Confessions of a Man with a Sick Identity

My wife Carla almost died on our honeymoon. Traveling to Colorado for a two week vacation, we spent Sunday night in Iowa. The next morning Carla vomited, had diarrhea and a fever. We went to a doctor. He gave an antibiotic and told us to remain in town.

We treated Carla’s symptoms. When she felt feverish, she took Tylenol and cold baths to reduce her temperature. But soon she felt worse, so I bought a thermometer. Her temperature was 104.9 degrees. I called the doctor. He said, “Get her to the hospital immediately.”

Carla remained in the hospital five days. If we had waited to bring her in—the doctors said—she would have died. As it was, she barely survived.

(My brother’s response to Carla’s nausea and diarrhea was, “I told her not to kiss you!” Ah, family!)

My wife’s life was saved by a finely calibrated thermometer. It drove us to the hospital. Letting a finely calibrated understanding of the Law can drive us to God.

Our need for Significance

Many Christians substitute an abstract doctrine for belief. It’s like we’ve read the menu and missed the meal. All the while, beliefs of the heart can be a feast.

One deep desire drives every human heart: we need to be significant. We need to know we matter.

Our need transcends doing something special; we long for being something special. Winning the third grade Spelling Bee didn’t satisfy, and neither will writing a Pulitzer Prize poem.

Irving Berlin wrote 1500 songs, including God Bless America and White Christmas (and 1498 other songs!). George Gershwin said he was the greatest composer America ever produced. Yet after Berlin’s death his daughter wrote,

The trouble was, no matter how much he achieved, somehow, as soon as he achieved it he immediately fell into a discouragement and despair. He would say “I’ll never be able to do that again, I’ll never write a song like that one.” *

Justification by Faith is God’s answer for our need to matter. It is a being not a doing. But we treat it like a winning lottery ticket that we keep un-cashed in a dresser drawer. We have it, but we don’t draw on it. We see it as a ticket into heaven for tomorrow when he wants us to cash it in for today.

Somehow we’ve learned to live lives divorced from deep beliefs. Like a legally separated couple, we are technically married but devoid of deep conversation, intimate embrace, and passion. God wants our Justification to arouse our passions. Of his Joy in us.

Jonathan Edwards said there are two ways to know the sweetness of honey. We can study it under a magnifying glass; or we can taste it. God says there are two ways to know Justification by Faith. We can study it on paper; or we can taste it.

Reflections on Beliefs

A few years ago, a client of mine visited us for a series of meetings. He asked for a restaurant recommendation, and I suggested The Gandy Dancer, my favorite restaurant. The very next day he came to my office and raved about the restaurant. He was going to recommend it to every one of his colleagues.

Smiling, I asked what he’d ordered. “Nothing,” he said, because he’d been too busy. But he had “stopped by and studied the menu, and everything looked incredible.”

That is how many of us believers live our lives. We read the menu and miss the meal. It’s as though we’ve come to believe that Christianity—boiled down to its core essence—is an abstract impersonal menu of truths.

But it isn’t; and that mistake leads to a bland, malnourished, and starving life.