Alternate Reality

The name-masks we wear

What’s your name? Not the name on your license or the one your mamma gave you, but your NAME? Your Identity. Your Being. Your Glory. In older times people were often given identity-driven names.

  • Abram (“exalted father”) was changed to Abraham = “father of multitudes”
  • Jacob was changed to Israel = “strives with God”
  • Simon son of John was changed to Cephas (or Peter) = “Rock”
  • All the folks with vocational names like Cook, Butler, Baker and my friend from high school who should have been a dentist: Shannon Toothman…or my own last name as I’ve come from a heritage of ranchers.

In Isaiah 56 we find God’s people finally being set free from Exile and brought home to the Promised Land. But things have changed. There have been numerous additions to God’s family, people that are intertwined with the Lord, but feel like “dirty outsiders” that don’t belong.

Isaiah 56:3
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”

Have you seen the movie Inception? To quickly summarize: it tells the story about how people can create, enter and redirect people’s subconscious worlds, which could result in manipulating their “real world” thoughts and actions.

It turns out that we all engage in this dangerous and somewhat effective game everyday. We find ourselves in a reality that we don’t like: pain, anger, sadness, failure, shame, fear, hopelessness. We find ourselves living lives we don’t want to live, feeling things we don’t want to feel, doing things we don’t want to do. We don’t want to live in the here and now, it’s just too hard. So we weave a coping tapestry as we dive down and make an alternate reality, one that is much more to our liking (at least for a little while). Sometimes this alternate reality is done in real-life with real actions (in our secret sins and hypocritical faces); sometimes it’s done deep down in our hearts and imaginations (i.e. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty).

  • When the middle-age man is ashamed of his job, family, body and/or finances, so he pours his life into work in order to prove his worth.
  • When the 10th grade boy feels unloved, so he hides in the porn-world because these 2-dimentional women will accept him.
  • When the woman in her 30s is overwhelmed at work and home, so she begins to have an extra glass of wine each night to relax, which turns into several glasses.
  • When the senior girl in college feels disrespected and marginalized, so she begins to belittle and bully freshman girls in person and online.
  • When the child is anxious when mom and dad are yelling at each other, so he throws his own tantrum just to get them to stop fighting.
  • When the pastor is afraid that if the numbers keep going down, he’ll lose his job (and his reputation), so he convinces himself that other churches are growing because they have watered down the Gospel but HE is the only one that is preaching the Truth.

Life is so hard, leaving us insecure and terrified. And so we hide. Cope. Escape.

We escape in our heads as we tell ourselves we will never be enough while we concoct imaginary lives where we are the hero (think real-life Total Recall).

We escape in the “real world” when we act out either in a way to prove that we are “enough” (work harder, do better) or in a way to prove that we aren’t enough (“If I’m a loser, I may as well act like one”).

Into this reality-turmoil there is terrible news and great news

First the terrible news: your feelings of insecurity, failure and fraud…are correct. Kinda. We are all so much weaker and have so many more rotting floorboards that we can possibly realize. From the beginning of time we rebelled against the “name” God has given us and have tried to create for ourselves a greater name. Look at how the Tower of Babel is described:

Genesis 11:4
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

In regards to sin and rebellion, it’s true. We are broken, frail, muddy and even wretched. If our reputation and love is to be built upon our accomplishments, we are in grave danger. But that’s not the end of the story. God has create a realer-reality in place of our alternate reality. He has taken the reality that we have warped and he’s re-created it into the true reality of a new name, new identity, new hope, new image. The great news is that the very thing we are desperately seeking and inappropriately trying to create has been given to us at Christ’s expense…and even more, because it’s a name that’s infinitely greater than any we could imagine, and one that will literally last infinitely longer than any we could conjure up ourselves. John in Revelation tells it like this:

Revelation 2:17
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.

On the cross Jesus’ name was mocked, proclaiming in a sarcastic tone: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” But how true it was. As Jesus’ name was mocked he died for our broken “name” so that he could give us a new name. In him our name is now Beloved, Son, Heir, Friend. In him our old names have been crucified, which now frees me from the futile and exhausting drudgery of creating and keeping up with my name; frees me to glorify His name and enjoy the new name I’ve been given by living out the vocational-aspect of my name: love, grace, freedom, sacrifice. Allowing me to replace my alternate-reality with the True Reality of an eternal name.

Luke 10:20
Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Whole

Everyday we encounter big and small decisions and circumstances upon with we base our fickle, picky, varying and fleeting satisfaction.

  • Where should I eat today?
  • Should I get a new car (which one)?
  • Who should I date / marry?
  • How many kids should I have?
  • Which job offer should I accept?
  • Which church should I attend (or any)?
  • When should I retire?

We truly ask questions like this all the time, and most of them are completely normal and appropriate questions without a “right” answer (example: we’d be terrible parents if we didn’t care about how our kids turned out; we’d be terrible employees if we didn’t care about our careers). The questions is this: What rests on the answer? The smaller everyday questions simply hold a quick “what will make me briefly happy at this moment,” whether that happiness is what perks up your taste buds or what will garner the approval (and acceptance?) of others, which makes me happy.

But the larger questions that have long-term impact is what we are really talking about. In what and in whom are you finding your wholeness, rest, hope, satisfaction, life?

This is what was happening in Isaiah 55. This is the last chapter written to the exiled-Israel (Isaiah 56 is written to Israel after they had been set free). God’s people had been captive for 70 years and, understandably, have decided that God has forgotten them, or even worse, forsaken them; that his promises and word were void and Babylon was now their permanent home. They had decided to forget the hope, promises, love and relationship of God and get comfy in their Exile. And into this Isaiah makes one final plea:

Isaiah 55:1-2
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

This may as well be (and actually is) written directly to us. While we are sitting at the world’s dinner table, stuffing our faces with treats, the Lord is calling us hungry and unsatisfied children to come to the Real Table; to not get filled up on the debilitating fast-food piled high in front us but to, like baby birds, open up and be treated to the food that will make us whole.

To make this practical, to help us see what other “foods” we are ingesting, think about the big “If Only’s” you have in your life. Every one of us have a laundry list of “If only ___, then I’ll be whole, happy, satisfied, at rest.”

  • If only we win this game.
  • my kids turn out ok.
  • If only this job works out.
  • If only I had more money.
  • If only I could stop this sin.
  • If only he would love me.
  • If only my medical report comes back clean.
  • If only I could get enough sleep.
  • If only I get into that college.
  • If only God wasn’t mad at me.
  • If only I wasn’t mad at myself.

This list is infinite, and personal to each of us. The issue is rarely the thing itself. It’s a gift from God to be loved, to have a career you enjoy, to win a game. The problem comes with what is resting upon those good things, and realizing that their shoulders aren’t strong enough to carry my wholeness. My heart-satisfaction cannot find home in things that are movable and transient; on other things and people; on lives that, by definition, are just as weak and needy as I am.

Into this The Gospel calls us to a place of steady foundation and hope. The very thing we’ve been created for – wholeness with God, manifest in peace with creation and one another – has been offered in the Person of Christ. The highest desire we all have – satisfaction – isn’t far off. In fact, He’s come. And is here.

As our small group was talking about this last night, one of our friends (Grace Hooper) made a glorious and profound prayer, asking that God replace our “If Only’s” with “You Are’s” and God’s sure promises. To see and repent of these other foundations and be overwhelmed with the Truth of Who God Is as our only unfailing and eternal hope.

  • Replace “If only she loves me” with “God is Love” (and loves me personally)
  • Replace “If only I had more money” with Matthew 6:30 “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
  • Replace “If only my kids turn out ok” with the Truth that our Real and Loving Father cares perfectly for us and our family: “Galatians 4:6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
  • Replace “If only God liked me” with “There is therefore now condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”

God is not a spoil-sport, wanting us to forgo the satisfying morsels of this world, settling for shallow spiritual platitudes. He’s actually trying to save us from the gut-wrenching despair of eating food that will only give us spiritual G.I. issues while spoon feeding us the Bread of Life, Christ himself. Even as Jesus was on the way to the cross he served the Passover Meal to his disciples, passing out Bread (his body) and wine (his blood), but leaving out the necessary and traditional lamb, which would represent the sacrifice needed to cover Sin…because Jesus himself IS the Lamb who finally and fully pays for our sinful pursuits of false satisfaction while finally and fully fills us not just with spiritual wholeness…but with HIMSELF as the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, indwells as we now find our life “hidden with Christ” (Colossians 3:3), the satisfaction that can (1 Peter 1:4) “never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for you” — but not just in heaven so we’ll be satisfied on “the other side,” but accessible now in the person of the Holy Spirit who is our Living Hope.