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How To Be A Shadow Chaser

Shadow in dogwood park

AS CHRISTIANS AT TIMES WE CAN TAKE FOR GRANTED who we are and what we were like before we encountered Jesus. We sing the songs about being changed and redeemed but those just become words and it is easy to lose sight of the journey we have taken from where we once were to where we are today. You see before we were redeemed our lives could be compared to a shadow cast upon the ground. People could see us and there was some trace of us but it was only a faint outline of who we really are. Shadows can interact with each other, overlap and give the impression of life, but its life is based on something else, something real.

Playing with Shadows

You can look at shadows and recognize people talking, walking, running, or sitting, but shadows are not limited only to people, anything exposed to light casts a shadow. The object is real but you can’t do anything with its shadow, I can’t drive around in the shadow of my car, I can’t walk into the shadow of a grocery store and come out with a snack. A shadow is only a projection of what is real and the shadow is revealed only when light is shone upon it.

Before we were redeemed, forgiven, restored and born again we were nothing but shadows of the person God created us to be. We were hollow and like a vapor, we were fully formed on the outside but missing a vital piece within us. We were like a vapor which had lifted off from a lake, and was slowly drifting away until we becomes completely dispersed in the air around us.

But God came into our lives (Mt 4:16, Lk 1:79) and we no longer live as a shadow cast upon the ground. We now through atonement and the New Covenant have taken our place as the person we truly are and have been created to be. None of this is because of our own goodness, hard work or devotion, we have been changed from shadow to person only because of Jesus.

Paul lays this out clearly in 2 Corinthians 3:18-21 but I want to emphasize what he said in verses 5 to 6: “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (NKJV).

The Shadow Remains

Despite the light and new life Jesus has given to us we still cast a shadow, the shadow of what we once were, the shadow of what remains from our old life (Rom 7:21-25). The struggles, the weaknesses, the sins, the old ways, selfishness, greed, pride and so on. That shadow is still there and not only that but through the light of Christ it appears even more detailed and richer than it had before. This is true for two reasons first your perspective has changed from that as a shadow cast upon the ground in a dark two-dimensional world to one standing above the ground in a fully lit three-dimensional world where you can see yourself and the shadow (Mt 6:22-23).

Secondly when there is more light a shadow stands out so much more because there is a contrast between the two. It’s hard to pick apart two shades of grey but very easy to see the difference between white and black. The more of the light of Jesus we have in and around us the greater amount of contrast there is between His nature and the one we had when we were still lost in sin and unforgiveness (Jn 1:5).

The more of the light of Jesus we have in and around us the greater amount of contrast there is between His nature and the one we had when we were still lost in sin and unforgiveness

How Do We Cast Off This Shadow?

Now what are we to do with the shadow of our old life that still clings to our feet and follows us around in our daily lives? It’s simple, get more light. Don’t misunderstand me I’m not getting metaphysical I am just painting a picture of what is happening within us, and it’s a picture which God uses frequently throughout the Bible (Jn 1:9, Jam 1:17). When I say get more light I am talking about things such as building our relationship with the Trinity, I am talking about prayer, faith, holy living, reading and understanding the scriptures, worship, thanksgiving and everything things else Jesus has called us to be and do in this world.

The more light we can have shining upon us from different angles makes it so there is less room in our lives for shadows to find a place to rest. This is all no different than how it is in film making or photography. In these industries they use multiple sources of light to get rid of any unwanted shadows in a shot. Sometimes two, three, four or more lights, types of bulbs, diffusions, soft-boxes and so on are needed to cancel out any unwanted shadows that another light source could be casting.

We have to look at our lives the same way, when we come to Christ and receive His gift of atonement and forgiveness whereby a great purifying light is shone upon us (Jn 8:12). That light makes our old shadow look so much more evident that we need more light to surround and radiate from us (Mt 5:16) us so that there is no more shadow, or at the very least one that is barely noticeable.

All of this takes not just work but more importantly relationship building between us and God, we must go beyond a Sunday morning only Christianity and move into one where God is a living part of our daily lives. Then and only then can those shadows of our old ways, the world and the flesh can be drowned out buy God’s light, love, holiness, justice, forgiveness and covenant goodness. The first step though is looking behind yourself and recognizing that shadow behind you and then we look forward towards Jesus and invite Him to shine even brighter in our own lives.


John 3:18-21” 18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (NKJV)


 

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We Need An Outside Perspective

Winnie on the couch looking for perspective on life

AS WE GO ABOUT OUR LIVES AT TIMES WE ARE VICTIMS OF A LACK OF PERSPECTIVE. You see as I was preparing to write this blog I was once again distracted by my dog Winnie, who jumped up beside me despite the unbearable heat in the house. I was trying to discover what it was that I should talk about this week but every couple of minutes my dog started gnawing on her back foot. I ignored it the first few times but then I leaned in to see if there was some grass or seeds stuck in there from an earlier trip to the park. The thing is that I couldn’t find more than a blade of grass or so, but Winnie just kept on gnawing and pulling at her foot. I also started to smell the familiar aroma of fake grapes, you know that smell from candy that is in no way related to the fruit its named after, yeah that smell.

So I flipped over her paw and saw a bunch of dead grass mixed in with some gum or some other kind of candy. Now that I knew what was going on I grabbed some paper towels and started to clean her but she wouldn’t cooperate. All of my attempts to clean her foot were met with headbutts and her nipping the top of her foot. I then unleashed the big gun one of her favorite snacks, a stick made out of sweet potato and bacon. Finally, I was able get to work cleaning her and getting all of the mess off of her foot.

She knew something was wrong but she was gnawing on the wrong place and wasn’t actually doing anything the make things better. My dog lacked the perspective to see what was really going on with her foot and she lacked the dexterity to see the sticky problem causing her irritation.

I wonder how often that happens to us as believers, we feel an irritation somewhere in our lives so we just blindly start gnawing in the general direction and hope that it makes things better. We don’t know exactly what is going on but we can narrow it down to a general area of our lives. Problems such as figuring out our purpose, general frustrations of life, bills unable to be paid, life feeling empty, prayers appearing as if they are unanswered, struggles with sin, and troubles at home, work, school and so on.

A Different Set of Rules

We feel something is out of place but we can’t see what is going on, we need help from someone with a better and a higher perspective. Just like Winnie needed my help to get the gum or what ever it was off of her foot so to do we need God to help us in our daily lives. God knows all and sees all and is a whole lot smarter than we are. God said through the prophet Isaiah that “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways” (Is 55:8).

This means that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit see things from a different perspective than we do. It also means that He has different means to solve problems than what we would come up with on our own. Think of the story of Gideon, he was told to conquer the Midianites by waving around torches, pots and playing trumpets. Three hundred guys facing an army of untold thousands and all they were supposed to do was blow some trumpets and break some pots. That was far from a sound military strategy, but it worked.

We see the same expression of God’s higher and different ways through Jesus who at face value did everything that a Messiah was supposed to do wrong. He didn’t build a school, He didn’t fight the Romans. He didn’t set up a new Davidic Kingdom, He didn’t advocate for vengeance on Israel’s enemies, He constantly stood against the Pharisees and on and on. Jesus in the eyes of the people around Him was a failure, but in God’s eyes He was an astounding success.

Jesus in the eyes of the people around Him was a failure, but in God’s eyes He was an astounding success.

We have to imitate Jesus’ perspective

Jesus speaks about Heavenly things as one who calls Heaven His home, so He has a full perspective of the universe and all of creation. He knows us better than we know ourselves and He knows the end result of any course of action we take. This is why teachings such as the Beatitudes are so hard for us to apply, because it goes against our natural desires and calibrates us to God’s desires.

We must remember that we have been called to have the Mind of Christ, to act as He acted, to believe as He believed and to have our souls and bodies submitted to our spirit as He did.  To disconnect ourselves from how we lived before and to renew our minds to conform with His ways not our own. Paul calls this having our minds renewed (Romans 12:2) and He encourages us to set our minds on things that are higher than ourselves and our world (Colossians3:1-3). Otherwise we are doing nothing more than getting our feet covered in mud, gum, twigs and rocks which not only slow us down but cause endless frustration and pain.

Did you know that Jesus watches and judges us by our thoughts and motives (Matt 5:28), as opposed to people who watch and judge us by our actions? This can be hard for us to grasp at times, but it is critical to our walk with God. You see when we filter our hearts through Matthew 5, Galatians 5 and 1 Corinthians 13 eventually we will be changed for the better.  It won’t happen overnight but over time, through trials and temptations these pillars of life become the roots by which the fruits and gifts flow out of.   If someone expects that love will grow out of our miracles, or patience out of prophesying, they have no real roots and will wither away either from temptations, a dry season, or a lack of patience.

A two-part process

This is a two-part process, we are to look at the world, ourselves and others through the same lens that Jesus does. While the second part is a constant reminder for us to turn to God when we have trouble, irritations, frustrations, problems. Just like my dog Winnie she was unable to fix her foot without outside help, help that could see things she couldn’t and actually bring relief. When we make time for God and when we make Him the first place and we go to Him when we have problems then we are more likely to find relief. Or at the very least the strength to endure because God does not always bring an instantaneous remedy to our problems.

Jesus watches and judges us by our thoughts and motives, as opposed to people who watch and judge us by our actions.

With Winnie I spent about 30 minutes cleaning, combing and cleaning her back paw.  It wasn’t a band aid type clean up it took time and I had to keep her distracted with her chew stick the whole time, otherwise she would try to “help” and make things harder to deal with. Perhaps it is the same with us and God sometimes, as God uses His higher perspective to bring us relief, or answers to prayers. However often we are so focused on the problem that we are flailing around and making it harder for Him to finish His work. If only we had some sort of distraction like Winnie’s sweet potato and bacon chew to help us through the operation. If we think about it we do and it comes in the forms of worship, praise, the presence of the Holy Spirit and our faith in God’s role as our loving Father.

 


Philippians 2:5-11 “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (NKJV)


 

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Outsourcing God: How Good Sheep Get Lost

outsourcing God by Cameron Conway

GOD IS GOD AND I AM NOT, it’s an easy thing to say but it is entirely different to live out on a daily basis. We say that we pray and have faith in God but over and over again we seem to either grow impatient or deep down we believe that God won’t actually listen to our prayers. It feels as if our heart has outsourced God’s power, rulership, authority and holiness and replaced it with our own. This is especially true if you have had several prayers which have gone unanswered.

Have you ever wondered why some believers have a harder time trusting God for great things to happen? It’s not because of “backsliding” or sin, or unbelief but it is because they have over and over again faced this fork in the road and chosen the wrong path. The crossroads between what God wants and what we want. I’m not picking on certain believers, but this applies to all of us, myself included.

There are times when God moves mightily and then there are other times where it feels like He took a vacation in the Andromeda galaxy right when we needed Him the most. How we respond in each of those situations will determine how our heart reacts the next time there is a need for prayer.

Our Source of Strength

We can either look to our own strength or the strength of others to help and guide us or we can put our trust and obedience in God. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t ask for help in times of need but I am encouraging you to look inside yourself and see who your faith is in. Is it in a person, a group, a thing or even yourself instead of God? Jesus once told a parable about building a house either on sand or on the rock (Matthew 7:24-27) and the same principle applies to us here.

If your foundation is built on God and His rightful place in not just the universe as a whole but your own heart then you with withstand the storms of life. If however you have set yourself above God in your thoughts, actions, prayers or in any other way you will either find your house toppled over or you will slowly sink down in the sand until there is nothing left of you for anyone else to see.

We picture ourselves with rippling muscles moving whatever stands in our way but in reality from God’s perspective we are just silly sheep bashing our heads into a log.

A great test to see where your heart comes in this question: Do you even bother to pray in your daily lives when there isn’t even a crisis? This matter is critical, and not just because of some religious obligation but because of relationship. Without relationship we are just treating God like a genie or as a vending machine that is supposed to spit out whatever we ask for as long as we drop in a few quarters or our tithes. When we think and act like this God is no longer God in our hearts, but merely our servant.

Look at what it says in Psalm 100:2-3 “…Come before His presence with singing. Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” (NKJV) Notice here that it doesn’t say come to God with your shopping list, or a work order we are to come before Him in joy. Not the joy we experience when we get what we want on Christmas morning, but something deeper and more wonderful.

I can do baaaaatter

Throughout the scriptures we are faced with this truth of God being the high and mighty one while we are the equivalent of sheep (Psalm 95:7, Isaiah 40:10-11). We at face value might be a little offended by that, sheep are not known for being the smartest of animals. They get stuck in ruts, overgraze if left alone, go on mad stampedes, drink tainted water if not forced to good streams and so on. Being called a sheep would be considered an insult to many and even in our culture someone who is seen as being a blind follower is often referred to as a mindless sheep. (For an in-depth and life changing view on this subject check out “A Shepherd Looks at Psalms 23” by W. Philip Keller. Click here: US Canada)

What we need here is perspective, when we compare ourselves to a sheep we hold up our intelligence, creativity, technology and ability to express and go “ha take that sheep, now into the oven with you.” We see ourselves high and above those natural sheep because in our world there is nothing higher than mankind. But now let’s flip the perspective lets compare ourselves to God, if we hold ourselves up against Him it is not wonder why God’s favorite nickname for people is sheep.

We are no where near as intelligent, powerful, caring, wise or highly exalted as God is. Compared to Him we are nothing more than dumb and stubborn sheep, who need constant guidance and supervision, so we don’t drink poison, fall off a cliff, get turned upside down or die of starvation because we ate all the grass and are too lazy to move on. If a sheep ran into an obstacle on the path do you expect it to muster the other sheep together so they can all lift it out of the way?

No, that would be ridiculous to expect, so why is it we think the same way about ourselves. We see obstacles in our lives and have these thoughts that we can just go over there and pick up the log or rock and hurl it out of the way. We picture ourselves with rippling muscles moving whatever stands in our way but in reality from God’s perspective we are just silly sheep bashing our heads into the log.

Jesus the sheep herder

Our help and redemption though comes from Jesus who said in John 10:14-16 “14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” (NKJV) Jesus is the one who can come and move those logs and obstacles from our lives, well as long as we are on His path and not some dark forest trail we ran off into.

Jesus is the one who can come and move those logs and obstacles from our lives.

Jesus through his love and compassion sees us as these loveable, stubborn, and helpless sheep and He offers us the opportunity to join His flock and to be under His protection (Mark 6:34). No longer than are we to act as if we are king of the sheep or can we convince a fellow sheep bring over a trench coat and stand on our shoulders so we appear to be like the shepherd. No, no matter how hard we try to live our lives as the one in charge, or how cleverly we pray, or how independent of God we consider ourselves to be it will never change what we are.

We are created in God’s image but we are not independent from Him, we are not gods, or not the rulers of the universe, but we are children of God adopted into the family because of the sacrifice of the good and great Shepherd. When we follow (2 Peter 2:25) and depend on Him everything changes, yes there are still bad days, loss, pain but we know that we are following Him on a path which leads to better things. We are no longer alone, and we are no longer trying to solve God problems with the methods of a sheep.


John 10:14-16 “14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” (NKJV)


 

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The Roots of our Identity as Christians

Roots of our identity as Christians - CCR dogwood forest 1

EACH ONE OF US IS LIKE A SAPLING IN THE GARDEN OF GOD, we bask in the light of the sun and strive to grow higher and closer to the source of our nourishment. We push through the dirt of this world and continually look up higher, all the while we are trying to understand our identity and what we are supposed to look like. A plant has no idea what it looks like, it just knows it’s a plant. It’s identity is based on what it does, so it digs into the soil, baths in the light of the sun and produces seeds so that the area around it will be filled with more plants like it.

There is no striving or confusion, the plant doesn’t try to be like a rabbit or a rock it is living out the purpose God created for it. It is the same with us, God desires for us to be like this plant for us to grow, develop, reproduce and enjoy the life God has created for us to partake in. We are to follow after the nature and purpose God has created us to be like, for those who have been redeemed by Christ and were brought into the New Covenant our spiritual DNA has been transformed from that of a rock to a living plant. No longer cold and hard but alive and drawn to the light of the sun.

Our identity then doesn’t begin with our name or our personality it begins with something deeper, it begins with the roots we are all connected to, Jesus. In John 15:1-8 Jesus speaks of those who follow Him as being like branches which are connected to a grape vine which is Himself. He goes on to speak of how we cannot produce fruit without His presence and support and without Him our branch simply dries out and is thrown away. We see then that Jesus is our source, He is our battery, He is our wi-fi, He is our water and so much else.

Understanding who Jesus is becomes our first step in understanding who we are

Understanding who Jesus is becomes our first step in understanding who we are, before we were disciples we saw our identity according to our own accomplishments, hobbies, desires, talents, jobs, education and so on. However, something changed when we entered into that covenant through faith in Jesus, our identity is no longer grounded in who we are but in who Jesus is. I am not saying through that we all have to wear the same clothes, listen to the same types of music, have the same hair cut or anything else like that. No, what I am saying is that Jesus becomes our common language which we speak. Jesus becomes the air which we all breath, and Jesus is the roof which covers us all, when we understand this then and only then can we live out the revelation of Galatians 3:28.

With plants there is an infinite variety of types shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors, even with these differences they are still all plants. They all still live in the ground, absorb water and soak in the sun, they are still part of the same “family” despite their differences. So it is with all of us who are united in Christ, we were each created with infinite creativity and uniqueness and we are not destined to simply be clones of one another. We are individuals with varying interests, hobbies, cultures, languages and tastes but there is something deeper which unites us into one family.

Looking to Jesus for our Identity

When I speak about rooting our identity in Christ I’m not talking about walking around in a tunic with shoulder length hair and a beard (which would be extra awkward for women) I am talking about being reflections of Jesus’ words, compassion, justice, mercy, power and love. Jesus is the supreme prototype for how we are to live. We can see Him as the great tree which all other plants not only emerge from but are dependant for nourishment.

It is through our compassion and actions that we imitate Jesus in this world.

When we look at how Jesus lived in this world we see that He demonstrated compassion, love, frustration, emotion, grief, and a whole host of other expressions. He was merciful when mercy was needed but he was also firm in times of conflict. He offered grace to the woman caught in adultery but held the Pharisees to a standard beyond what they were used to. He rejoiced when the people came to him and he lamented when towns rejected Him, with these towns Jesus did not call down fire on them but spoke with a broken heart because He knew the consequences of their actions.

Jesus then becomes the gatekeeper, or firewall which determines what comes out of our mouth, what dwells in our minds and what we do with our hands. This is what Paul eluded 1 Corinthians 11:1 when he declared, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (NKJV).  In John 13:12-17 Jesus commands the disciples to follow His example of washing each others’ feet as an act of servitude and humility. Notice He doesn’t say to wear their clothes in a certain way, or to wear a custom bracelet to show the world they are Jesus’s followers, no it is through their compassion and actions that they imitate Jesus in this world.

I am who I am says I am

With this abundance of uniqueness which God has blessed each of us with it is no wonder why we have such and expansive list of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 15, or it is why we have a five-fold ministry instead of just a singular priesthood. God made us all unique and so that we can fulfill the totality of the Great Commission, there are those of us created for compassion, some for teaching, some for artistry, some for business, others for evangelism.

There are those who are introverts others extroverts, some are exuberant while others are soft spoken and no one is better than the other. Each one was uniquely created to serve God and to have an impact in the place and time God created them to live in, because there are people both inside and outside of the church who can only be helped but someone just like you. For God crafted you to be unique, quirky, flawed, talented and so many other traits right from the beginning.


Psalm 139:15-17 “My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them. 17 How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!” (NKJV)


 

What do we do next about our identity?

Going forward we have to first learn and understand who Jesus is and use that inspiration and foundation to build our own identity upon. We are to be holy, but not “holier than thou”, we are to be loving but not taken advantage of, we are to be firm in our biblical convictions but not judgmental, we are to live by faith but not by wishing, and we are to be ourselves but without the flaws of the flesh. At the end of the day you are to go out and live like a plant, be it a tree, flower, grain, bush, vine, grass it doesn’t matter what kind you are.

What is important is that you remain rooted deeply in the ground, your drink in the water of life, you bath in the light of the sun and your grow and grow so you can produce fruit and seeds so the great garden continues to spread throughout the earth.