All posts by Philip

Evening Thoughts (Who Am I?)

Who Am I?

Garbage in garbage out; ask the wrong question, and you’re bound to get the wrong answer. Two old clich├ęs, but points well-made nonetheless. As an engineer by vocation, I work with data quite often, and bad data is sure to yield faulty results or an erroneous conclusion. What’s the point you ask? That, my friend, is an excellent question, for the question that titles our piece this evening generally follows one of the two statements that led this piece.

Some of the earliest writings of human philosophers manifest that this question occupied much of their thinking. Modern day culture is no different. One of the struggles that present day sociologists deal with is generations of people that have what they call an “identity crisis” Follow your dream! Seize the day! See the world! Be what you want to be or all you can be! All of these and more are the banners flying on the masts of the ships in people’s lives. Sadly, these mottos with nothing to ground them or found them ends up shipwrecked on the reefs of life’s disappointments. Why? Generally speaking, people ask the wrong question and then wonder why their lives shipwrecked on them, not honestly considering that they manned the wheel that wrecked the boat.

While the question “Who Am I?” is not completely baseless, it cannot be the primary and driving question that directs our lives and thinking. The Psalmist plainly stated that just a cursory glance through the heavens and God’s creation dwarfs man and his supposed importance. (Psalm 8:3-4) If the creation of God’s fingers dwarfs the stature of man, how much more the Creator, who can hold it in the palm of His hand? The first and driving question of our lives should be: “Who is He?” The more we know and can answer that question, the better suited we will be to drive our boat correctly without being marooned on an island or treading water in the sea

To figure out who He is and qualities about Him would take more space than we have before us. Surely the eternal God that never slumbers or tires would cause the greatest orators and penmen to shake their heads to declare Him. Just His acts of love are so vast that Paul references the height, depth, breadth, and length of them to pass knowledge and understanding. (Ephesians 3:18-19) One of our beloved hymns puts it in frame through beautiful poetry and rich verse:

Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Tho’ stretched from sky to sky

Surely now, the kind reader pauses and says, “But I have another question, what does the vastness of God and the richness of His qualities have in common with the original question? Aren’t the subjects on different ends of the spectrum?” Good questions, yes! Thanks for the inquiry, as they take us to our collection point. If the question of our own identity with no grounding or anchor is sure to lead to shipwreck and the vastness of God’s own identity is beyond man’s fullest comprehension, do such different beings as man and God connect in this fashion? Yes, they do. In the beginning, God created man in His own image and likeness. (Genesis 1) Paul even referenced Greek poets that stated we are God’s offspring. (Acts 17:28)

Therefore, if our identity is tied to God through creation, surely the better an understanding we have of Him, the better suited we are to know who we really are and what our purpose is. Have you ever considered the similarities between pride and pity, though they seem to be polar opposites from each other? After all, a vain and arrogant person looks and acts differently than one who is eaten up with guilt, depression, and sorrow. But in the end, they are very much the same. Whether driven by guilt or arrogance, pity or pride, the focus and thought patterns are in the same place: self. The more we think about ourselves – no matter the reason – the less we are thinking about Him. Since His eternal nature is so vast and deep, there is more to consider with Him than us. Telling my life story does not take long, but declaring His glory will take the redeemed family of God an eternity of worthwhile effort to declare.

Who are we? The creation of God. Better yet, the only part of God’s creation deemed in His image and likeness and the people by which the Eternal Son of God would be joined to as a real man of flesh and blood during His Incarnation. What is our purpose and duty? To glorify Him by doing what He commands us to do. (Ecclesiastes 12:13) The two oldest questions that philosophers have asked are: 1. Who am I? and 2. What is my purpose of being? Friends, those two questions are plain enough from Scripture to answer quickly, but the focus of the answer will take a lifetime of effort just to scratch.

Let’s take roll. Who would like to declare Him fully? Any takers? In case you’re wondering, my hand is not raised to answer the question. I trust that I can as Peter did say that the Son of man is the Christ the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16) and as the eunuch declare, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts 8:37b) However, my own brashness and hypocrisy only goes so far. It would be the height of foolishness, arrogance, and/or ignorance to say that I could fully declare Him. So, what is the answer? Do we have enough good data to weigh a proper conclusion?

If the more we learn and glean from His word about His own identity in point of fact leads us down the correct and anchored path of our own identity, then it stands to reason we should root our time in learning more about Him. When I first starting reading the Bible regularly about 30 or so years ago, He was big then in my eyes. The more I’ve learned, the bigger He has become. While His boundless stature has not really changed, my eyes have beheld more beauty of the King. The bigger and more glorious He gets in my eyes, the smaller I become in my own eyes. When Saul was appointed king over Israel, he was little in his own eyes, but his troubles came when he thought more his office and power than the One who appointed him to it. He became bigger in his own sight and thereby shipwrecked his life and the future reigns of his heirs after him.

Attending His church all my life and joining it some 28 years ago, He was rich then. He’s even richer now in my view. Why have these things shifted so much? The more I’ve learned about Him, the better suited I am to see things clearly and have my perspective more aligned with reality. It astounds me that One so vast, great, rich, powerful, and glorious would have such love, grace, and mercy to such little ones as we are. The more astronomers discover about the vastness of the heavens, the more it makes me ponder, “Just how big is He?” And yet, He cares for us! (I Peter 5:6-7) WOW! That, kind reader, is worth more than the unrooted question of self-identity and supposed self-worth many times over.

When looking at your life, your boat may have been in the seas of life for a little or a long time. No matter. What banner should be flying on the masts? The banner should be Jesus Christ and Him crucified. When I am determined to know only that (I Corinthians 2:2), my ship will bear up better in storms, avoid the treacherous shoals, and continue afloat without capsizing. Please don’t look at my bow, masts, and sails. I’m afraid that my ship has at times dinged the rocks, taken on water, and rocked frighteningly close to sinking on occasion. The boat’s scars tell the tale of my own erroneous thinking and steering, and looking back on those moments, I was more consumed with myself than anything else. Only when the banner of Jesus flies alone from the boat does my track record and navigation show signs of worth, thereby exhibiting that I understand my place compared to Him and the purpose that He has called me unto. Another old hymn gloriously declares:

More about Jesus would I know
More of His grace to others show
More of His saving fullness see
More of His love who died for me
More, more about Jesus

In Hope,
Bro Philip

Evening Thoughts (The Busy Life)

The Busy Life

Say something long enough, and people will accept it as fact. As the closing scenes of a classic John Ford western once so eloquently stated, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” How many times has someone in recent years or maybe even we ourselves said, “We just lead such busy lives. There’s so much going on. We’re just so busy.”? Pray tell me how it is that a world full of labour saving devices, faster transportation conveyances than ever, etc. that we somehow supposedly are busier now than people used to be? While the collective eye roll of the readership occurs, the peanut gallery hollers, “There he goes again! He’s in his ole fuddy-duddy mood!”

Let us journey back through history in a few stages, ending up on the doorsteps of Scriptural history itself. There is a generation just about gone in this country that really lived a different life than people now can truly grasp. Most of the oldest in this country had at least partial electricity most all of their days, though some may remain that remember no electricity at all. The oldest among us can rememer farming without a tractor, having AC in the winter and central heat in the summer. If the millenials have even bothered looking up from their phones, they are scratching their heads thinking, “Life before the internet. Huh?”

So, if we go back 100 or so years, we find life without cars, without electricity, and certainly people couldn’t buy all their food goods at Wal-Mart, Kroger, or whatever your chain of choice is. They grew gardens not as a hobby but out of survival. They hunted and fished not out of recreation but out of survival. Their daily routine was full from sunup to sundown with activities that were all intertwined and connnected to survival. This generation was on the whole quite pious, deeply religious, and they had the manner of Paul to regularly frequent God’s service. (Acts 17:2) Surely if a generation of people could be excused from religous exercise and a faith walk, it would be a people whose every daily routine made their survival possible? Yet, they understood the injunction of the Master when He said that putting the kingdom of God and His righteousness first would yield all the necessities of food and raiment. (Matthew 6:31-34)

Going back further still, several centuries before the birth of the United States, we find centuries of history marked with blood and persecution. Followers of God’s word were persecuted by other faiths and heathens alike for nothing more than seeking to serve God, worshipping Him in spirit and in truth Their survival was greatly jeopardized by their willingness to honour and serve God. Now we’re getting somewhere! Their life was busy in running for their lives. Surely a people could be excused for being too occupied for service, even forgiven for laying their sevice down for the sake of their welfare or the welfare of their loved ones. Right? Yet, these faithful men and women oftentimes weere filled with gracious compassion to even pray for their tormenters sometimes as they were being put to death, much like Stephen did. (Acts 7:60)

Drawing farther back into the threshold of Scriptural history itself, we can investigate the busiest men to ever walk this earth. Much like our agrarian forefathers, their daily natural routines threshed out a natural survival story, and much like our spiritual forefathers and their spiritual successors, they were in jeopardy for their faith by other faiths and heathens alike. These men were none other than our Lord and the men He directly placed and called while upon the earth: His apostles.

Has there ever been a busier man than Jesus? Show of hands! Anybody want to stack resumes with Him? The top 2 lines items on His can utterly fragment all the best items from the rest of ours. It would be like 4 of us duffers getting a scramble team together to challenge some top pro golfer. The best shot from our group will inevitably be lacking compared to all of his. Jesus’ top two line items are saving His people from their sins and setting up His church. I’m out! Any of you got anything? Yeah, didn’t think so. Adding in even more, He was here only 33.5 years. At 37, I’ve been here longer than that, with far less to show for it. Even more still, 30 of those years didn’t address those top two line items at all! So, for 3.5 years, He had at least two tasks greater and busier than we could dream of in the whole of our lives!

And yet, His manner was pious, deeply religious, and grounded in faith. (Luke 4:16) He even submitted Himself as a youth in HIs parents’ home to work in a carpentry shop for years, all the while knowing and looking at great, great tasks in front of Him. While accomplishing His tasks, He empowered His apostles to carry the church into the next stage of her journey. These men did things and accomplished things that we today could not even comprehend. Anyone today want to add an office to the church? Show of hands! Anyone? Yet, these men were empowered to establish the office of deacon for the church’s benefit to serve and meet needs. (Acts 6) They constituted churches in other cities, ordained elders to carry the torch of the gospel, and baptized believers who repented and confessed their sins. They did this all the while scratching out a natural survival while at times running for their lives due to their adherence to the faith once delivered to the saints.

Busy? I think so. Busier than me? (sigh) Yes, I’m afraid so. Today I have decided to tear up the legend that has been printed as fact for so long. No Jimmy Stewart did not shoot Liberty Valance, and today is not a busy life. We have plenty of activities, or maybe they could best be termed distactions. Better yet, self-applied handcuffs and leg irons. Yes, I’m afraid you’ve seen me hobbling about in the circuit of life myself. Unfortunately, many are like Sampson. If they have eyes, they’re acting like they’re put out and just turning in circles.

Thanks be unto God that through the tireless efforts of His busy Son, we have a home waiting for us above. Thanks be unto God for His providence and through the efforts of faithful men from the apostles down to this present hour that we have a piece of home among us in the courts of His church. Thank God for the liberties I’ve had every day of my life that I’ve never had to run for my life due to the faith we follow in the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank God that my daily routines are not all geared towards survival the way my forebears had to “scratch things out.” May He help me to number my days so that I may apply my heart to wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

In Hope,
Bro Philip