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Imposter?

It felt like a dream, and it began with the low murmur of conversation.  The light was dim at first, as I strained to hear what was being said.  Though the voices were all around me, I didn’t sense that anyone was speaking directly to me.  As my eyes, or maybe it was my mind, came into greater focus, I could see that I was in the midst of a crowded room.  I noticed that the floors were made of rough wooden planks, and that the people were dressed in ancient garments, that almost looked like togas.

A wave of foreboding swept over me, as I immediately felt out of place.  These were not my people, this was not my time, and this was not my home.  I was afraid to make eye contact; afraid that if someone looked into my soul, they would discern my trespass.  So, I kept my head down, and slowly shuffled in the vain hope of finding an exit before I was recognized.

I noticed that all of the feet were dusty and sandaled, including my own: but the robes were an impossibly bright white that almost gleamed against the backdrop of the wood grains.  As I considered the brilliance of my own garment, a fresh wave of anxiety swirled in me, knowing that this robe could not possibly belong to me.  Alas, they were sure to see that I was both an imposter, and a thief. 

My heart pounded against my temples, as I tried to pick up my pace, but without raising my head, I clumsily ran into a long table, filled with food.  I cringed, both in pain, and at the knowledge that I may have just drawn attention to myself.  I held my breath in anticipation of being found out; but when the moment passed, I resumed my plodding escape.

As I considered the bountiful table, I sensed that this feast was a celebration, and somehow I understood that it was a wedding banquet.  This made my sense of intrusion grow more profound.  Finding a seam between the people, and the tables, I worked my way to what I hoped would be the periphery of the room.  But my wisp of optimism evaporated suddenly, when a set of feet appeared directly in front of me, and I shuddered to a stop.

Though they didn’t look any different than all the others I’d been gazing at, they were squarely in front of me, and I could feel the eyes of their owner upon me.  Again, there was a knowing that these weren’t just anyone’s feet, they were His feet.  I began to tremble, and felt as though I ought to fall to my knees, but not wanting to draw any more attention, I simply stood there, shaking.  I tried to lift my eyes to Him, but felt certain that if I did, I might well burst into flames.  Like a fox caught in a snare, I stood paralyzed.

After a painfully long moment, He said, “You don’t feel as though you belong, do you,” in a voice that was softer and warmer than I expected.

Shaking my head silently, I affirmed Him.

“Do you think you ought to leave?” He asked gently.

Again, I nodded in agreement.

Reaching His arm toward me, I took the cuff of His robe, as He led me to what I assumed was an exit.  But as He opened the door, I realized that it was coat room (i.e. a place where guests could hang their cloaks or other outer garments).  A renewed sense of shame rolled through me, as this was an acknowledgement that these clothes I was wearing were not my own.

Stepping across the dimly lit threshold, I immediately sensed the vastness of what had appeared to be a closet from the outside.  As I raised my eyes, they strained from the brightness, and as they adjusted, I could see row upon row of clothes hangers, suspended from rods that ran along the towering walls, which extended as far as I could see.  And upon each hanger there was a set of filthy, tattered rags, that barely had enough form to cling to it.

He gave me several moments to take this scene in, and then tenderly asked, “Do you know which ones are yours?”

Turning my face toward Him, I tearfully whispered, “No Lord, I do not”.

Reaching His hand out, He lifted my chin, and as our eyes met He compassionately said, “Neither do I”.

The Lord does not prize our righteousness (Isaiah 64:6), He seeks hearts that are truly His (2Chron.16:9).

The danger in a systematic approach to theology is that we risk reducing the God who can do exceedingly, abundantly more than we could ask for, or imagine, into a god that fits within the confines of our understanding.

Compare-Covet-Compete

Before we were in our mother’s womb, God knew us (Jer.1:5), which means that His intent, purpose, and calling were established independently of our parent’s DNA, the circumstances surrounding our physical conception, or the history of our family. 

He not only made us in His image (Gen.1:27), but “pre-destined” us to be conformed to that image as well (2Cor.3:18).  Scripture goes on to say that the steps of a righteous man are ordered by God (Psalm 37:23), that the days ordained for us are written in His book, before one of them comes to pass (Psalm 139:16), and that God is faithful to complete the good work that He has begun in us (Phil.1:6). 

Within that framework, our identity, our value, our security, and ultimately our destiny were all meant to be completely derived from Him.  This design was fully realized in His Son, Jesus Christ, and to the degree that we are willing to surrender our lives to that pattern, it can be manifest in us as well.

A catastrophic consequence of sin is that as we become disconnected from the person of God, we also lose our connection to these provisions, and thereby invest those aspects of our being in other things.  Indeed, as originally conceived, Adam and Eve were naked, yet without shame (Gen.2:25), as they viewed themselves through the lens of the Lord’s affection.  But upon eating of the fruit, they gained a new awareness that caused them to look at themselves, and each other with a different perspective (Gen.3:7). Nothing had actually changed, other than their perception.

Undoubtedly, this is where the poisons of comparison, covetous, and competition were first introduced, and mankind has grappled with them ever since.  Within the first generation these toxins produced murderous effects (Gen.4:8), and like a swarm of locust, they have combined to devour just about every tender sprout of fellowship / community the church has endeavored to establish. 

With Western culture essentially fueled by these elements (i.e. comparison, covetous, competition), they have seamlessly blended into our brand of Christianity, largely rendering the church (in the west) impotent, or at least incapable of healthy reproduction.  Indeed, it seems doubtful that there is any standard within scripture that we have fallen shorter of than Christ’s assertion that the way people would be able to distinguish His disciples was by the way they loved one another (John 13:35).

In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor.12) Paul lays out God’s strategy for the body, with each part having a unique design, and purpose that work together for the greater good of the whole.  Indeed, if these individual parts derived their identity and value from their Creator, they could work together in harmony, reveling in their distinct function.  Sadly, Paul also forecasts the inevitable chaos that comes when the various parts begin to compare themselves to each other (versus 15-26). 

Throughout scripture we see examples of the damaging effects of comparison, and Paul speaks directly of it in his letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor.10:12-18).  When the Israelites compared themselves to the people living in Canaan, they judged themselves to be too weak (Num.13:33) to apprehend the promised lands.  In Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard, the workers hired at the beginning of the day compare their wages to those hired at the end of the day, and feel cheated, even though they had agreed to do the work for that price (Matt.20:1-16).  And when Peter tried to compare the manner of death he was facing with how John might perish, he earned a strong rebuke from the Lord (John 21:20-23), who challenged, “What is that to you?  You must follow me.”

The inescapable byproducts of comparison are covetousness, and competition, which also breed their own dire consequences.  When Esau covets Jacobs stew, he willingly forfeits his birthright (Gen.25:29-33), and when David covets another man’s wife (Bathsheba), it leads to adultery, and murder (2 Sam.11:2-17).  Even more damaging, when the nation of Israel covets an earthly king to lead them (1 Sam.8:4-21), they forsake the supernatural protection of their heavenly King.

Likewise, there are multiple gospel accounts of the discord resulting from various disciples jockeying for their heavenly positions (Matt.20:20-28, Mark 10:37-45), Saul’s murderous intent caused by the people’s praise of David (1 Samuel 18:8-11), and the fatal outcome of one brother’s offering being found acceptable, while the other’s was not (Gen.4:2-8). 

Today, even relatively mature believers generally struggle to gather in any sort of meaningful way without falling into these same destructive patterns.  Churches and ministries are infamously contaminated with envy, greed, intrigue, and power struggles.  This constant strife is the antithesis of the destiny the Lord authored for His Bride.

And if sin is what separated us from our identity in Christ (including our value, security and destiny), then surely reconnecting with that identity is a critical part of our redemption.  Paul speaks of this in various places within his writings, especially in Ephesians 4 (17-32).  This “putting off” or “laying aside” the old self, in order to step into the fullness of Christ is a transformation rarely witnessed in Western Christianity, but it is the key to experiencing genuine freedom, and becoming effective ministers of the gospel. 

It begins with taking our eyes off of each other, and our circumstances (2Cor.4:18), and fixing them on the One who is Lord (Heb.12:2).  If real love is not proud, and does not boast; if it does not envy, and keeps no record, then there is no context in which it could ever be competitive.  And until (or unless) God’s people manifest the genuine article, we have nothing to offer in Jesus’ name (1Corth.13).

What often keeps us from discerning what God is doing in the current season is our desire to recreate what He did in a previous season.

When a man cannot conceive of something greater than himself, his perceptions become his reality, and his thoughts become his cage.

Because the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer.17:9), we need to be on guard,

Lest we confuse:

The incessant need to be right with a love of righteous

Religious complacency with standing in faith

The right to choose with genuine freedom

Craving relaxation with finding rest

Vain imaginings with visions from God

Loving what someone brings to our life with loving them

Receiving God’s grace with using it as license to go our own way

Or mistake:

An insatiable desire to win with living the victorious life

A calling from God with what we want to be called

The ministry of the Comforter with being comfortable

A sense that life is unfair with a commitment to justice

Being prosperous with being a witness for Christ

Having a good heart with having God’s heart

Knowing about Jesus with knowing Jesus

Three Questions

There are three questions that the Lord routinely asks me to facilitate an attitude adjustment.

  • What do you know?

Jesus doesn’t just reveal truth, He is the embodiment of truth (John 14:6).  Without Him, we simply have information.  Frequently, the world convinces us that we have the facts, and from there we develop an argument, and soon we find ourselves looking for a forum to make our argument.  In the midst of such moments, the Lord commonly asks me, “What do you know?”  In other words, what is it that I have revealed to you about this?  More often than not, I find that my passions have been stirred by some external stimulus, and that He’s not speaking about the issue at all.  If I am endeavoring to live by every word that proceeds from His mouth (Matt.4:4), I can’t allow myself to be moved by such things.  If He’s not speaking about it, do I need to be speaking about it?  Only He has the words of life (John 6:68).  The genuine Spirit of prophecy is not only saying what God is saying, it is not saying what He’s not saying.

  • Is that how I handle (or have handled) you?

When I reach my wits end with people (or situations), and want to throw up my hands in frustration, the Lord often chimes in with, “Is that how I handled you (or your situation)?”  This instantly reminds me of the incredible patience and grace which He’s extended to me throughout my journey.   Within that context, it becomes impossible to justify withholding grace from someone else.

  • What does that have to do with you and me?

If I have truly surrendered my life to Him, if He has become my source, if He is the vine that I abide in… than this question destroys my rationalizations and excuses.  It doesn’t matter what “they” said, or did, or didn’t do…  The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself as love (Gal.5:6).

10 Album Cuts

I was fortunate to grow up in the era of the Album Oriented Rock (AOR) radio format, which allowed DJ’s to play songs that weren’t necessarily released as singles.  This provided access to a treasure trove of great music that I wouldn’t have otherwise heard.  In the digital download era, listening to an entire album of music is almost unheard of, so that makes the concept of an album cut even more obscure.  Here are a few of my all-time favorite album cuts, which doesn’t include what is arguably the greatest album cut ever, “Stairway to Heaven”.

  • Scenes From an Italian Restaurant – Billy Joel

This dizzying ode to “Brenda and Eddie” contains all of the best elements of Billy’s classic recordings rolled into one song.  Coming from Joel’s breakout album, “The Stanger”, it stands comfortably amongst his best work.

  • Hitch a Ride – Boston

Taken from Boston’s remarkable debut album, this laid back rocker features some spectacular guitar work from Tom Scholz, and manages to stand out on a record full of standout tracks.

  • Shoot High, Aim Low – Yes

Die hard Yes fans often bemoan the success of the band’s revised lineup from the 1980’s, but I would argue that they were still making thoroughly original, and compelling music throughout those years.  This track combines the best of those different lineups, with its shared lead vocals, it’s weaved aural landscape, and some typically dazzling musicianship.  It is a great example of what made this band so memorable.

  • Bitter Creek – The Eagles

At the time the Eagles first formed, Bernie Leadon was arguably their most accomplished member, based on his time with the critically acclaimed, “Flying Burrito Brothers” and his work with Linda Ronstadt.  An exceptional string player, and able vocalist, his decidedly country bent was a significant part of the band’s early sound.  He both penned and sang this haunting tune from the band’s sophomore release, “Desperado”.  But as the team of Henley/Frey emerged, and the band’s sound developed more of a rock edge, Leadon’s influence steadily diminished, until he eventually left the group after the completion of the “One of These Nights” album.

  • Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding – Elton John

At the time of this medley’s 1973 release, Elton, his band, and his songwriter partnership with Bernie Taupin, were all at their peak.  This epic pairing starts off the classic double-album, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” with a bang, and along with “Candle in the Wind” and “Bennie and the Jets” forms one of the greatest albums sides of all-time.

  • Toulouse Street – The Doobie Brothers

Though Tom Johnston was generally regarded as the bands lead singer, Patrick Simmons frequently sang his individual compositions, including the notable hits “Black Water” and “Jesus is Just Alright”.  On this darkly beautiful cut, the vocal harmonies, layers of acoustic guitars, and a lone flute weave together to create an ominous atmosphere akin to a late-night walk, down an unlit alley, somewhere in the forgotten edges of the French Quarter.  

  • Sister Moon – Sting

By the release of Sting’s second solo album, “Nothing Like the Sun”, he had become one of the most popular artists on the planet.  Only a few years removed from the Police’s spectacular, “Synchronicity”, and fresh on the heels of the triple platinum success of, “The Dream of the Blue Turtles”, his voice was all over the radio (and MTV) on both Band Aid’s “Don’t They Know It’s Christmas?”, and the Dire Straits smash hit, “Money for Nothing”.  This second record was by degrees more nuanced and complex than the first, which forecast the pioneering spirit that would ultimately come to define Sting’s solo career.  This straight jazz/blues tune was a throwback to a bygone era, and demonstrated the rapidly expanding range of his artistry.

  • Telegraph Road – Dire Straits

This sprawling fourteen minute opus demonstrates everything that made Dire Straits worthy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  The writing, arrangement, production, and musical performance are nothing short of spectacular.   Like the movie soundtrack work done by frontman Mark Knopfler, this song creates a sweeping musical backdrop for a world weary tale of trying to pioneer a better future.  Though not their most commercially successful record, it may well be the bands most fully realized recording.

  • Nutshell – Alice in Chains

On the heels of the triple platinum success of their 1992 album, “Dirt”, Alice in Chains booked a few days in the studio to write and record some acoustic material.  Within a week, they emerged with seven songs that were eventually released as an EP (1994s – “Jar of Flies”).  Stripping the band of its thundering arena rock sound, allowed their raw artistry to emerge.  This track highlights both singer Layne Staley, and guitarist Jerry Cantrell, at the peak of their powers.    

  • Landslide – Fleetwood Mac

Though written before Stevie Nicks was actually a member of the band, this classic tune first appeared on 1975s “Fleetwood Mac” album.  Almost 50 years later, most die-hard fans still consider it to be her signature song.  Given that Nicks is enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as both a member of the band, and as a solo act, that is no small accolade.

Unchecked insecurity tends to evolve into a perverse form of narcissism, where one is consumed with anxiety about what people are thinking about them, or saying about them, or even what they are not saying about them.  Over time, they become convinced that everyone is looking at them, having feelings about them, and ultimately judging them.  It is the definition of “self” absorption.

  1. I’ve never been completely honest.  To the degree that I have been deceived (or have deceived myself), I am incapable of sharing the truth with someone else.
  2. I’ve never lived a day that I wasn’t desperately in need of God’s grace.  On my best day, I’ve had thoughts I should’ve taken captive, attitudes I should have surrendered, and I’ve chosen my way over His.
  3. I’ve never led anyone to Christ.  Scripture tells us that no one comes to Christ unless they are drawn by the Father (John 6:44).  Though I have played a part in that process, I have never led it.
  4. I’ve never made someone happy.  I’ve loved people, helped people, encouraged people…, but none of that has made them happy.  The choice to count blessings, to see the beauty, and to find joy in the moment always remains with them.
  5. I’ve never been controlled by the Holy Spirit.  The Lord once told me that He has never “controlled” me, and that the moment by moment decision to surrender to the power of His Spirit is always a sovereign act of my will.  He further explained that this is why “self-control” is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal.5:23).