Whose story am I part of?
When we look at the latest mobile phones it is easy to see how far technology has advanced over the last few years. Modern designs are nothing like those most of us from a certain generation were brought up with! The modern mobile phone is obviously the result of developing technology in the communications market.
Now think about the human fertilized egg, which is invisible to the naked eye. It contains all the amazing genetic information for the most complex computer in the Universe – the human brain. Our physiology speaks of incredible design. We are not an accident and our lives have meaning and purpose.
Our brain contains one-hundred-billion neurons, which are the building blocks of the nervous system. Nerve impulses to and from the brain travel at 170 miles (274 kilometres) per hour. Our bodies have 60,000 miles of blood vessels and our hearts pump over 7000 litres of blood around the body every day. Every square inch of our skin has approximately nineteen million skin cells and our body has thirty-seven thousand miles of capillaries. We are most definitely not an accident! As John Paul Sartre the French Philosopher and playwright one said…
“I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a king whom only a Creator could put here; the idea of a creating hand refers to God.”
Jean Paul Sartre (1905-80).
Time to think
Many of us have been brought up to believe that life is one big accident, however no one lives as if life is an accident and the incredible intricate detail of the human body points more to design than to anything else. If there is design then it stands to reason that there must be a designer.
The Bible states that God is our creator (Genesis 1:1) and holds the blueprint to all life. Many reject the idea of God because of what they see around them, yet the Bible says that what we see is what the world has become and not as it was originally created to be by God.
Our personal history and the history of the world affect us and so a question we could ask ourselves is this: Whose history am I part of? Have we simply accepted the current view of the society we live in and observations of others, or are we prepared to think about what makes us who we are.
“If the world’s finest minds can unravel only with difficulty the deeper workings of nature, how could it be supposed that those workings are merely a mindless accident, a product of blind chance?”
Dr Paul Davis in ‘Superforce’ page 236.
A Christian teacher once spoke at the University in Shikesvah in Hungary shortly after the Berlin Wall was removed. He’d been asked to debate an atheist astronomer on the subject of “Does God Exist?
On the day of the debate the teacher was informed by a very apologetic Dean that his opponent had unexpectedly been called away. However the University would still like to hear his views. He was then led into a lecture hall full of staff and students at all levels of academia. After speaking and during a time for questions one student spoke of how Russian cosmonauts had gone into space and not found God. In light of this, the students question was, “Have you seen God and if you have not, then how can you believe?”
In beginning his reply the teacher addressed the faculty of Professors and asked how much knowledge did they think was represented in the lecture hall at that time. For example, it is well known that there are over two thousand languages in the world and many thousands of dialects. For example, in New Guinea alone there are over seven-hundred dialects. He then asked how many questions they felt the students could answer on these dialects? He then went on to ask how many questions could would they be able to answer about the family of the thirteenth Ming Dynasty in China and, if thousands of new books were printed each day, then how many of them had they read?
The teacher then went on say that if knowing everything it was possible to know was seen as 100% then how much knowledge did a lecture hall full of hundreds of students and academics contain? Was it 95%, 90% or 50%? He then asked the lecturers if it was possible that they and their students might know 5% of the knowledge in the world and was told that it might just be possible. He then said, “Is it possible that God exists in the 95% that they do not know. They answered, “Yes”
In continuing to address the question he’d been asked the teacher then pointed out that everyone has two alternatives. You could either live or die as an advanced and slightly more intelligent animal or you could live believing that there is a loving God who reaches out and seeks to care for people. You can’t necessarily explain all that goes on in the world, but you know this God desires the best for you and also offers life after death. The teacher went on to ask them that if both views were believable which they would want to choose. Would they prefer to live on their own or with a sense of worth and meaning in the sight of a supreme being? If they had to choose one of these alternatives, which would they choose? The faculty replied that it would be foolish not to choose the view of worth and meaning in the sight of a supreme being
Finally the teacher went on to tell them that none of them could be atheists because they had agreed that God could possibly exist in the 95% they did not know. He also said that at best that would leave them an agnostic, but they were not agnostic either. An agnostic does not really care about whether there is a God or not – but their answer showed that they did. In light of this they should regard themselves as seekers.
Whose history are we part of?
At this point a couple of questions we could all ask ourselves are “How did we get the picture of us that we have right now and what events in our past have resulted in us having this view of self? Whose history is it that shapes our lives? For example, if we were brought up in a family where we were always told we were useless this may be the way we view ourselves today – as useless.
We could also ask ourselves some other questions like, “Do we live with the identity of what we have become (for example, a businessman or an alcoholic) or by what God says about our lives? Today people take their identity from anything from the football team they support to the nation they were born in and culture they were brought up in. So whose history are we a part of and how do things like culture influence your lives? Apart from this, what is culture anyway?
Culture can be described as the way we think, feel, and believe and, in a sense is the way a group lives and stores up knowledge for the future. For example, culture in the workplace could be seen in the way people dress and how employees are treated. Then again, what we wear and what we listen to can also be examples of popular culture in the society we have been brought up in. Sometimes people judge us by what we wear.
In many cases culture is the empowering force that shapes what we believe, accept and feel to be right. For example, in certain parts of India couples are not allowed to hold hands, whilst in the West it would be perfectly normal. Whilst civilisation has been described as the ‘body’ of culture, culture is often seen as the spirit (empowering force). So what empowers our lives and what view of life do we have and where does it come from?
The beginning of our story
The Bible shows us that our story does not begin with culture or nationality. Our story begins with the One true God who is known through Jesus. He is the One who created the world (Genesis 1:1, John 1:1) and whose love (1 John 4:8) was present for us right from the very beginning (Eph 1:4; note also: Rev 13:8, Titus1:2). In John 3:16 we see that God’s love is an intense love that has always been present. For example the word ‘loved’ in John 3:16 is in the past tense and points us back to, “In the beginning” (John 1:1, Rev 13:8). God’s love has always been present for us, but our thinking often prevents us from receiving it.
“Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought. Even though it has only lately—at the end of the ages—become public knowledge, God always knew he was going to do this for you. It’s because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God”.
1 Peter 1:19-20 (The Message)
From what the Bible says I see that the beginning of my story is not, “I am an Englishman,” for example, but, “I am made in the image of God” (Gen1:27). This refers to being made for a relationship with one who wants to be known as my heavenly Father (Matthew 6:9).
The Bible says that we have been created to be sons and daughters of the living God and that this is really the beginning of our story. Sin came into the world at a later stage, but sin is not the beginning and should not be allowed to define us. Sin is something that has happened to us, as are the statements and labels that others use to define us such as ‘useless’, ‘waste of space’ and ‘not worth knowing.’ The only One who can really tell me who I am, and has the right to do so is the One who created us and who was present from the very beginning. We were made to know and be known by Him and the benefit from His loving-kindness (1 John 4:8).
The One who tells us who we really are is our creator who was present from the beginning and we were made to know Him and to benefit from His love (1 John 4:8)
As a Christian you have been reconciled to God (Colossians 1:22), having been brought home by the most powerful person in this Universe: Jesus Christ. Despite being all-powerful He is also the One who understands what it is like to feel vulnerable, marginalised, ridiculed and betrayed. There is nothing you have gone through or will ever go through that He does not understand.
Jesus is the Saviour of the world, the Anointed One who triumphed over all adversity as He stood in your place and took the penalty for your sin (Ephesians 2:8). Through His work you a now a recipient of amazing and outrageous grace.
The Hebrew word for ‘grace’ is ‘chen,’ and at its ‘heart’ this word carries the picture of fencing in and protecting life. God wants to protect and nurture you as a son or daughter belonging to Him. He will not suffocate you with His love or seek to control you against your will, but is present to help you become all that you really can be in Him.
The New Testament word for grace (‘charis’) continues to reveal this amazing grace that is yours right now. It is undeserved favour and unmerited blessing from another: from the Holy One (Isaiah 5:16); your heavenly Father.
It is because of God’s mercy and loving-kindness that you, the rebel, have been able to become part of His story. You now stand in a righteousness that is given by the great Shepherd. You can walk the path of righteousness in the presence of the Holy Spirit who, through the word of God, helps you to gain freedom from old ways and to walk in power.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Because of God’s grace and mercy you are now indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16) having been rescued from the dominion of darkness (Col 1:13) and brought into the kingdom (rule and reign) of a compassionate and loving Father (Luke 15:20, Matthew 20:1f). You were once darkness, but can now live as a child of the light (Ephesians 5:8) and His divine power has given you everything you need for life and godliness through your knowledge of him who called you by His own glory and goodness (2 Peter 1:3-4). This knowledge speaks of an understanding and an experiencing of the One who is always present (John 10:28); the Great Shepherd who looks after the sheep (Isaiah 40:11, John 10:11).
Through the work of Jesus you are sealed by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:3), who is spoken of as a deposit guaranteeing the things that God is going to give you (Ephesians 1:14, 2 Corinthians 5:5). You are a much-loved son or daughter and part of a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9-10).
Through Christ you are one of the most forgiven people on earth (Romans 6:23) and are to view yourself in the light of what He has to say, and not through the events of this world that have tried to define you and shape your life in different ways. God has the only real blueprint to life and He says that you are His.
Through Christ you are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and the old no longer has the power to define you, no matter how strong it may seem at times; it has been broken by Jesus. You have been adopted into God’s family (Ephesians 1:5) and your past will never be counted against you (1 Corinthians 5:5).
You are His workmanship (Ephesians 2:8-10) created in Christ Jesus to do good works, but you must remember what the word ‘good’ really points to in scripture.
The word ‘good’ refers to that which is related to covenant and therefore speaks of being free to live the right way, which has been God’s intention for us from the very beginning. You are a son or daughter of the living God in a deep binding covenant relationship with Jesus who is the One who has paid the price for everything. You now have a great Shepherd who looks after you insofar as you yield your life to Him and learn to see yourself as He defines you and not as the world tries to make you (John 10.10). Be encouraged.
The Lord is my shepherd – that’s relationship.
I shall not be in want – that’s supply.
He makes me lie down in green pastures – that’s rest.
He leads me beside quiet waters – that’s refreshment.
He restores my soul – that’s healing.
He guides me in the paths of righteousness – that’s guidance.
For His name’s sake – that’s purpose.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death – that’s testing.
I will fear no evil – that’s protection.
For you are with me – that’s faithfulness.
Your rod and staff, they comfort me – that’s discipline.
You prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies – that’s hope.
You anoint my head with oil – that’s empowerment.
My cup overflows – that’s abundance.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life – that’s blessing.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord – that’s security.
Forever – that’s eternity.
“In Christ you are a new creation” and “In Christ” is mentioned 91 times in the New Testament letters.
In classical Greek ‘en’ means ‘in,’ but in the later Greek of the N.T. ‘en’ is often used of the instrument or agent, hence “by means of” or “through the agency of.” From this we see that “in Christ” speaks of Christ as being the enabling power by which we are to live. It really is through His grace and mercy and the presence of the Holy Spirit that we are able to live the Christian life. No wonder Zechariah could write: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit…” (Zech 4:6). Note also Acts 1:8. Both the church (1 Thess 1:1, Gal 1:22) and individual believers (Phil 4:21) are spoken of as “in Christ”. The life of the church and of all believers is to be empowered by Christ.
You now have freedom in Christ (Gal 2:3-5), truth in Christ (Rom 9:1) and the promises of God are confirmed and guaranteed for you in Christ (2 Cor 1:20-22). We are called to open our lives to all He has done for us.
“To be in Christ was not a brief ecstasy induced by deliberately provoked psychological excitement, it was something that was obtained every day in the ordinary business and routing of everyday life…it is only the completely surrendered heart which knows what it is to be in Christ in the fullest sense of the term.”
Dr W. Barclay in, ‘The Mind of St Paul’ pages 99-100.
Be filled with the Spirit
“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”
In the above verse the Greek word for debauchery (Asoetos) speaks of a prodigal – a person who spends too much and who slides under the influence of that which he or she focuses on most.
The term ‘be filled’ (pleroo) speaks of coming under the influence of and being controlled by the Spirit; of letting the Holy Spirit rule and empower our hearts. In doing so there is the promise that we will be able to experience the righteousness, peace and joy of the Kingdom of God (Rom 14:17), no matter what is going on around our lives.
Righteousness speaks about living according to God’s standard, He being the One (Prov 21:12; 1 John 2:1) who created this world (Gen 1:1) and placed us in it (Gen 1:27-8). Righteousness comes about through a right relationship with our heavenly Father.
One of the pictures contained in the word ‘righteousness’ is ‘straightness,’ as in a straight path and this picture ties in with the Torah – the teaching of God which shows us the requirements of covenant relationship. Torah speaks of a Father’s teaching for His children – a pointing out of the right path to follow – a straight path. In His amazing grace and mercy, God’s righteousness is that which He reveals to us and permits us to share in as we turn our lives over to Him. The paths He leads us along are not always obvious so we need to seek Him first and foremost. He is the righteous One (1 John 2:1).
“The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter until the full light of day.”
Jesus once said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you” (John 14:9). He is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) meaning that He is the One the Father sent out to consume all evil.
The peace that Jesus offers is a peace that is the reality and effect of reconciliation with God. Therefore it speaks of coming home, of restoration and wholeness and well-being. He alone can bring us home. He alone can truly set us free from destructive thought patterns and unbalanced minds.
Jesus is the All Powerful One who offers freedom, wholeness and well-being, and His peace is like nothing else on earth. It is not a peace that speaks of the absence of trouble but a peace that speaks of the presence of a Person. His peace is the presence of the All-Powerful One who seeks to bring about the re-establishment of right relationships with God, self and others. He is with us now by the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:11, 1 Cor 3:16)
“…for the joy of the LORD is your strength”.
Joy often speaks of the uplifting feelings that come about through considering a particular present blessing – like the enjoyment in reading a love letter, or looking at something that is beautiful. Joy can also come about when we consider past blessings, such as good times with friends, or unexpected kindnesses that suddenly came out of the blue, so to speak. In yet another way, joy also can also speak of delight and anticipation of good things that are going to happen.
We gain enjoyment from many things in life, yet the joy that Paul is speaking of is much more than what has already been said. Each of the above pictures speaks of a joy/happiness that can be displaced by outward circumstances and inner feelings because it is not fixed on that which is steadfast and certain.
The joy that Paul speaks of does not centre on earthly, human happiness in this way, because outward things can so easily change. Instead, Paul is speaking of the joy in the faith given by the God of hope, and the peace that then comes about through believing (Rom 15:13) along with the presence of the Holy Spirit. In other words it is that uplifting of heart and mind by another and comes through really knowing He is with us no matter what we are going through. The joy that we can experience in this way is joy in the Lord – in the One who is unshakable, all-powerful, knows every hair on our heads (Luke 12:7) and is interested in our lives. We are called to look away from self to Him.
Looking to God
We were made to look away from ourselves to God who reveals Himself through the covenant of grace, mercy and loving-kindness. God is the true light that reveals all things (Isaiah 45:7, 60:1-2; John 8:12; Eph 5:8), the power that releases (Ex 9:16; Job 9:4; Eph 3:6,6:10; Rev 5:12), the love that encourages and uplifts (Ex 34:6; Deut 7:12ff; Ps 18:11; 1 Cor 13:4-7; 1 Jn 4:8-9) Our Father is the strength that overcomes (1 Chronicles 16:11-12. Ps 28:7; 1 Cor 1:25; Phil 4:13; 1 Tim 1:12) and everything that is good and right and just is found in Him.
“The Bible says we’re made in the image of God, we’ve been designed to have God at our core, so it’s no surprise that human life works better when we put God at our centre because we’ve been designed to live that way. Just about every single aspect of the human condition becomes richer and deeper when you have a healthy relationship with God – your physical health, your relationships, your friendships, your attitude towards your work, your attitude towards the environment, your longevity, and you “inner confidence.”
R. Gamble in, ‘Faith Stories’ page 122
Trusting in God and not self
Our heavenly Father is depicted as being like a Father who runs to greet a prodigal son and then throws a party (Luke 15) and as a landowner who goes out in the heat of the day to find people he can help (Mat 20:1ff) and who gives His all for us (Mat 13:45)
We are those who can hope in the Lord and renew our strength through exchanging our feeble ways for His empowering strength and presence. In doing this we are able to rise up as on the wings of eagles (Isaiah 40:31), this being reminiscent of God’s deliverance of His people from bondage.
“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.”
“In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions. The Lord alone led him; no foreign god was with him.”
The power and presence of the Lord is with us right now by the Spirit (Eph 3:16), yet there is still the need to pray that God would continually open our eyes so that, “the eyes of our heart may be enlightened so that we can know the hope to which we have been called and the riches of His presence (Eph 1:18-19).
The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16) and we receive power through faith in Him (2 Cor 8:9). Our identity is found in God who has been present from the very beginning and will be present at the end. Our identity is to be defined by what He says and not by the situations or circumstances we have found ourselves in by way of the world.