2:38: “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'”
  • Romans 10:10: “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
  • 1 Peter 3:21: “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (ESV)
  • Matthew 25:21: “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. … Enter into the joy of your master.’”

Had we had complete information last Thursday, I might not have missed so much and still feel so weak. Trust me: once we had the complete information, I did not hesitate to take the shot and the new antibiotic. If you now have the complete information, don’t wait for healing.

“And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

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AUTHOR: Amber Tatum

1 Problem with Thanksgiving…and 10 Ways to Overcome It

Next week is Thanksgiving. This day is my favorite holiday. I like to think of it as Christmas, but without all the pressure!

It’s a day that I look forward to for food, family, relaxing, watching TV…just a wonderful day. I hope it’s that way for you, too: a day where you can just enjoy time with friends and family and just relax.

There’s just one problem that I think a lot of folks have on Thanksgiving: we don’t take much time to actually give thanks! We fill our day with hanging out, watching football (or, hopefully, basketball), eating, resting…and there is often very little time spent actually thanking God for what we have when He has been so good to us over and over again.

So, I’d like to give 10 ways to overcome that this year. In reality, it is just one way, but 10 avenues to approach it.

The overarching solution is simple: take time to talk about God’s blessings.

But how can you approach that? Here are 10 questions to ask:

  1. In what way have you seen God’s providence work in your life this year?
  2. What is a “simple” blessing that you have taken for granted, but need to be more thankful for?
  3. What is something difficult God has helped you through this year?
  4. What promise of Scripture have you seen “come to life” in the past few months?
  5. What person (or people) has done something for you in the past few months that has caused you to be more grateful?
  6. What is something at your congregation that you are thankful for more now than ever?
  7. What events in the news have helped you focus on being more thankful recently?
  8. What is a small event in your own life that has helped you focus on gratitude?
  9. Who have you seen display gratitude in a simple but beautiful way recently?
  10. What storm of life has brought about a silver lining with the help of God’s grace?

Certainly, there are other questions like these you can ask, but these are enough to get you started?

So, amidst all the wonderful things you have planned for Thanksgiving, why not slow down just a few minutes and actually give thanks? I think you will find it to be the best part of your day.

By the way…

As one “crafty” way to ask these questions, Leah wrote a post last year about a project we did as a family that went over very well. It is a craft, but (trust me!) it can be done by anyone and only takes about five minutes. You can find her article here.

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AUTHOR: Adam Faughn

Photo background credit: Faith Goble on Creative Commons