Your New ID: Light

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” Since the beginning of creation, God has been dispelling the darkness with his marvelous light. Genesis chapter 1 says, “Darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the water. God said, ÔLet there be light,’ and there was light, and God saw that the light was good.”

Remember when Moses, after receiving the Ten Commandments, came down from Mount Sinai having just left the presence of Yahweh Himself. It says his face radiated the light of the glory of God. Also, when God’s people journeyed through the desert on their way to the Promised Land, the Spirit descended upon the tabernacle. The shekinah glory of God’s light filled the tabernacle as it literally glowed with His presence radiating His glory. The light was the visible manifestation of our invisible God, our infinite God in His glory and light.

John, in the first chapter of his Gospel, talked about Jesus’ birth this way: “In the beginning was the Word. In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness has not understood it.” Another translation says the light shines in the darkness but the darkness cannot swallow it up, or the darkness cannot overcome it.

This is a hopeful and powerful promise! Light always dispels darkness. Darkness must flee. When John is writing of Jesus, he calls Jesus is the true light who comes to every person as He comes into the world. The light is Jesus. Throughout the Scriptures, we find the imagery of light and darkness used to explain the understanding of the battle of good and evil. The reign of God to bless and give life is contrasted with Jesus’ description of the “prince of darkness,” who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. It’s the image of darkness and light permeating the biblical witness of the battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness.

Now, by our own experience, we know the world is a dark place, a place of chaos and evil, hidden corruption. People struggle to accumulate wealth, money, land, and power. In the process, they become hate filled. They download discouragement. Many live in despair and hopelessness. They even impose destruction and death.

On a cosmic level, the world is a dark, sick place. Sometimes in our despair, we feel stuck. How can we ever get out of it? Nations are at war. Racism is rampant. People murder one another, thieve from one another, abuse each other. People are caught up in addictions Ð dark, destructive, dangerous, dying. Where is the hope?

We who believe in the living God, we who believe that Jesus has come to reveal the heart of God to us, we find our hope in Jesus, the Son of God, the Light of the world.

Have you ever noticed how some people embody darkness? When they enter a room, it feels like someone turned out the lights. They are negative, hypercritical of every one and every thing, quick to find fault, pessimistic, cynical, even predatory, on the attack, destructive. Compare how that feels with the type of individual who is energetic, full of laughter, and bubbling with joy. Compare it with people who are winsome, peaceful, and fun, who see things on the bright side, who are encouragers.

Some may say, Well, they’re just kind of Pollyanna, separated from reality. Maybe, or is it that, through eyes of faith, they see the presence of God and the power of God at work in the world? They see Jesus’ Spirit at work and so hold onto hope.

I also know my own heart. I have a sinful, sick heart. The Bible says, “Our hearts are deceitful above all else and desperately sick. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9 Again John, in the third chapter, says, “Light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil” (vs. 19).

We might think those people “out there” are the enemy. They are the people in the dark realm, and we’re the ones who are good in the light. Luther taught that the line between good and evil doesn’t run between me and you. Rather, the line runs down the center of my own sinful heart. All of us have a sinful, shadowy dark side.

Ever since Adam and Eve ran to hide from God after disobeying in the garden by partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we also run to hide our wrongdoings. We stay in the cover of darkness where we can rationalize and perpetuate our bad behaviors. I don’t have to look for darkness “out there” somewhere. When I’m honest with myself, I see my own heart is full of darkness. Because of darkness, many people are lost, confused, far from God, and they live with despair, anxiety, and depression.

That is why the good Lord sent Jesus to be our Savior. In the darkness of a cold December night, a virgin girl gave birth to the Light of God’s love. Remember the angel’s words to Joseph, “Call him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The sky was full of glorious angels singing at his birth. The prophet Isaiah long ago said it this way: “The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light. Those who live in the land of the shadow of death, on them God’s light has shined.”

Also associated with Jesus’ birth, remember how the whole of the cosmos reoriented itself to welcome Jesus as the Wisemen followed the star to the place where the Son of God lay in a manger. Jesus is the light of the world, so when He says in a description of Himself, “I am the light of the world,” it is no accident. He is the revelation of God’s release of power and life to dispel the darkness, to overcome evil, to give us victory.

Many of us understand the phrase “walking in darkness.” Many of us, before we woke up to the full privilege of faith in a relationship with Jesus, could quote well the truth of a familiar Christian song that says we “wandered off to find where demons dwell.”

In the fifteenth chapter of Luke, Jesus told a parable about the prodigal son and the elder brother. Many of us have had a prodigal journey where we spent a portion of our life living far from God. We were lost in our sin, in the darkness of our rebellion, and woke up to find ourselves in the pigpen of life, broken and alone and sad. Others of us stayed in the church and, like the older brother, did all the right things. Yet we were living in the darkness of duty and obligation. We never cherished the Father’s heart. We never understood that the whole of our relationship with God was based on the beautiful light of the grace He gives us in Jesus Christ.

I remember years ago as a pastor taking a youth group from our church to the Black Hills of South Dakota. While we were there, we visited a cave. Under the bowels of those hills, a tour guide turned out the lights while we were far under the earth. I’ll never forget how black it was. I could not see the hand in front of my face. In fact, there was no way I could ever find my way out of the darkness.

So Jesus comes as the light of love shining into my dark dilemma. Jesus comes and whispers to me from the witness of a friend, from a message I might hear in a worship service, from the gentle compassionate care of a parent, or the lyric of a song, and I hear the truth of the light of Jesus. I see the light of grace radiate from His face. And finally, in my spirit I say, Come in, Lord Jesus. And when Jesus comes into our lives by faith, it’s like the dawn’s sunlight of a new day, and in Jesus’s light all our past sins are forgiven. All our shadows flee, all our dark rebellion melts, and we welcome the power of Jesus’ light. This is why it says in II Corinthians 5, “In Christ you are a new creation. The old has passed away; everything is new.”

This passage in Ephesians 5 tells us boldly, our new identity as people of Jesus is to be light Ð light glowing with magnificent glory of God’s Spirit offering hope to the world. It says boldly LIVE as children of life. Live as children of light. Live distinctively. All will be goodness as we learn what pleases the Lord.

I know this in my own heart. I am keenly aware of the debt I owe God for not only the gift of life, but also for the forgiving salvation He provides through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I owe Him a debt I cannot repay. Out of gratitude and love, I long to discover His will and how I might best serve Him to bring Him pleasure and to fulfill His mission.

It also says in Ephesians that we should expose the darkness. We can confront the darkness by living opposite from the culture around us Ð counter-cultural, like salmon swimming upstream, like a single candle in a dark place, like a rat scurrying for cover in a basement when the light is turned on. We can be different and distinct from the world, most of whom are selfish. We, as the children of light, can be giving and generous. Most of the world curses the people around them. As children of light, we can make it our commitment to bless the people God brings to us. As children of light, we can forgive instead of seeking revenge or holding a grudge. And while most in the world might seek to abuse and use people, we can love them with Jesus’ love. The preeminent quality of the children of light is love. We can live full of confident hope.

I remember when David, who later was King David, was hunted by King Saul like a dog in the wilderness. Yet he said in Psalm 27, “The Lord is my light and my salvation. whom shall I fear?” We know who we are, whose we are, and what our future will be because of Jesus in our life. Of course, we’ re never perfect in our desire to shine, so we need to seek the light of Jesus’ forgiving love, not as a one-time event but a daily rhythm where we come with our regrets, our mistakes, and failures and ask Jesus, yet again, to shine the light of His love in us.

I’m told a story of Ben Franklin who decided to show his neighbors a special way to light a lantern outside their homes. He purchased an attractive lantern, polished the glass and placed the light on an extended pole in front of his house. Each evening he’d light the wick and hang out the lantern. Before long, his neighbors noticed the light; Even those far up the street noticed the warm glow around his house. The people passing by his house were delighted because it made walking in the dark so much easier.

Soon other people placed lanterns in front of their homes, and eventually the city recognized the need for well-lit streets. This led to a cultural phenomenon of streetlights. Cities and municipalities hired people to be lamp lighters, to turn night into day Ð a nostalgic, former image of a singular man walking a darkening city street as dusk descended, extending his staff to ignite each dark, cold lamp stand to life with a small flame. He would light the way along the lonely city lanes so those who were out after dark wouldn’t lose their way.

Now, in our day of modern technology, electricity and all the advances, we might say the lamplighter is a past occupation no longer needed. But in the work of the kingdom of God, light dispels the darkness. God needs us to live in our identity as the people of light. God needs us to be lamp lighters who share our passionate love for Jesus with other people so their hearts can also be ignited with the flame of faith and Jesus’ Spirit could come live inside of them. Then all of us, together with the presence of Jesus’ Spirit within us, may become children of light.

Jesus said it. “You are the light of the world.” Through the light of your faith the darkness will flee, and Jesus will shine.

Your New ID: You Are Family

When Jesus Christ steps into our lives, we receive a new identity, a new ID. We have a whole new way of viewing ourselves.

That is what the apostle Paul has been teaching us in his letter to the Ephesians. We’ve learned from him, first of all, that if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, consider yourself a saint. Next we learned that you are God’s masterpiece created for His good works.

Today, Paul teaches us something else about the identity of those who trust Jesus: If you trust Jesus Christ, consider yourself family.

It is important for us to know that Paul is writing to Gentiles, non-Jewish Christians. They have always been considered outsiders and a bit inferior by their Jewish neighbors. Paul reminds them of this in Ephesians 2. “So then, remember . . . you Gentiles . . . you were aliens, strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope . . . But now in Christ Jesus you . . . have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (11-13).

You have been brought near to God. Their sin kept them far from a relationship with this God who loves them. Such is the case with every individual, right? But Jesus came into this world and died as a payment for our sins on a cross. His sacrifice restored our broken relationship with God. The chasm caused by sin has been bridged by the cross of Jesus Christ, and we have access to our heavenly Father.

“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (2:14). Not only have the Gentiles been brought near to God, but they have also been brought near to the Church, which was made up mostly of Jews at that time. The cross has broken down the dividing wall between them. Jesus Christ is our peace. We are one in Christ. A new humanity has been put into place that no longer pays attention to the color of skin, nationality, ethnicity, gender, or status in society. Both Jews and non-Jews are reconciled through the cross.

The Gospels tell us that Jesus ministered to all kinds of people. Consequently, the Gentiles are also members of the household of God. Everybody who trusts in Jesus is a member of the family. Consider yourself family. With Christ as our cornerstone we are joined together as family.

Consider yourself family must have been wonderful news to the Gentiles. But it is also an important truth today for those who call Jesus their Savior Lord. A great evangelist from the past century, E. Stanley Jones, made this statement, “Everyone who belongs to Christ belongs to everyone who belongs to Christ.” We belong to each other; we’re family.

Paul then carries this thought about family a bit further. In chapter three of Ephesians he tells them what it means to be part of the family of God. It brings some real blessings!

Many of us know what a blessing it is to be part of an earthly family. I grew up in a loving home where I was nurtured and accepted by a loving mother, father, and sister. We took care of each other and stood up for one another. What a blessing it was for me as an individual!

Later on, I became an adopted part of my wife’s family where I again received all kinds of privileges. The Larsens loved me and valued me. They gave me immediate refrigerator access. “What’s in there is yours, Steve. Help yourself.” They took care of me, housed me when I was unemployed, and even let me use their car. They sympathized and rejoiced with me. They encouraged me, taught me, and nurtured me along the way. It was a blessing and a privilege to be part of their family.

Paul tells us that, as part of the family of God, we have blessings and privileges. I am a Jew but God called me to act as your pastor, to make sure you feel like you are part of the Church family. I am your brother now, and I care about your growth in Christ. I am praying for you to come to a deeper understanding each day of the depths of God’s great love for you. You matter to me. You don’t need to stand alone in life any longer because you are with family. You’ve got me. I will take care of you. I will care about you, and I will love you no matter what, because we are family.

“The Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, partakers (sharers) of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (3:6) Paul is telling them they are not any less than him or anyone else in the Church. They are equals and share in some wonderful things. As part of the Church family, we share in the promises of the gospel, the riches, forgiveness for the past, access to our heavenly Father through Jesus, and eternal life. We belong to Him forever. You are heirs of the free gift of eternal life. Wow! This membership is loaded with all kinds of perks and privileges.

But being part of a family also has its responsibilities. For instance, in my own earthly family, we love and serve each other, look out for each other, stand up for each other, share with each other, stick with each other, and never run out on each other. This is the frame of thinking Paul moves toward as he reminds the Christians of their membership in the family.

Paul gives us some responsibilities, in chapter 4, to commit to as members of the Church family. “I therefore . . . beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:1-3).

Paul is laying out our responsibilities. You have a calling now so live a life worthy of the family name.

¥ Act with humility toward one another. Be considerate of each another. Have a healthy amount of self-forgetfulness.

¥ Show gentleness to one another. Exercise self-restraint, controlled strength.

¥ Be patient with each other, meaning long-suffering.

¥ Bear with each other in love. Put up with each others’ faults and idiosyncrasies in a sacrificial way, not needing to get even. Sacrifice your right to get even with each other.

What Paul is basically saying here is, make a commitment to get along, take care of each other, and stick with each other.

In the Church of Jesus Christ today, we are sometimes guilty of losing that biblical outlook. We live in a consumer age and have the attitude that the church is there to take care of me. I am the customer, and it’s your job to make me happy and comfortable. We have a tendency to look at membership in a church like a membership in a country club. It’s there to serve me, and if you don’t do that, if you do things I don’t like or say things I don’t agree with, I’ll leave you and look for another place that will do a better job of taking care of me.

This is so opposite of what God has in mind for His Church! I have heard people say they love Jesus but dislike His Church. Something is wrong in their relationship with Jesus then, because Jesus loves His Church and laid down His life for her.

So why is this togetherness and commitment to unity emphasized so greatly by Paul in this portion of Scripture? Well, remember what Jesus said to the disciples, “A new commandment I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

Think about it Ð Who in the world would be attracted to a bickering, gossipy, backstab-bing, noncommitting community of faith? No one. In fact, they might even run in the other direction. One theologian said, “We need to remember, the Church is God’s provisional display for the world of what He originally intended for the world.” We are to love Christ, love each other, and love the world around us. We are Jesus’ display for the world, meant to attract others with our love for each other. Each of us, as followers of Jesus Christ, is responsible to not let splitting, fighting, bickering, and gossiping happen in our church family.

If you’re a member of a church family, you are to avoid using your lips to gossip about others in the church. Instead, we are called to use language that builds each other up. We are to readily exercise forgiveness and grace toward others who have upset us or hurt us along the way. We are to be committed to stick with the family, no matter what, and not run out on it. That takes determination.

Paul tells us we are saints, and yet we are still sinners. The old sinful Adam (and Eve) still lives within us wanting things to go our way and looking out for ourselves. We can sometimes really hurt each other, tick each other off, think or talk badly of each other, or even be tempted to run in hopes of finding a perfect church. Brothers and sisters, that church does not exist. Welcome to the not-so-perfect family of God.

If you are connected to Jesus Christ, you are family. Perhaps you’ve been away from the family. Perhaps you’ve run from your church. My goal today is to appeal to you to come back. Plug in again. You need the church, and the church needs you.

If you are someone who is still connected to your family, enjoy it with all its privileges and blessings. You can call on that family and let it be your support, encouragement, and nurture in your life. But also commit yourself to doing everything you can to enhance the mission of that Church and maintain its unity. Love each other, pray for others, serve each other.

This is your calling. It is a tall order, I understand, but thankfully we are not on our own in making it happen. God’s power is available to us as we pray. I invite you to pray this prayer with me today:

Father, thank you for the privilege of being a member of Your family through Jesus. I promise to be a source of unity in my church. I know there are no perfect pastors or church members. Neither am I. But I will work hard to not be a source of gossip or dissension in my church family. Help me do all I can to keep my church in unity for the sake of the gospel.

Congratulations! You are family.

Your New ID: You Are a Masterpiece

How would you describe yourself to someone else? The reason I’m asking this is we’re talking about our identity. If I am a follower of Jesus Christ, according to Scriptures, I have a new identity. The Apostle Paul teaches us this truth in his letter to the Ephesians. Last week we learned in chapter 1 that we are saints who have been blessed richly. Today in chapter 2, Paul gives us another statement about who we are.

He begins by telling a rescue story, which is actually your story and mine. He says, You were dead in your transgressions and sins. You were spiritually dead to God, unable to put yourself in a right relationship with Him. You didn’t meet the requirements of God’s laws and continually transgressed and fell short of God’s commandments.

You followed the ways of this world (instead of the ways of God). You took the values of a sinful world and made them your own. You were under the control of the ruler of the kingdom of the air (satan) who operates subtly, whispering to us. He tries to lead us astray and soon makes many individuals captive to his ways, which is a dead end.

All of us lived according to the flesh, Paul goes on to say. When he talks about the flesh, he means the inner desires and appetites that are in each of us. You lived to gratify the cravings of your sinful nature and your flesh and follow those desires. For example, personal pleasures such as greed Ð thinking you need more. Or it could have been sexual appetites, feeding your ego, basically living for your self-gratification. He said you were caught up in it. All of us were. We were so bad that by nature we were objects of God’s wrath. We deserved punishment and judgment. Paul is drawing a rather dark picture for us in this first section of the story. It is a hopeless predicament.

Then the tone of Paul’s words turns in verse four with a very important word or two. He says, “BUT,” then follows it up with, “because of his great love for us, God . . .”

But God loves you and me. We cannot even begin to fathom the depths of His love for us.

But God, who is rich in mercy . . . God shows mercy to those who don’t deserve it.

Then Paul describes an intervention. But God intervened, made us alive together with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions (our sin, our shortcomings, and our moral lapses).

We had a hopeless future that separated us from a relationship with God. But God made us alive with Christ. He sent us Jesus Christ, His perfect, sinless Son who died on the cross and paid the penalty for our sinfulness. God raised Him on the third day thereby purchasing for us eternal life. God raises us up in Christ, and we share in His victory!

Years ago, a Lutheran seminary professor, Gerhard Frost, wrote some wonderful books of prose and poetry. One of those pieces stuck out for me, and I’ve kept it on file. The title is “We Won!”

I remember a moment long ago in a small town restaurant. We (had) played a basketball game away from home and won, and we were in a celebrative mood. I was fourteen, not very good, nor was our team, and this made victory sweeter still. As we crowded into a restaurant booth, I jauntily said, “Well, we won!” Quick as the flash of a knife came the remembered words, “What do you mean Ôwe?’ You didn’t play.”

I can’t forget the words of the one who spoke them, but I can turn to other words sounding in my soul. My Lord says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Baptized into the death of Christ, I die in Him to rise again. With no part in the victory, I’m still invited to say, “We won!”

That is what Paul seems to be saying. We get to share in Christ’s victory. We won! We are no longer just creatures of this world. We now belong to heaven, and we look to the future with a heavenly perspective.

Paul goes on to say we are seated with God in the heavenly realms because of Jesus. We have a new position in life. I love that picture! We sit with God on His throne, maybe even on His lap, in a close intimate relationship with Him. We know Him, and He knows us. He speaks to us and shares His heart with us. He reassures us again and again: You are mine.

Why did God do all this? Paul goes on to tell us.

All this was done by God in Christ with a single end in view: to demonstrate to successive ages the surpassing wealth of God’s grace. This was God’s publicity program for the whole of history and beyond. This rescue has all been done by God’s grace, meaning the undeserved favor of God. Rule out any sense of your own effort in this. No one should ever boast about it. It has all been done by God in Christ.

Years ago someone shared with me an important formula that I carry with me when I have the opportunity to speak with people who don’t know the gospel. I found it to be a helpful tool in describing the difference between Christianity and other religions.

Other religions of the world are spelled D-O. If you do this or do that, god will reward you and you will be saved. Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E. Jesus Christ has done it all for you, and you are invited to receive it by placing your faith in Christ. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

That is our story for those who trust in Jesus. I was dead but God made me alive through Jesus Christ. It is all grace.

Have you ever stopped to think about what your life would be like if Jesus hadn’t rescued you? You would be stuck living with old regrets because there would be no forgiveness for sin. You would be living in fear and anxiety of the future because you wouldn’t know what is going to happen to you when you die. You would be hopeless, lacking confidence because of the lack of power and the presence of Christ in facing the ups and downs of daily living. You would be left thinking, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me and me alone.” But glory hallelujah, none of this is the case when we receive that gift of grace through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Paul ends this story by moving us into the present. Now, as a result of this saving that God is done for you in Christ, you are (present tense), you ARE God’s workmanship, His work of art, His masterpiece, His trophy maybe you could say.

I am reminded of a story by Bob Simon on the news show, “60 Minutes.” It was a very inspiring story about the community of Keturah in Paraguay, South America. This community is built on a garbage dump. People make their living by picking through the garbage and turning it in. It’s a rather destitute existence.

One of the individuals in that community was concerned about the future of the children and thought it would be wonderful if they could do something to raise the level of their future prospects. His idea was a musical program and orchestra, but they had no instruments. A man lived in the village who not only worked in the trash heaps, but he was also a carpenter. He takes the trash and turns it into orchestra instruments. Violins are made from old discarded oven trays, cellos from oil drums, guitars from big dessert cans, saxophones and trumpets from old drainpipes and bottlecaps, and drums from old x-ray slides. After they are made into instruments, they are given to the local children who are taught to play them. Lo and behold, they have an orchestra that plays beautiful music!

You can actually see this story on YouTube. The title of the segment of this story is “The Recyclers: From trash comes triumph.” It’s an amazing orchestra. Those kids now have a future.

God has likewise rescued us in Christ from the trash heap, hasn’t He? He has fashioned us into instruments that are meant to do beautiful things, to make beautiful music in the lives of those around us and point people to God and His amazing grace. You have been created in Christ Jesus to do good works that God has prepared for you to do. Being created in Christ reminds us, again, that we are new creations, new people in Christ.

What are we saved for? To do good works. We have been saved for good works, you see. Not saved by good works but saved for good works. In response, we have a new future with Christ. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. Let your light so shine so others may see your good works and praise your Father in heaven.”

We have a new purpose and calling upon our lives when we place our trust in Jesus Christ. God has created good works for us to do in advance. You matter. You have a place in God’s plan to restore His world and bring everything together again under God’s rule. You have a special place on God’s team.

Serving as a pastor for the past thirty-five years, I have so enjoyed watching folks in my church catch this vision and then act upon it. This past week, for instance, I was at a prayer meeting to send off a young woman named Emma to China. She teaches school during the school year. The past few summers she has done mission work in a children’s sport camp for poor kids. She is touching lives for Christ. God has tapped her on the shoulder to do this so that these Chinese children might meet Jesus.

I have a friend named Keith who faithfully gets up each Monday morning to work on a Habitat for Humanity worksite alongside folks who are trying to build a home that they can afford to live in. I have a sister in Christ named Debbie who organizes a team for a ministry called Loaves and Fishes. They serve a dinner to low-income people in the inner-city who can’t meet their budgets. I have another sister in Christ, Kathy, who sends cards of encouragement to those who are in crisis or hurting in some way. Tom, Danny, and Guy go to the prison down the road from us on Thursday evenings to lead a Bible study program. Hundreds have been impacted by those men. Then there is Phyllis who works every Thursday afternoon with elementary kids at our after-school program. She also goes to nursing home and befriends elderly people who don’t get many visitors.

These are some amazing people who have caught the vision. They have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and are living out God’s calling on them. If you are in Christ, you can do the same. God has surrounded you with people to impact for Christ. It might be a listening ear, giving someone some tender loving care, offering prayer, a phone call to let someone know they are not forgotten. Perhaps God’s calling means a simple act of kindness or giving your resources to help lead others to Christ. If you place your trust in Jesus and what He has done for you at the cross, you are in a very special position, all by God’s grace.

The appeal of the day is, you are God’s masterpiece; BE WHO YOU ARE. Let your light shine for others that they may see your good works and praise your Father in heaven who has saved you by grace.

Your New ID: You Are a Saint

Years ago I attended a church leadership seminar. It was led by Dr. Kennon Callahan, a church growth expert. He wrote Twelve Keys to an Effective Church, which has had a major impact on my ministry. During one of his presentations, Dr. Callahan stated a principal in regard to church growth, and it goes as follows: “Perception yields behavior, which yields destiny.” He went on to explain that if you see yourself as a small church, you will act like a small church, and it will probably be your future. Perhaps the same could even be said for the individual. My self perception influences my behavior, which in all likelihood influences my destiny in life.

So the question becomes, how do you see yourself? Who are you anyway? We might answer that question in a variety of ways. Our minds might immediately go to our vocation Ð I’m a teacher. I’m a doctor. I’m a farmer. I’m retired. Or it might go to your relationships or your role in your family Ð I’m a mother, a father, a grandparent. Others might go to their age grouping Ð I’m one of those boomers, builders or busters. Some might think of their backgrounds Ð I’m a Minnesotan, an Iowan. I’m a Dane, a Norwegian. Or it might be our accomplishments or lack thereof that we identify with Ð I’m a self-made person, a success, or a failure.

Many of you might identify yourself in this way: I am a Christian. I trust in Jesus. According to Scripture, this means you are a new person, a new creation in Christ. You have a new purpose, a new Master, a new identity or, as we call it, a new ID.

The Apostle Paul, who once was an unbeliever, became a believer and a great missionary for the cause of Jesus Christ. He addresses the subject of Christian identity in his letter to the believers in Ephesus who were trying to make their way in a pagan culture as new Christians. It had to have been overwhelming to live in a culture with non-Christian family and friends whose influence and input would tempt them to forget their new identity in Christ and slip back into their old behaviors.

In this letter, Paul reminds them of what he had taught them earlier when he first started that congregation. Then he gives them a renewed self perception. He seems to repeatedly be saying, Remember who you are and let it be the influence in your life. Even in his greeting, Paul reminds them that they are saints. He is writing “to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.” That is our title.

We might pause a bit when we hear that label attached to us because it has come to mean certain things in today’s thinking. It a term we use to describe super good people, Mother Teresa types. Or, when used to talk about people whose behavior is poor, we might say they are no saint.

I remember a story I came across years ago about two brothers who terrorized a small town for decades. They were unfaithful to the wives, terrible to their kids, and dishonest in business. One day the younger brother died unexpectedly, so the surviving brother went to the pastor of the local church and said, “I want you to do my brother’s funeral, but it’s important to me that, during the service, you tell everyone my brother was a saint.”

“But he was far from a saint,” the pastor retorted.

As the wealthy brother pulled out his checkbook, he said, “Reverend. I’m prepared to give one hundred thousand dollars to the church. All I’m asking is you publicly state that my brother was a saint.”

So on the day of the funeral, the pastor began his eulogy this way: “Everyone here knows that the deceased was a wicked man, a womanizer, and a drunk. He terrorized his employees and cheated on his taxes.” And the pastor paused, “But as evil and as sinful as this man was, compared to his older brother, he was a saint!” ☺ So we attach the word “saint” to behavior.

Sometimes we talk about it as a term of endearment, long-suffering. You are such a saint to put up with a person like that in your life. We might think of someone who has been canonized in the Roman Catholic Church by the Vatican, someone out of history like Saint Francis.

So, when we hear this title “saint,” we think Paul couldn’t possibly be talking about us. No way. But the truth is, this term is used sixty-two times in the New Testament to describe followers of Jesus. “To the saints (ordinary followers of Jesus) in Ephesus . . .” To the saints in Minneapolis, the saints in Des Moines, the saints in Chicago. So we better take this term seriously and explore what Paul means when he calls us saints.

In the Bible, a saint is never associated with performance. It is a title conferred on me because of what Christ has done. It has more to do with my status in life. Literally it means that, if I trust in Jesus Christ, I have been set apart for Him, and I belong to God. I have heard the good news of Jesus and received Him into my life. I belong to God. It is a gift of grace, not a result of my own action.

Recently I conducted a funeral for an elderly woman in our congregation. In the middle of my message I said to her family, “You know, she was a character, but she was really a saint. We need to remember that!” Their eyes raised a little when I said that. Then I went on explain that she belonged to God because she trusted in Jesus!

After Paul hands out this title reminder, he goes on to expound on the blessings God gives His saints in Christ. He says they were also adopted and chosen.

Isn’t it great to be chosen by someone? When you were a child, wasn’t it great to be chosen as part of a team or a play? Wasn’t it great to be chosen when your spouse asked you to spend the rest of your life with him? To be adopted is to be chosen, to get all the rights and privileges of being a family member.

Paul tells them, Not only are you chosen and adopted, but you are also redeemed, which means you been bought. You have been delivered from the slavery of sin and death by the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You are not perfect by any means Ð no saint is Ð but you are forgiven through the suffering and blood of Jesus Christ.

Paul goes on to say that, as part of the forgiven family of God, you know all the family secrets about what God’s plans are for the world.

And then Paul says, “You were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,” which means God’s mark of ownership is on us. When we receive Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit. God not only has ownership in my life, but He also guarantees my eternal inheritance. The Holy Spirit is my down payment.

So congratulations, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ. According to God’s holy word, you are saints! It is good to be reminded of our saint status for a couple reasons. One of them is so that I can live confidently in the days I have been given knowing I belong to God forever. Whether I live or whether I die, I belong to Him. I’m a forgiven saint, and I have an eternal inheritance.

Years ago, Al Rogness wrote a little devotional that I clipped out. It reads as follows.

In the foothills of Montana’s Rockys, a little stream is born. It trickles its fitful path down the hillsides. It flows into the plains growing broader and deeper. It becomes a river, the Missouri. Montana says, ÔRiver, you’re mine.’ But on it flows, declining to be cradled long by its parent state.

Coursing on to the sister Dakotas, it again hears the claim, ÔRiver, you’re ours!’

Heedless, it pushes on and angling its way between Nebraska and Iowa, but not before each of these neighbors has reached out for possession ÔRiver you’re mine.’

Like a restless eel, it slips away down to join the great father of waters, the Mississippi, and as it joins its flow with the larger, the Mississippi says, ÔAt last you’ve come to me. Now you’re mine.’ But still it flows silently on.

At last its currents become slower, fuller until down into the great Gulf of Mexico it comes to rest in the bosom of the ocean. In the rhythmic heaving of the deep, it hears the oceans whisper, ÔRiver you’re mine. You’ve always been mine. It was I who sent the storm clouds into the mountains to give you birth. It was I who pulled you steadily, irresistibly away from all others back to myself. From me you came; to me you return. Only I can really say You are mine.

Into a home, a little girl is born. Bending tenderly over the cradle, her mother whispers, ÔBaby, you’re mine.’

The years go on and soon the baby has become a lady. A lover takes her by the hand and a deeper voice echoes of her mother’s whisper, ÔSweetheart, you’re mine.’

Then one day she stands looking into the deep eyes of her own baby and her mother’s ears seem to catch the unspoken claim of her child, ÔMother, you’re mine.’

But the years refused to linger, and all too soon her hair becomes silver. Life grows fuller and deeper and slower, and one day she glides through the narrows into eternity’s ocean. There in the bosom of her heavenly Father, she hears the voice of God, ÔMy child you’re mine. You’ve always been mine. It was I who gave you life, it was I who drew you back through my redeeming love in Christ, drew you away from all others back to myself. From me you came, to me you return. Only I can really say, ÔYou’re mine.’

We can live with confidence that we belong to Him forever. He says to us “Saint, you are mine.” But, as saints, God calls us in love to be blameless and holy before Him, to be saintly. Saints live to the praise of His glory. My highest purpose is to bring God praise.

A little girl was right when she answered the question, What is a saint? Remembering the stained glass windows in her church, she answered, “A saint is a person the light shines through.” That is what we are called to be, a person through whom the love light of Christ shines. I would dare to say that a saint is someone who reminds you of Jesus. When you are in their presence, you have a sense of Christ in their lives.

A person who comes to mind for me is my mother-in-law, Eunice. She was definitely saintly, a servant who gave herself away in the name of Jesus Christ to her family, to her church, to the community. She was so loving to all of us who had the privilege of being with her. She was full of life and joy, patient and gentle, faith filled, delightful to be around. She reminded me of Jesus.

Or I think of my friend Johan who now pours himself into doing urban ministry with the poor. He loves to work with kids in the name of Christ. There is such a joy about him, and a delightful presence is his as he loves on these people. I told him one day, “Johan, you really are a saint!” He’s a saint because he has accepted his status to be in Christ.

For Johan and for Eunice, it’s, He is my Lord. I will live the rest of my days for His glory. That is a saint. I know whose I am and where I’m going, and I’m living for His glory.

So I appeal to you today, accept your status. Claim it for yourself. I’m Saint Bob; I’m Saint Jim; I’m Saint Steve; I’m Saint Eunice; I’m Saint Martha; I’m Saint Joy; I’m Saint Angie; I’m Saint Christie, and I’m going to live the rest of my days for Jesus to His glory.