Identity Spirituality


I recently heard a person whom I have gotten to know somewhat via weekly Zoom meetings which are part of a Christian house of prayer organization.

As leader of the hour of Zoom teaching, fellowship and intercession, she shared extensively about the benefits of followers of Jesus knowing what characteristics the Scriptures say that followers of Jesus have.

This information was important to me because I am part of a weekly fellowship meeting of five or six Christian men.  Our fellowship meetings are usually the high point of my week!  The fellowship is so rich, and we all share that we receive revelations and understanding of spiritual matters as we chat.

One of the guys regularly tells us about 'who he is in Christ' according to what 'the Bible says', but it is clear that he has a lot of bitterness and anger in his life, and he seldom tells us about any increase in joy or peace or righteousness in his life, which are the hallmarks of the Kingdom of God.  Other participants in our little fellowship group have voiced their concerns to me, but we don't want to simply reject this man because of the bitterness and anger he expresses.  So I have been seeking God for wisdom to know how to address these issues.  We recognize that none of us are perfect, and if God is trying to tell me something about my character through this situation, I want to learn what can be learned, and to change what needs to be changed in me as well as our friend.

Our American society has increasingly seen an increase of people who identify in this way or that way which is at odds with their physical or mental characteristics.

Part of my perspective on any subject is the common saying, 'As goes the church, so goes the world'.  As a result of this perspective I began to wonder if identity teachings in the church are having an adverse effect on identity teachings in our society as a whole.

My church background before I became a born-again Christian was liberal Methodist and Roman Catholic.  My Methodist experience was from birth up to age sixteen, and my Catholic experience from from age seventeen to age twenty-six, and as a result what I was taught in the Catholic church was more intellectually received than the Methodism of my youth.

For example, although I had been water baptized as a Methodist infant, I was 'conditionally re-baptized in water as a Catholic convert.  I had no thoughts about the effect of my infant water baptism, but perceived that my Catholic water baptism was supposed to be my 'burial with Christ, and taking communion was supposed to generate the life of Christ in me.

I was content with those notions until what I now perceived as my 'pursuit of happiness' began to clash with the 'pursuit of happiness' of other significant people in my life.  That clash eventually resulted in a day of emotional paralysis, during which I stared at a page in a textbook from 8:00 a.m. until about 3:00 p.m.!  When I realized that I was caught in this emotional paralysis, some friends who were born-again Christians were there for me to talk to.  One, a management student at our local university, suggested that I needed 'new management' for my life.  He asked me if I would be open to someone who cared deeply for me, and was eminently qualified to manage every aspect of my life to take over the management of my life.  I thought about the possibilities for a short time and concluded that I would be a fool to turn down that opportunity.  I told him my thoughts on this  subject, and he replied, "His name  is Jesus."

I was shocked!  I had never heard  such a radical description of the Christian life! 

I spent the next two weeks trying to figure out how to surrender the management of my life to Jesus (if He was really 'there') and still retaining some degree of dignity.  Eventually I realized that I could not have both.  I also realized that my track record was not stellar!

So I contacted my friend to tell me what to do next, but he was not available, and recommended that I talk to one of his other friends.

So I contacted my friend's friend, and we met in the lounge in the business building at our local university.  She told me something else that I had never heard before.  She told me that she knew that I had been taught in church that if I committed a sin, that I should confess the sin, repent of the sin, receive forgiveness from God, and go on with my life.  Then she told me that I needed to realized that my whole life was one big sin, because I (like everyone else) was living for myself instead of for God as I was designed to do.

I was shocked all over again!  My concept of a change of management was that I would stay the same, with improvement being made from time to time.  I had never considered the possibility that I was entirely wrong about everything!  But that all happened on the day of my emotional paralysis, so I was too despondent to object.  So I asked her what I should do.  She suggested that I tell Jesus whatever was on my heart.  So I said, "Okay, Jesus, if You are really there, here is the mess that I have made of my life.  If You can do something with it, take a shot!  Just don't give me any more dead religion!"

Nothing happened.  So my friend said this:  "Technically you are talking to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, so you really should be on your knees."  I was duly impressed that this was a momentous decision I was making, so I knelt down.

The moment that my knees touched the floor twenty-six years worth of tears of disappointment and frustration and unrealistic expectations were release.  Eventually I ran out of tears, so I struggled back to my feet.  I was shocked at how peaceful I felt.

We left the business building and walked outside, and I was again shocked at how beautiful the day was.  I had never seen a bluer sky or greener grass! My friend and I walked toward the university library, which was about 100 yards away.  I noticed that two college-aged young men were just coming out of the library, and although I did not recognize them, I had a hunch that they were both Christians too.  Soon my friend recognized these two young men as acquaintances, and introduced them to me as fellow Christians.  I then realized very forcefully that I was now part of a new spiritual family of those who had received Jesus as Savior and Lord.

I WRITE ALL OF THAT TO WRITE THIS:

As a child I identified as a Methodist because that was the tradition I was raised in.  When I joined the Catholic Church I identified as a Catholic because I was told that when I was baptized in water I was baptized into Christ and into His Church, which is only the Roman Catholic Church.  The trouble was that all of my life I had been terribly ashamed of the name of Jesus.  That all changed on that wonderful day in May, 1976 when I prayed a heart-felt prayer to Jesus, offered my life to Him, bowed my knees to Him, and had a transforming experience which has defined my life to this day.  I am no longer ashamed of the Name of Jesus, and have had many more experiences of spiritual reality which align with the Old and New Testament Scriptures.

But I now am concerned that many people are being taught that they only need to proclaim "who the Scriptures say they are in Christ" in order to become all that they are meant to be.  I perceive that as along the same lines as me believing that I was changed into a Catholic when I was baptized as a Catholic and, in theory only, died with Christ that I might be raised with Christ.  That didn't solved my problems of selfishness and pride and waywardness from God, which were dealt a major blow when I bowed my knees to Jesus in desperation.

Shortly after my conversion to Jesus I met George Koerber, a Roman Catholic priest, who told a handful of people his story of conversion at age fifty.  The key in his story was that Jesus waited until George was desperate for Him, after trying 'everything else'!

The first time that I read the Parable of the Prodigal Son I realized that God waits patiently while we try everything else but Him, before He makes Himself and the truth about ourselves known to us.  It's not for drama, it's for the sake of permanence!

Rob

More later, Lord willing...