Tag Archives: bible study

Choosing Your Identity

Over 20 years ago, I had the opportunity to live in Egypt. It was an incredible experience. Around this time of year, I learned something that I had not known. Several of my American friends were gearing up to go to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and other nice cities in the Middle East to buy Christmas presents for their kids. I heard one parent yelling to the other one, “Make sure you grab the right passports!” Thinking it was a strange request, I asked what they meant by “right passports”. They explained that because the Middle East hated Israel so much, if they had a stamp from Israel in their passport, they would deny them entry into their country. So they had one passport for traveling around the world, and one just for traveling in the Middle East. To me, it was like having two identities.

I’ve realized through the years, each of us have competing identities within us. One is the life that we were created to live and the other is the one created by the fall of Adam. Each of them have very different desires and are at war with each other. Paul, who named himself the Chief of Sinners, knew the struggle all to well as the Early Church was forming. Many believers had grown up trying to earn God’s favor by performing rituals and were struggling to understand grace. In Galatians 2, Paul explained to them, and to us, that it’s our Adamic identity that wants us to think our relationship with God is based on what we do. In verse 20, he wrote, “My old identity has been co-crucified with Messiah and no longer lives; for the nails of his cross crucified me with him. And now the essence of this new life is no longer mine, for the Anointed One lives his life through me— we live in union as one! My new life is empowered by the faith of the Son of God who loves me so much that he gave himself for me, and dispenses his life into mine!” (TPT)In effect, Paul was telling us he canceled his Adamic passport.

Each of us need to choose to cancel our old identity. When we accept Christ, we’re given a new one that is powered by grace instead of works. It’s not what we do that earns God’s favor, but Christ who lives in us. He is our righteousness before God. You are enough because He is enough, and He lives within you. We have to crucify the old way of thinking daily and accept our identity in Christ. So many of us are struggling to move forward in our Christianity because we’re still trying to carry around two passports. We’re trying to live like Adam on Saturday and like Christ on Sunday. That’s a hard way to live. When we cancel our old identity, Jesus gives us new life that allows us to live the life we were created to live. It’s a daily, and sometimes hourly, choice we must make to live the life Jesus has called us to.

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The Jesus Effect

One of the first rules you learn as a child is that you become like those you hang out with. Someone once said, “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you, you.” We tend to take on attributes, accents and habits of the people we spend time with. I read a study once that showed how kids don’t take on their parent’s accents. They take on the ones of their friends. Think about the people you are around the most. Good or bad, they’ve had an affect on the things you like, the places you go and even the foods you eat. They have changed you as much as you have changed them.

In the book of Acts, the disciples went around preaching and healing people the way Jesus did. They went to the Temple to pray and to educate others on the Scriptures. As they approached the gate one day, a beggar who couldn’t walk asked them for money. Instead of money, they brought him to his feet healed. The religious leaders threw them in jail for it. As they were being questioned the next day about it, Peter spoke up and told them it was done through the power of Jesus’ name. Acts 4:13 says, “The council members were astonished as they witnessed the bold courage of Peter and John, especially when they discovered that they were just ordinary men who had never had religious training. Then they began to understand the effect Jesus had on them simply by spending time with him” (TPT).

Think about that. They saw the effect Jesus had on them simply by spending time with Him. Just like you and your friends have an affect on each other’s lives, our lives are affected by spending time with Jesus. The more time you spend with Him, the greater the effect He will have on your life. We, like the disciples, will become more like Him each and every day. You can be an ordinary person and have an extraordinary change in your life, and in the lives of others, by spending time in prayer, reading the Bible and resting in His presence. Just like anything in the Bible, we have to be the ones to take the first step. The change happens after we make the time to spend with Him.

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Being Great

One of the best Christian books I’ve read is “Good to Great In God’s Eyes” by Chip Ingram. It starts off asking the question, “Is it really wrong to want to be great?” As a Christian, we’re taught to be humble, but somehow we’ve equated being humble with being average. It’s as if you can’t be great and humble at the same time. I don’t want to live an average life, and I don’t believe we were created to either. The words from Jim Collins book, “Good to Great”, spoke to my soul when he wrote, “Good is the enemy of great.” How often do we settle for good when God has created us for great things? How often have we felt ashamed for wanting to be great?

When the disciples asked Jesus about who would be the greatest, He didn’t chastise them. He simply explained that greatness in His kingdom isn’t measured the same way it is in our world. He put the desire in you to be great, and even gave us the Great Commission as our mission. You can’t have the impact on the world that you’re called to have and not be great. The difference is that in His kingdom, greatness comes from serving others and helping them reach their God-given potential. It’s about magnifying His name instead of our own. If you truly want to be great in God’s kingdom, then you’re going to have to be disciplined and do things that make an impact on eternity.

Here are some Bible verses on being great in God’s kingdom.

1. So whoever breaks one of the least [important] of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least [important] in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever practices and teaches them, he will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:19 AMP

2. But this is not your calling. You will lead by a completely different model. The greatest one among you will live as the one who is called to serve others, because the greatest honor and authority is reserved for the one with the heart of a servant.

Matthew 20:26-27 TPT

3. Whoever makes himself great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be made great.

Matthew 23:12 GNT

4. The silence was deafening—they had been arguing with one another over who among them was greatest. He sat down and summoned the Twelve. “So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.”

Mark 9:34-35 MSG

5. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.

Matthew 19:30 NLT

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The Key To More Power

If spending quality time with God is the way to having a quality spiritual life, then fasting is the way to having a more powerful spiritual life. Giving up our time shows God we are making Him a priority. Giving up food shows Him that we are willing to sacrifice our physical comfort for spiritual gain. Fasting is a spiritual discipline that I’m afraid too few Christians engage in. Either we don’t see the purpose or we don’t see the value, so we don’t do it. When we skip fasting as a spiritual discipline, we miss out on a strength that’s needed to overcome certain things in our lives.

In Mark 9, there is a story of a man who asked Jesus to heal his son who was possessed by an evil spirit. In verse 18 he said, “I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.” They had spent quality time with Jesus, but hadn’t been fasting and praying so they lacked the power to heal him. Jesus told them in verse 29, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer and fasting.” He inferred that there is more power in fasting.

When you are in need of more power to overcome a temptation, to find the right direction, or to get through a situation, I encourage you to fast and to pray. Your fast should be between you and God. Don’t make an outward show of it or tell people you are doing it so they will feel sorry for you. Jesus said that if you did that, you have your reward. I’d rather have the power of God than the approval of man. It’s our choice when we fast.

In Matthew 6:16, Jesus said, “When (not if) you fast, don’t make it obvious.” He knew that our human nature likes to receive sympathy from others. We like to play to the crowd and to get others to feel sorry for us. Fasting is not about that at all. It’s about showing God you have brought your body under discipline and are denying it what it needs in order to gain what your spirit needs. It shows Him we are willing to feed our spirit instead of our stomach.

The Bible talks of many different types of fasts and lengths of fasts. How long, what you fast, and why you fast are between you and God. I always feel like the more challenging the fast, the greater reward. If my fast costs me nothing, that’s about what I’ll get in return. The greater the need in my life, the greater the fast I do. Some are mentally challenging, but all are physically challenging. Before I fast, I usually seek God on what He wants me to fast and for how long. Once decided, I pray for the need every time I have a desire for what I’m fasting. I’ve learned that giving up what I want for what He wants changes me for the better every time.

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Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other writing ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.

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The Garden Of Life

On one of my trips to Israel, we visited one of the places recognized as the place where Jesus was buried. As we walked into the Garden Tomb area outside the current walls of Jerusalem, a person behind me said, “This looks like a cemetery.” I laughed, turned around, and said, “That’s because it is!” The place is beautiful and peaceful. It’s easy to forget where you are as you stroll through the garden. It doesn’t feel like a touristy spot like so many places here do. It’s a relaxing a spiritual experience for sure.

After looking at Golgotha and going inside the tomb, we stepped aside and took communion. As I was holding the bread and the juice, I kept thinking about my comment that it was a cemetery. This was a garden with a tomb in it really. As I thought about that more, and we took communion, I began to reflect on the garden aspect of the place. A garden is a place where things grow. It’s a place where life thrives.

What better place for Jesus to be buried than in a garden, a place of life. Jesus came so that we may have life, and life more abundant. As I looked around this garden, I kept thinking about how it was a reflection of who He was. It was a place of peace for the Prince of Peace. It was full of life like the giver of life Himself. Jesus wasn’t buried in a place that was surrounded by other dead bodies. He was surrounded by life.

As I walked away from that place, there was a small plaque of John 14:6. In that verse, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the LIFE.” I had always focused on the first two, but had rarely thought about what it meant for Him to be the life. He can grow the most beautiful things in our life where it looks like a cemetery. He can speak life into your most impossible situation because there is nothing too hard for Him. Don’t look at the problems in your life as an end. Give that to the Lord and He will turn them into a place of life and growth like the garden near His empty tomb.

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Becoming Wise Stewards

Recently my wife and I were walking and a Lamborghini drove by. She asked, “If you had the money, would you ever buy one of those?” I told her I didn’t think so, but I do think they’re pretty awesome. I like to think I’d be like J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans. He makes over $15 million a year, but doesn’t drive a car like that. He said that whenever he gets the itch to drive one, he just rents one for a weekend and takes it back. The truth is, if you don’t make that kind of money, it’s hard to know what you would do with it. Would you buy a mansion? Would you drive expensive cars? Would you throw parties all the time? Would you try to eradicate poverty? Would you fund housing for the homeless? Would you support missionaries with your excess? It’s easy to give these answers when you don’t have it.

Jesus told the story of a guy who was in charge of his wealthy boss’ affairs. When it came out that he was skimming and squandering the boss’ money, he got called on the carpet to give account of how he had been managing his money. Knowing the gig was up, he decided to make friends with the boss’ debtors. He started cutting what they owed down in order to recoup the things he lent out. The boss commended him for doing that, not because he had cheated him, but because he was thinking of his future and was doing things to make sure he would be taken care of in unemployment. Then in Luke 16:10, Jesus said, “And I tell you [learn from this], make friends for yourselves [for eternity] by means of the wealth of unrighteousness [that is, use material resources as a way to further the work of God], so that when it runs out, they will welcome you into the eternal dwellings” (AMP).

The very next verse is our challenge no matter how much we make right now. Jesus said, ““He who is faithful in a very little thing is also faithful in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little thing is also dishonest in much.” No matter what you make right now, are you being faithful with it? Saying, “If I had the money, I would… (fill in the blank,)” means nothing. If you aren’t making a difference now with what you have, how can God trust you with more money? Each of us will give account to God one day just like the man in the parable. Did we do things with our resources to further the Kingdom? Or did we do things to make our lives exceptionally comfortable here? We are simply managers of the money God has entrusted to us. No matter how you’re managing it now, ask God for wisdom in how to be more faithful with what you have today.

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The Father’s Heart

The Prodigal Son is a parable just about everyone has heard. We know how one son asked for his inheritance early and left home to go see the world. Like a lot of people who have won the lottery, he thought the money was unending. He spent it on frivolous things and soon the money ran out while he was far from home. With a famine in the land, he found it hard to find work or food. He soon was breaking the Jewish customs and sacrificing what he believed just so he could eat. He decided that he was better off going home and being a servant of his father’s than to be in his current predicament. While he was a long way away, the father saw him, ran to him, celebrated his return and threw a party. The older son, who was working the fields heard the commotion, found out what was happening and grew angry about it.

In this story, we like to identify with the son who left home and was welcomed back. We love knowing our Heavenly Father is looking for us and will welcome us back no matter what we’ve done. The story is about the older son too. He’s the one who stayed doing what he was supposed to. He’s the one who didn’t lose all his father had worked for. Yet he was the one out of everyone who was angry that a big deal was being made about his brother who had wasted his inheritance. He didn’t like that his brother’s poor behavior was being celebrated. He lost sight that it wasn’t a celebration of bad decisions, but that the brother had made a right one after so many wrong ones. He had returned to where he belonged.

Have you ever thought how different that story would have turned out if it had been the older brother on the porch rather than the father? Would he have sent his own brother away? It’s so important that you and I have our Heavenly Father’s heart. We should celebrate like Heaven does when the lost find their way home. We should welcome people with open arms when they’ve reached the end of their rope and have a repentant heart. Matthew 18:14 says, “Now you should understand that it is never the desire of your heavenly Father that a single one of these humble believers should be lost” (TPT). The Father’s heart is that no one should be lost, so He rejoices when one is found. It’s time we all shared his love for the lost and rejoice with Him in these moments.

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