Identification Generates Change

I’m sure you were asked as a child, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As I did, you most likely had a ready answer. I wanted to be a Navy Chaplain like my father. Many of my friends gave answers such as: a policeman, fireman, doctor, race car driver, a movie star, and so forth. In the 1970s, two other common answers were: a rock singer or an astronaut.

Why do kids respond like that? The simple is: identification. Identifying with something or someone we admire gives us a sense of belonging, a sense of importance.

As a Californian, I liked the San Francisco 49er football team. When the 49ers won a game, “I” won. When they succeeded, I succeeded. When they lost, I lost. I’ll never forget when WE won OUR 5th Super Bowl Ring! Had I ever met any of them? No, but what difference did that make? I liked Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, and Jerry Rice.

But I truly admired my father, and I strongly identified with him. I always liked dad better than the 9ers, anyway.

I also learned to admire other men who talked and sung about Jesus, and in high school a southern gospel quartet from Mississippi became my focus: The Blackwood Brothers Quartet. Not having met them, I referred to them by their first names, and sung along with the records I bought. I learned all four parts of all their songs and learned to sound like them – somewhat. When I finally met them near Boston, Massachusetts, my spirits soared!

A few others whom I admired and wanted to emulate were the Apostle Paul, Abraham Lincoln, Billy Graham, Paul Harvey, and Dr. J. C. Holsinger (Carol’s and my history professor in the university).

Identification with a person, group, or event generates change. Why? We mentally gravitate toward the object of our focus.

I tend to think like dad. I’m for a unified nation as was Lincoln. I focus on the Bible like Billy Graham. I learned to sing like several of the Blackwoods. Fifty years ago, I could sing tenor similar to Bill Shaw; but as the years passed, I began singing bass similar to J.D. Sumner – but not nearly as low as he did. I learned to study like Dr. Holsinger. I learned to tell stories similar to Paul Harvey. I learned to think theologically and philosophically like Paul.

Since identification generates change, identifying with these men gave me direction in life.

Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines identification, in part, as: “A largely unconscious process whereby an individual models thoughts, feelings, and actions after those attributed to an object that has been incorporated as a mental image.” The person changes as the thoughts and feelings become a part of his life and his worldview.

An extreme form of emulation is idolatry and leads us away from God. But admiration, properly applied, is beneficial if it leads us toward God, maturity, and wholesome living.

But there is one more person with whom I have identified, and who has changed my life more than any other: Jesus Christ.

My favorite quote from Billy Graham is: “The Bible Says!” So, let’s go there.

John 14:23 says – “If people love me, they will obey my teaching” (NCV).

Romans 6:4 says – “When we were baptized, we were buried with Christ and shared his death. So, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the wonderful power of the Father, we also can live a new life” (NCV).

So, obedience is another way of identifying with the Lord. Obedience includes actions, lifestyle, and manner of speaking. And we find that water baptism is our statement to the world that we have totally identified with Jesus: in his life, death, and resurrection.

Remembering that we mentally gravitate toward the object of our focus, I have learned to focus my life on Jesus Christ. I know who I am, and to whom I belong.

Some who call themselves Christian but who do not live according to Jesus’ teachings, have not identified with Him. If your life – words, actions, lifestyle, attitudes – does not openly verify identification with the Lord, there is a question as to the sincerity of your faith.

Identification with Christ grants strength, security, belonging, power. Not power to rule people, but power to overcome evil and spiritual darkness. Those who identify with Christ receive authority to become adopted children of God. Identification with Jesus will help us throughout eternity.

Who do you admire or look up to? With whom do you identify? As you contemplate your eternal existence, will your role-models help you or hinder you? Think about it. Pray about it. Jesus is ready and willing to help you.

Walking with God

Several people have asked the question, “What does it mean to walk with God” and everyone in the world should be interested in knowing the answer. I’ll start with Billy Graham’s response. The following Q & A is from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association “Answers” blog, February 13, 2017.

Question: “I’ve heard preachers say that we need to learn to walk with God, but what exactly does this mean? I’d like to walk with God, but I don’t know how. And anyway, how would I know if God was actually with me?”

Answer: “I’m thankful you want to walk with God—because He wants to walk with you! He wants to assure you that He is always with you, and He also wants to talk with you—and you with Him.

“Look at it this way. By nature, we are cut off from God, because we have sinned and turned our backs on Him. But when we come to Christ and commit our lives to Him, God cleanses us of all our sins, and we are no longer separated from Him. Instead, He makes us part of His family, and we become his children forever. The Bible says, “Now if we are [God’s] children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17).

“How, then, do we walk with God and grow closer to Him? Just as we do with our children, the most important way is by spending time with Him—listening to Him as He speaks to us in the Bible and talking with Him in prayer. Just as human friendships wither and die if we never spend time together, so our relationship with God will grow cold if we never spend time with Him. Set aside time every day—even if it’s only a few minutes at first—to be alone with God.

“But Christ is also with you every moment of the day! Even when you’re busy, you can still talk with Him and follow Him. Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

I like Billy’s response. My prayers are often short, to the point, and I receive answers. I don’t play church, and I am not super-spiritual. But I know that walking with God is a vital reality and is a necessary part of life if we are to be an active child of God. But we have to reduce the noise and busyness in our lives and pay attention to God in order to hear Him!

God in heaven doesn’t play church, and neither did Jesus on earth. And no one ever walked with Father God as closely as Jesus did. Enoch came close.

Genesis 5:21-24 says: “Enoch lived sixty-five years, and begot Methuselah. After he begot Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years, and had sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were 365 years. And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (NKJV).

Enoch being “taken” is another story for another time, but what made Enoch different, or special? What set him apart from the rest of humanity? He purposely lived a Godly life in the middle of a corrupt and perverse culture. He didn’t water-down or modify his ethics, morals, and faith in order to win the world or to be relevant to the world. Enoch had set his mind to know—really KNOW—the God who walked in the Garden with Adam.

And in case you haven’t noticed, we live in a corrupt and perverse world just like Enoch did. Sadly, many Christians are immersed in their own lifestyle, they have deleted consecration to God from worship, and are oblivious to the idea of walking with God. A great many Christians desire God’s favor and ask God to bless them, but their lifestyles do not reflect the nature or the character of Jesus. Many Christians are so busy living for themselves that they cannot hear the Lord’s voice when He speaks to them.

To boil the answer down to a few words: Walking with God requires knowing how and what He thinks, what He wants of us, and obeying Him. It’s that simple. The emphasis is on learning to know Him and obeying Him.

When we learn to know the Lord by studying His thoughts as found in Holy Scripture, First Corinthians 2:16b becomes reality: “We have the mind [thoughts] of Christ.”

Are you one of those who wants God to care for you, to help you, to bless you? I can almost hear the Lord say, “You quit asking Me to bless you, and you start walking with Me and obeying Me. That’s when I’ll do something with your life.”

God is waiting for you to truly turn to Him.

Who Are You?

I recently heard a portion of a conversation. A man named John went to a hospital to visit a bed-ridden, dying man. The name of the man in bed was Tom. (The names have been changed.)

In the early portion of the visit, Tom perceived that his visitor was troubled concerning his vocation. Not wanting to be nosey or pushy, the dying man realized, however, that John was the one who needed to be encouraged. Also, Tom noticed that John was an up-front, forthright kind of man, so Tom jumped right in. As close as I can recall, here is what I heard.

“John, who are you?”

That took John off guard. “Uh, I’m a basketball coach. Why do you ask?”

“If basketball went away, who would you be?”

John thought about it, then mentioned his other vocations, adding that he is a father, a lay-leader at church, and ….”

“John, you’re missing the point of my question. All those things are what you do or have done, and every one of those things will someday not be so any longer. I’m asking you one simple question. WHO are you? If you became an invalid, as I am, who would you be?”

John is like most of us – he never thought of that before. But Tom wasn’t through. He had one more question.

“My friend, here’s how you can figure out who you are. When you die, as I will soon, you will be none of those things you mentioned. As you enter heaven, none of those titles, jobs, and positions you filled will be part of you. None of your importance, influence, prestige, reputation, or money will go with you. Who will you be then? Think about it, John. Who are you?”

John left the hospital perplexed, and that question began rolling around the corridors of my mind. Who am I? I’ll come back to that in a minute.

Dear reader, you and I could spend several days or weeks trying to impress each other about our jobs, our accomplishments, how we’ve changed our company, church, or society. We also have a culturally imbedded idea that what we do is who we are. I am the president of this. I’m the CEO of that. I started this company. I am a pastor. I’m the chief mechanic over this operation. On and on we could go because we strongly identify with what we do.

But is any of that who we are? If we sleep in a garage, does that make us a car?

Bed-ridden, dying Tom was pointing to eternal reality. When all the temporary things in life vanish, when we breath our last, the eternal question is: who will we be? If we can answer that question, we’ll know who we are.

So, who am I? I’ve learned not to tell folks about my accomplishments because it could be considered a matter of pride. Even while I was a pastor, I truthfully said that I didn’t have a ministry. Why? The Ministry belongs to God, and He graciously allowed me to be a part of what He was doing.

Who am I? I am a King’s Kid. I am an adopted son of the Living, Loving, Eternal, Creative, Almighty God. That’s who I am. And I’ll be that forever.

I remember a 1796 song written by Charlotte Elliott. The first verse is: “Just as I am without one plea, But that thy blood was shed for me, And that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”

I asked the Lord to accept me into His family when I was five years old, and I’ve never turned my back on Jesus. Do I sin? Yes, but when I realize it, I ask the Lord to forgive me. And He does. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Today, I listened to a 1992 song written by Mosie Lister. In addition to being a song-writer, he was a great pianist. The words to the chorus are, “Beyond the Cross is a tomb that is empty, you won’t find Me there anymore. And beyond the tomb is life ever-lasting, and hope forever more.”

Jesus died for us, but He raised back to life three days later. He is alive, and I’ll be alive with Him forever. Who am I? I am an adopted son of God!

Friend, who are you?

A Sure Foundation

Carol returned from shopping. As I carried the groceries into the house, my foot turned to an awkward position and I nearly lost my balance. That’s abnormal because I have a history of being as sure-footed as a mountain goat.

Well, I was sure-footed when I was a 12-year-old kid. On a weekend vacation in the hills of Southern California with my parents, I ran and jumped from huge boulder to boulder and never tripped, stumbled, or fell. I somehow developed the skill of not falling.

When someone trips, the person often stiffens and falls. That’s when bones break, and other injuries take place. But when my foot hits a tree root, or anything else, I don’t get tense. Instead, my leg immediately relaxes, then swings out in front of me to stabilize me. That’s why I seldom fall.

Oh, I should mention this. While standing on the edge of a 10-foot tall granite boulder, the deteriorated front face of the ancient granite crumpled, and I went down with it. But while studying Judo in high school, I learned how to fall and roll without getting hurt, so I wasn’t injured.

However, at 75, I do need to be more careful. What happened this time while carrying groceries into the house? I didn’t have shoes on, but slip-on sandals. As I stepped onto the threshold, my sandal, which was not secured to my foot, turned. Guess what happened next? Yep, my foot turned with it, and I nearly went down. But, out of training, I recovered and didn’t fall.

You probably realize that poorly-fitting shoes can cause various physical problems, and it’s a well-known fact a good pair of shoes that fits our feet is one of the best things we can buy to keep us safe as we walk, run, jog, or just stay at home. Well-known because in 2019, over 91 billion US dollars were spent on footwear.

Good shoes provide a secure foundation while walking. But that applies only to the physical side of life. What about people who trip, stumble, or fall emotionally, mentally, or spiritually? We need something to give us stability in that part of our life, too.

With so much political, cultural, and social turmoil, along with rampant diseases spreading around the world, we need a solid foundation. This is found in a relationship with the One Who created us, and Who wants the best for us both now, and throughout eternity.

We find the instructions we need in Ephesians 6:10-18. The ESV says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance….”

The truths in those verses are not hypotheses or theories. They’ve been tried and tested and have helped millions of people live on a sure foundation throughout their lives. I live by those verses. People here in town and in other states have mocked Christians and tried to destroy us and our belief in Christ, but the accusers and mockers are the ones who are hurting.

Some folks say they have their own reality, and it doesn’t include the Bible or Jesus Christ. But those assumed realities will evaporate like a morning mist, while reality in and with Jesus will provide a sure foundation throughout eternity.

Jesus left heaven to come as a baby so He could give us that sure foundation.

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