Identity Amnesia

By Scott Stake

Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting with a couple who are continually looking for ways to disciple their teenage daughter and some of her friends. Of all the things they mentioned in this effort, their greatest desire was for these precious girls to understand their identity in Christ. In other words, "Who am I in Christ?" Wow, what a great endeavor!

This couple recognized that we are always assigning to ourselves some kind of identity, and it is out of this identity that we live our lives. As Christians, we have been given an identity that should shape everything about us. We are children of God, or as the apostle John often called us, "the Beloved." (I'm even convinced that one of the reasons why John used the title "the one whom Jesus loved" was not just a humble way of referring to himself, but also because that was his core identity.)

The problem is that we sometimes have "identity amnesia," as Paul Tripp calls it. We forget who we are, and when we do, we give way to doubt, fear, anger, anxiety, and restlessness. He states: "Identity amnesia makes you feel poor when in fact you are rich. It makes you feel foolish when in fact you are in a personal relationship with the One who is wisdom. It makes you feel unable when in fact you have been blessed with strength. It makes you feel alone when in fact, since the Spirit lives inside of you, it is impossible for you to be alone. You feel unlovable when in fact, as a child of the heavenly Father, you have been graced with eternal love. You feel like you don't measure up when in fact the Savior measured up on your behalf. Identity amnesia sucks the life out of your Christianity in the right here, right now moment in which all of us live."

Four Oaks, if you've forgotten your identity, I encourage you right now to behold Christ, to remember that in Him you've been forgiven, accepted, cleansed, adopted, and loved. You are the Beloved, God's chosen child, upon whom the Father has set his affections.

"See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are."  1 John 3:1-2

Yes Is The New Maybe

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By Zach Simons

I am on the upper edge of a generation notorious for being noncommittal. The joke is that the only thing we’ll commit to is not committing ourselves to anything, but even that commitment is too much. So, “yes” becomes the new “maybe” which leaves us feeling much safer and leaves our options open. While it’s easy to poke fun at others in this regard, we all sometimes find this tendency in ourselves as ones who are influenced by a broader culture of individualism. And without knowing why, we can find it hard to truly link ourselves in any meaningful sense to other brothers and sisters in Christ. But in scripture we see something radical and unique about the commitment that followers of Christ make to one another in the church.

Paul wrote these words to the Philippians:

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:4-6)

And again to the Corinthians:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)

Church participation, if a church is not careful, can be drastically reduced to religious consumerism, instead of a called-out people who, being radically transformed by the gospel, live their lives deeply committed to partnering with others as an integral part of the body of Christ. The result is that the local church becomes unable to affect the change so desperately needed in our communities. We are grateful for Four Oaks Midtown, however, because you are a people who grasp this well. It’s a continual blessing and encouragement. Yet we, like all others, are not immune from the influence of the culture we live in and are prone to drift from the beautiful picture of transforming community we find in scripture.

Next month we will be offering a two-night course called our Engage membership course. This class takes an in-depth look at why membership is important, what the church believes, and how that shapes our ministry. It is designed to not only inform about the church, but teach what it means to BE the church. And we’d love to include you in the discussion. You’ll find details and a form to sign up below, as well as a host of other ways to link arms with the followers of Christ that God has situated you among.

Easter with all the fixin's

This past Sunday was my 20th Easter Celebration at Four Oaks, and it might very well have been my favorite. While it was exciting to get caught up in all of the extra-curricular things going on (donuts, Maple Street coffee, photo booth, mug giveaway), there were three things that were particularly meaningful to me:

1.  Powerful Testimonies of God’s Grace – I don’t know about you, but the testimonies we heard from Emily and Vanessa as a part of their baptisms were just a reminder of what we want to be about at Four Oaks: seeing people come to faith in Jesus and celebrating their new life in Christ

2.  You Bringing Guests and Friends – Word has been trickling back to us from your Community Groups about how well many of the guests and visitors that you guys brought this past Sunday were able to connect with the message and celebration of the resurrection. What an encouragement!

3.  So Many of You Serving So Faithfully – I don’t feel like Easter this year was the staff putting on an event for the church family; Easter was more about the church family hosting a celebration for our neighbors and community around us. Job well done to all of you who served so faithfully in: making coffee, passing out food, greeting guests, directing kids to classrooms, and helping people find seats. You all performed your assigned host and hostess duties flawlessly!

For the Pastors,
Pastor Paul

A Passion Week Message

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By Scott Stake

I am so grateful for Passion Week! It truly is a special time as we think, feel, and meditate on Jesus' death and resurrection and His amazing display of love for you and me. But if I’m honest with you, one of the main reasons why I’m grateful for this week is because I’m prone to forget. Like the Israelites, I often forget who God is and endeavor to live based on my own merit and strength. I forget how magnificent are the resources I have in Christ, how complete His provision is, and how precious it is that He’s always near. I forget that I have a Savior who loves me and a Father who adopted me. And I forget that all my sin has been forgiven, all my debt has been paid, and all my shame has been removed.

How about you? Do you sometimes get gospel amnesia? To help me remember, one of the things I enjoy doing during Passion Week is to read different works about the cross of Christ. This year the hymn, "Before the Throne of God Above" has particularly grabbed my heart. So, as I share some of the lines with you, I'd like to invite all of us to set aside time to behold, run to, and invite others to the cross this special week!

Behold Him there the risen Lamb, My perfect spotless righteousness…One with Himself I cannot die. My soul is purchased by His blood.

Behold Jesus. Meditate on His beauty. Ponder the lamb that was slain. See Him purchase our freedom and our redemption with His blood. What love, what grace, what perfection!

When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within, Upward I look and see Him there Who made an end of all my sin.

Run to Jesus. No fear, no doubts. When I sin, He invites me in. No failure is too great and no transgression is too big to keep me from my precious Savior. He made an end of all my sin, and I am always welcomed into the presence of God. When I’m tempted to despair, I can flee to Christ who gives me grace & mercy in my time of need.

My name is graven on His hands, My name is written on His heart. I know that while in heav’n He stands, No tongue can bid me thence depart.

Invite others to Jesus. Jesus died for me, but there are others whose names are written on Jesus’ hands and heart. We are called to share this good news with our neighbors, co-workers, family, and friends. Invite them to our worship services this weekend to hear of our Lord’s great love and His commitment to help and heal the brokenhearted.

This week is also a great opportunity to invite your children to think on who Jesus is and what He’s done for them. Walking through the devotional our amazing 4Oaks Kid staff put together is a great place to start. In addition, I encourage you to read some helpful instructions from Rob Pifer on how to prepare your children for the Lord’s Supper on Friday night.

Four Oaks, I pray that this week we would behold, run to, and invite others to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

A Persistent Witness

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By Joshua Hughes

In his classic work Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis summarizes his first essay on the law of human nature by articulating two simple truths of humanity: “First, human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, they do not in fact behave that way.” He identifies these facts as “the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.”

This is a thought I believe will reward a bit of meditation and consideration as we move toward Holy Week. Lewis is describing something that God, in his kindness, has placed in every human heart: a persistent witness to the reality of our brokenness, a voice that reminds us of who we really are when all pretense and posturing is stripped away. Despite our best efforts to tamp it down, to ignore it, to contradict it with self-affirming counter-narratives, we simply can’t overcome this voice. We may be able to suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1) at times, we be able to temporarily keep these feelings at bay through our therapy of choice (retail, culinary, pharmacological, etc.), but the truth remains and whispers to us in our quiet moments of “clear thinking” - we ought to behave in certain ways. We fail to do so. This is the guilt of sin we carry in our souls.

What does this have to do with Holy Week? Because the death and resurrection of Jesus give us an answer to the accusations of our inner witness. Because of the Passion of Jesus, we can respond to these accusations with full-throated affirmation: “Yes! It’s true! I am a sinner who knows how he should live and doesn’t live that way. I’m a rebel who has failed to do what God commands and has done what God forbids. This places me under the curse of God’s holy law and the punishment of hell… BUT CHRIST! My Savior bore the full weight of the law’s curse by becoming a curse for me (Galatians 3:13). He died and rose so that in him I might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21), and sin has lost its power over me eternally. No condemnation now I dread, Jesus and all in him is mine!”

The bad news of our sin is so very bad. But that’s what makes the good news of our redemption in Christ so good! There is no satisfactory answer to Lewis’ facts apart from this. On Good Friday, Jesus offered his perfect life and his substitutionary death as payment for the sin that enslaves us. On Easter Sunday, Jesus rose in victory over the one who accuses us. We died with him, we will rise with him (2 Timothy 2:11).

Can I encourage you to do something this Holy Week? Allow yourself to face the weight of your guilt. Acknowledge the half-truth of that voice who accuses you, and then in joy, turn and see the Savior who liberates you from those accusations, who welcomes you with grace, who answers the guilt of your conscience with his beautiful substitution.

Shane Barnard wrote a song a few years ago that expresses this response beautifully, and I invite you to have your heart warmed by its truth.

The father of lies, coming to steal kill and destroy
All my hopes of being good enough
I hear him saying, “Cursed are the ones who can't abide!”
He's right. Alleluia he's right!

The devil is preaching the song of the redeemed
That I am cursed and gone astray I cannot gain salvation
Embracing accusation

Could the father of lies be telling the truth
Of God to me tonight?
If the penalty of sin is death, then death is mine
I hear him saying cursed are the ones who can't abide
He's right. Alleluia he's right!

Oh the devil's singing over me an age old song
That I am cursed and gone astray
Singing the first verse so conveniently over me
He's forgotten the refrain - Jesus saves!

He redeemed us from the curse of the law…