Identity in Christ

My identity in Christ. This is a phrase that I’ve heard my whole life, and I know the right places in a conversation to say it, but I realized that I don’t really know what it means. Yet it makes a big difference in life who I see myself as: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).

What is my identity to begin with? Who am I? What is your identity? Who are you? I’m Luke. OK, is that all? That’s my name, but is that me? I can change my name at any time, but surely that wouldn’t immediately change who I am as a person? The movie Batman Begins has the famous line in it, “It’s not who you are inside, it’s what you do that defines you.” Is that right? A lot of times, when we are “getting to know” someone, we ask what they do. Once we know that, do we know them?

Well, I’m learning that the meaning of having identity in Christ is that, in some way, it’s what he does that defines me. In fact, whatever it is that defines who Christ is, that also is what defines me if my identity is in Christ. So it’s helpful to think about who Christ is and how I get to know people in general, including Christ. Two things come to mind:

  1. I get to know others by learning facts about them.

I could spend a lot of time with someone, then later find out it was the governor, and what might I say? “I didn’t know who I was talking to.” Similarly, the Bible presents a lot of facts about me that are true because of my adoption into God’s family through Christ:

  • I have been given the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16
  • I am not my own; I belong to God (1 Cor. 6:20)
  • I may approach God with boldness, freedom and confidence (Eph. 3:12)

There are lots more facts like this that are true of us because of our relationship with Christ, and understanding and taking these to heart is part of knowing my identity in Christ.

  1. I get to know others by spending time in relationship with them.

Conversely, I could learn all the facts there are about someone, and yet not know them: reading someone’s life story, however detailed and accurate, is nothing like being friends with them. So to know well who I am in Christ, I need to know Christ well. This is probably where I fall short the most – Christ is a person who is alive and can be interacted with, conversed with, related to. Like any relationship, it takes work and effort to learn the best ways and then do it, but there is intrinsic reward and benefit for making that effort.

Maybe working on these two aspects, I’ll make some progress in understanding my identity in Christ.

what we have

For thirty years, I didn’t have a Valentine. Guys had to ask my father for permission to date me. Dad was strict, few guys tried, so I gave up hope that I would ever have a Valentine.

Valentine's Day mugThen when I was 31, I received a Starbucks mug with hearts all over it. The box read “To Karen” and that was it. Little did I know that was Luke’s first Valentine’s gift to me.

But this post isn’t about what you may not have. This Valentine’s Day, I want to remind us all of what we do have.

Ephesians 5:31 is a verse we commonly hear at weddings: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Now why would the passage talk about the man leaving his father and mother, when in most cultures, the woman leaves her family? To answer this question, I’d like to share a story.

When Arianna was two, she started having nightmares. One night, she woke up crying that a fox was out to get her. After several nights of her crying for us in the middle of the night, we decided to set up a little bed for her in our room. It was easier.

One night, I woke up hearing her whimpering. I went to comfort her, only to discover that she was still asleep. She was having another nightmare. Even though I was exhausted, my mother’s heart hurt for her. I wanted her to keep sleeping, but I also wanted to wake her up and assure her that everything was going to be ok—that her dream wasn’t real.

That is what Christ did for us. Ephesians 5:32 says, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Marriage is a picture of God’s love for us. Jesus left His home in Heaven, His Father who loved Him, and all His glory to enter into our world—to assure us that our nightmare will one day pass away.

That’s not all. When it says that a man will hold fast to his wife, it’s telling us that Jesus came to pursue people who not only didn’t love Him in return but instead sought after other gods. We love romantic love, because it’s the feeling of being completely known and accepted by another person—but Jesus came to love people who ultimately rejected and crucified Him. I can’t fathom a love like that.

The last part talks about the two becoming one flesh—because Jesus loves us, He lived for us, suffered for us, died and rose again for us—He joined Himself to us, so that when God looks at us, He sees His beloved Son, so that we who were doomed to death might be saved and loved and accepted and completely known. This is the love of God—He became poor so that we might be rich. He took on our sickness that we might be healed. He bore all of our sorrows so that we might have joy. And the Bible tells us that not even death can separate us from the love of Christ.

So this Valentine’s Day, remember what you have—the extravagant love of God.


Out of the Mire

Sorry it’s so long, but it’s honest.

January of 2014, I was so excited to be back serving at a ministry. No more long days of staring at my computer screen working on projects I cared little or nothing about, and had seemingly no eternal value!

I poured myself into the students around me. My official work hours were Monday-Friday, 8-5pm, but actually, I was there from 8am-8pm, or 9pm… or 10pm.

“Are you sure you’re taking enough time off and getting enough rest? You could go to the dorm and get some time to yourself.” – I remember Mr. Matt asking me that so many times, and each time I replied “Why would I want to go home? I’m happy to be here, and being alone would be boring.”

Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and by September my brain finally caught up with my body long enough to shout into it’s stubborn ear “STOP IT! I’m TIRED.” – I had hit a wall. I didn’t want to be “on” all the time.

I wanted quiet. I wanted an off switch. I found a needed haven in three good friends who were also physically and emotionally spent. We relaxed together, shared together, prayed & fellowshipped together… we bonded, and they became some of my dearest friends. (In fact, this past June I married one of them! ^_^) The time we spent was a blessing. I had found an oasis in the dessert, and God used it to bless the rest of my life!

BUT… as 2015 began, my job changed drastically. I was no longer teaching in the classroom, I was working in the office. I was excited to finally work on my many projects uninterrupted! – My hours also changed in a good way that helped me to stop on time.

Unfortunately, it also meant that I wouldn’t be joining a family group in the morning, but I thought it would be okay. [I didn’t need the accountability of a family group to make sure I did my morning devotions, right?] Well, maybe if I had been spiritually healthy at the beginning, that would have been true — but I wasn’t, so it wasn’t.
My quiet times got shorter, and fewer, and more haphazard.

Moreover, I began to avoid human interaction. I didn’t want to be constantly surrounded by people, or be responsible for what was taking place, or be involved in the game over at that table, or go to the movies with that group, or go out of my way to build relationships …I was purposely backing myself into a job that entailed [long days of staring at my computer screen working on projects] again!
What was wrong with me? I had always cared about people!

I’d like to say that when I realized what was happening, I prayed and got right back on track! But… that would be a lie. I have prayed, but I’m still in the mire. Mostly by choice. Simple choices like hitting the snooze button “just one more time”, and working on my projects “just 5 minutes longer”.


The most amazing part of all of this, is that I have never once felt that God has left me – that He has behaved toward me as I have toward Him. While I have ignored Him; choose sleep, work, and just about everything else over a conversation with Him, He has never failed me yet.

I find it so unimaginable — because, if I were Jesus, I would have cut me off months ago — then again, I keenly sense that this is the very grace I have long known and am merely tasting again, afresh. He is continuing to give me what I do not deserve. Himself.

By His hand, I see a light at the end of this tunnel… not because He’s going to make me climb out of this mess I’ve made for myself by myself (which is what I would probably do if I had such an ungrateful servant!), but by simply reaching up to grasp the hand He has continually had extended toward me all along. – By spending time WITH HIM.

He is so faithful. So kind. We serve a Good Master.

“1 I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. 2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.

11 As for you, O LORD, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me! 12 For evils have encompassed me beyond number; my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head; my heart fails me.

17 As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God!”

– Psalm 40

Pearl of Great Price


“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Mt. 13:45-46)

pearlsThe interpretation of this parable of Jesus that I have always heard is that God, or Jesus Christ, is the Pearl of Great Price, and we are like the Merchant. We need to follow Jesus’ call to “Sell all that you have…come and follow me.” (Mt. 19:21) Several old hymns reinforce this idea, such as a beautiful translation of J.S. Bach’s “Jesu Meine Freude.” And there is something to be said for this idea: clearly Christ is valuable, the most valuable thing in the world and out of the world – “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Lk. 14:33)

But there are problems with this interpretation – if we are the merchant, this makes it sound like we are searching for God until we find Him, then getting Him because we give something as payment. But, “no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Rom. 3:11) And of course, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Eph. 2:8)

I’ve become fascinated by the possibility that this parable is actually talking about the way that God pursues us: He’s the merchant and we are the pearl. There is good Biblical support for this idea too. The old hymnwriter Charles Wesely wrote about the great price Christ paid: He “Emptied himself of all but love.” We are told, “…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8) The image of God as a merchant who values me so much as to give up all He has to gain me…that moves me, changes my heart.

Whatever the correct interpretation is of this parable, the point about God pursuing us is true. “…the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Lk. 19:10) This also changes my perspective on passages like Eph. 5: 25-27: “…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” I think that your life as a Christian is defined by God pursuing you, not by you pursuing God; by God valuing you rather than you valuing God; and by God the Son gaining us as a Bride more so than us gaining Him as a savior.

Relish this, revel in it, let it soothe, heal and transform you into the person whom God will enjoy for eternity. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 Jn. 4:19)

Love to the Max


Photo by Rowan & Jocelyn Gillson

I have been a Christian for a long time, but this Easter was one of the best. My wife and I are attending Mars Hill Church in Portland, and they rightfully make a big deal out of Easter. On Good Friday we had an evening service that was a lot like a funeral service. Two days later, Easter morning was a huge celebration. The combination was incredibly powerful, bringing home the despair of the death of Christ and the joy of the resurrection.

One of the things that came through strongly for me was the enormity of mankind’s sin and my personal ownership of it. Jesus, the Son of God, came and lived a perfect life among us, and our response was to kill him. No one even stood up for him. We killed God. We didn’t want him; we didn’t need him; and the people who led the charge to kill God were the most religious– the very ones who thought they knew Him.

This opened up my eyes to a whole new thought, that God actually intended for this to happen– He knew from before time began that the men and women he created would kill his Son. In a way, he wasn’t even disappointed, it was all part of the plan. To make mankind was to die for them.

To me, this revealed a greater depth to the the love that God has for us. Not only would He die for us, but He would even create us so that He could love us to the max.


The Desert: A Place to Grow?

Wadi Rum Desert, Jordan ©2010-2012 David Sant, used by permission.

The sun beats down until the rocks are so hot you could literally fry an egg on them.  Finally the sun drops below the horizon and the temperature plummets to near freezing.  Winds whip across the parched landscape, blowing sand into your eyes, nose, and mouth.  There is little to no water and only the sturdiest, most efficient plants and animals survive here.

The desert is a wasteland.

Or is it?

Often Christians describe bad times in their spiritual lives as “desert times”: times of dryness, apathy, and seeming distance from God.  I believe there are actually two types of spiritual deserts: those God leads us into and those that we make for ourselves by losing fellowship with God.

Throughout the Bible, God led individuals into the desert and used that time to grow their faith.

Moses spent at least eighty years of his life in the desert.  During the first forty years, God was preparing him to lead the Israelites across a desert into the Promised Land.

John the Baptist grew up in the desert. (Lk. 1:80) Then God used him to prepare the way for Jesus.

Jesus fasted for forty days in a desert in preparation for His ministry.  The Bible tells us that He was led there by the Holy Spirit. (Lk. 4:1)

However my favorite Bible story about a desert concerns Philip.  Philip was a leader of the church in Jerusalem.  He had just participated in an amazing spiritual awakening in Samaria, preaching the Gospel and baptizing new believers.  He was seeing God work and getting to be a part of it.  It must have been like working at VOICE multiplied by about a thousand (and watching God work at VOICE is incredible!).

The next thing Philip knows, he’s sitting in Jerusalem and God is telling him to go to the Gaza desert.  There are no people in the desert.  If I had been in Philip’s shoes I would have been thinking, “Um, we are on a roll here, God.  Why on earth do you want me to go to this desert?  You aren’t making any sense!”

The next sentence simply says, “And he arose and went.”  Wow.  That’s faith.  That’s living like God is real and truly all-knowing.

Philip followed God to a seemingly barren place, but he was able to share the Gospel with a man from the court of the Queen of Ethiopia.  We can’t ever know how many Ethiopians believed on Christ just because Philip “arose and went” to the desert!  (Read Philip’s story for yourself in Acts 8:5-40 in Chinese or English.)

God can make good things happen even in the desert.  My question for all of us is, do we try to flee the spiritual desert too soon?  Of course it’s uncomfortable.  Of course it’s lonely.  However, maybe we seek escape when we should be seeking God.

Each of us will probably spend time in a spiritual desert.  Let’s be careful we are there because of God’s direction and not as a result of our own sin!  The Israelites disobeyed God and because of their sin they were forced to wander in a desert for 40 years.  If you take yourself into a desert by disobeying God and losing fellowship with Him – repent!  Don’t waste your life wandering in a spiritual desert of unbelief.

If God leads you into a desert, seek Him.  At the very least He wants to draw you closer and perhaps prepare you for something in the future.


Lin, Lint, & Lent, Oh My!!!

Did any of you watch the Knicks vs. Heat basketball game last night? It was actually the first game I’ve seen this season, and I mainly wanted to watch because, yes, Jeremy Lin was playing. 🙂 Didn’t you?? After all the hype I’ve heard and read, I wanted to see this guy in action! And he didn’t disappoint. It was an awesome game.   

. . . . .

Don’t you hate it when you throw your clothes into the washer only to find out afterwards that you left something in your pocket? Tissues create the biggest havoc on black sweaters ever. Tiny white specks – everywhere! It’s just impossible to pick each piece off.   

. . . . . 

Last Wednesday was the kickoff to Lent, with it being ‘Ash Wednesday.’ It is the start of 40 days where people give something up for ‘Lent,’ to take part in Christ’s suffering. They pick one item/activity and fast from Facebook, music, soda, sugary foods, Starbucks, eating out at restaurants, movies, etc. Simply put, they give up something that they can live just fine without, or maybe it’s an activity or something that has taken more of their focus than it should be.   

It’s only three days into Lent, and I hear comment after comment, “Ugh, I can’t – I gave that up for lent,” “I’m going to starve! I can’t have meat, or drink soda,” & “I’m so glad I didn’t give THAT up! I don’t know how I’d be able to survive.” Was it a sacrifice or was it surrender? What was their motive in giving up something they enjoyed? Why did they do it? Did they desire to, but were just having a moment of ingratitude for all that they had beside? Or were they only doing it to gain admiration and boost their pride?

It made me ask myself – What is my attitude when I give something up for even a short time – like, music while at VOICE. Or when I put on a uniform instead of my own clothing choice for work. Is it given up begrudgingly? Or is my surrender genuine, knowing that the outcome is sweeter than the sacrifice. Our motive & heart attitude is a true indicator of who we are giving it up for. 

We each can definitely come up with a list of a few things we can live without. What is one thing you cannot live without? The answer is obvious – It’s Jesus Christ. Because ‘For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are ALL things.’ [Romans 11:36a ESV] It might be a small sacrifice – but, anything that we turn to, spend time or money on, and takes our focus off of God is in need of management. Maybe we should take these 40 days ourselves just to focus on the ONE who this season is about; remembering everything that He did & suffered. He gave so much for you & I – how could anything I give up for a mere 40 days even compare!?

I know what you’re thinking… what in the world does Jeremy Lin, lint, and Lent have to do with each other?! Basically nothing, but the random events that my life, and the musings of my mind. 🙂 But I can tell you – It doesn’t matter who [Jeremy Lin, or Katie Pleckham] or what you are [athlete, student, or piece of fuzz]; what you’ve done or are doing [sacrifices]; but, it’s merely about what has already been done by Christ on the cross. And for that, I am forever humbled, and grateful – with or without a Starbucks cup in hand.

Are you?



Midnight and midwinter

I’m still thinking about a Christmas song that I was able to sing a few times this Christmas season:

“Lo, how a rose e’er blooming,
from tender stem has sprung.
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
as men of old have sung.
It came a flow’ret bright,
amid the cold of winter;
when half-spent was the night.”

I’m especially captivated by the last couple of lines: Christ came “amid the cold of winter, when half-spent was the night.” We celebrate Christmas during the “cold of winter,” but we know from historical clues that Jesus was actually born in the springtime. So does this song simply make a mistake when it says Jesus was born in the winter? And half-way through the night? Was Jesus really born at night?

Many places the Bible pictures God’s Kingdom as a thing that begins small, and grows until it fills the earth (Ez. 47:5, Hab. 2:14, Dan. 2:35, Mt. 13:31-33). Since Jesus is the Light of the World (Jn. 8:12), we might think of the whole world as being in darkness before His coming (Lk. 1:72). To those waiting for His coming, it must have seemed that the darkness grew deeper, the cold of separation from God more bitter.

Into this night of sin, this winter of mankind’s soul, Christ came. “When half-spent was the night”…when the world looked darkest, when all hopes had failed, at the mid-night and mid-winter of history, Christ came.

How fitting that, right after celebrating Christmas, we should celebrate a New Year. In this new year, let’s see and display the new life, the new light that is in each of us because of Christ’s coming. As the light of His Kingdom increases, may He also “shine in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus.” (2 Cor. 4:6)


Life Within

In this part of the world, Central Wisconsin, winter brings cold and a blanket of snow to cover the earth. The only vegetation that seems to be alive are evergreen trees and indoor plants. It is sometimes depressing to look out at a forest and see trees that were once green and covered with leaves now bare and grey. From all outward appearances, the trees look as if they have all suddenly died. And yet, once all the snow has melted and the warmth of spring comes, they seem to come to life again and grow beautiful.

I was recently meditating on how the Lord sees our hearts, and the hearts of our friends that do not yet have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Before we knew Him, we were dead. There was nothing beautiful or valuable about our lives. And yet, within each one of us is the potential for new life through Jesus. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross provided a way for each one of us to change from something cold and dead to something new and living.

In our interactions with unsaved friends and coworkers, how do we see them? Are they simply part of our world that we interact with? As Christians, we have the responsibility from the Lord to tell others about Him and what He as done for us. We should see those around us they way that God sees them; Souls in need of salvation. In our everyday lives, our words and actions should lead others to the knowledge of Christ.

When I look out at the world, and see how so many reject Christ and what He has done for us, I am tempted to see a ‘forest’ of dead people. The Lord looks at the same people and continues to make His love available to them, and commands us to do the same. In our everyday lives, our words and actions should lead others to the knowledge of Christ.

Be bold in proclaiming the word of the Lord, and the love that Jesus has made available for all!


The Right Reason

In the book of Colossians, the Apostle Paul tells us that no matter what we do we should “do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men”. (Col 3:23)  Often I find myself concerned about what other people think of me instead of what Christ’s opinion is.  Of course, this is caused by my selfishness and pride.

This past semester I started studying at home for a college degree.  Every time I sit down to study it’s important for me to remind myself for Whom I am studying.  The purpose of anything I do in my life should always be to please Christ.  By earning this degree, I am working towards something that will give me more opportunities and make me seem more successful to other people.  However, the real purpose for acquiring the degree is not so that I can have a great career or impress people.  My purpose in earning the degree is so that I will be able to serve Christ in different ways than I am able to now.

Sometimes when we do something good and right for the right reason (pleasing Jesus!) people may think we are doing it for a selfish reason and they become upset.  At other times when we do something right or wrong out of a selfish reason people will praise us.  God understands our true motivations.  “…man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)  Jesus should be the most important person and His good opinion the most treasured in our lives.

When Jesus’ opinion is my highest priority I always have a great peace.  I am free from the pressures and opinions of other people and can focus wholeheartedly on doing the best I can for Jesus’ sake.  However, this does not mean that I ignore my authorities’ wishes!  It means that when my authorities give me a task to accomplish I should see it as a personal commission from Christ and do it diligently with a cheerful attitude.  It also doesn’t mean that I can ignore other people!  It means that I should see each person as an opportunity to show Christ’s love.  Unfortunately, I don’t always do these things, but the Lord has been faithful to provide me with many opportunities to practice. 🙂 He will give you opportunities to practice in the coming year, too!

Happy New Year!