This summer I had an opportunity of a lifetime. We purchased a new van and put 18,000 miles on it. Kelsey, our dog Sutter, and I drove a lot. We visited 17 states. We saw amazing things (and some disgusting things). We made memories that will last us forever. iden
I played a lot of disc golf and achieved all of my disc golf related goals for the summer. We spent extended time with family, both in California and here when my parents visited and I took them out to the Black Hills. There were lots of firsts, new experiences, new foods, new places, new people.
To get us started talking and connecting, I want you to think back on a memorable trip you’ve been on. It could be big, or it could be local. The goal is to share what was most memorable and why it was so memorable.
Share about one of your best trip memories. Why is that experience so memorable?
Going into my sabbatical this summer, I had no idea what it would be like, but I did have an idea of why it would be valuable for me.
Identity happens both on purpose and by accident, both intentionally and unintentionally. Some things are given, others are taken, some are even picked up along the way like gum on your shoe. (It may be your favorite flavor, but it’s also been pre-chewed and on the ground.) Sometimes that’s what putting on an identity can feel like. We’ve wanted for so long to be _______. Then we get there and we realize it’s not all we thought it would be.
Being a pastor can be a lot like that. When I “felt called,” it was full of grandiose dreams of what could be. In college, I got to study and see all the ways the church had both failed and succeeded in the past and how what I wanted to build was going to be so much better. I was so idealistic and hopeful. The “someday” can be a driver of a lot of good, but it usually ends up being different than we expect
I do think I have been able to maintain that hope, but after 9 years here, what I wanted and what has actually happened are so different. Probably it’s been mostly for the better. But wow has it been different than I expected.
Being a pastor can be a lot more about “being” than it is about doing. There’s never really “off the clock.” And in doing something so all-consuming for so long, I found it easy to get to a place where I couldn't tell the difference between what I wanted personally and what was best for “the church”--both good things, but Greg’s entire identity became Corner. I didn’t have much outside of Corner. So my sabbatical provided an opportunity to remove Corner and discover both what was left and what I wanted.
The goal of today is to jump into conversation about discovering where we’ve allowed our identities to originate from and what we can do to discover a healthy self identity, both in the here and now and in our hopes for tomorrow.
Make a list of identities you carry. Which have you chosen? Which have you been given? Which have you picked up along the way?
It’s amazing the labels we apply to ourselves. I am an American, a Californian, in my 30s, an adult. I have been a baseball player, a student, a child. I currently am a pastor, a photographer, a husband, a brother, a friend, a son, a coffee snob, a disc golfer. But have also been both the victim and the bully, the winner and the loser, the encourager and the doubter. At times I have been hopeless, hateful, rude. And sometimes I can be full of grace, loving, helpful, kind, compassionate, hopeful. Sometimes I am multiple of those things at once.
How do people discover “identity”? Where do people discover who they are?
Genesis 1 is this amazing story of God creating everything and claiming it is all good.
Genesis 2 is the story of humanity. It is my story and your story. It is God’s idealized version of relationship, of love, of purpose–Adam and Eve both created in His image. Genesis 2 ends by saying that they were naked and they felt no shame. They were exposed, they were completely seen and known in perfect relationship.
Genesis 3 is where the fall takes place. We quickly focus on the serpent and the fruit. We forget what the story is really about–humanity and God. And just like you and me, when we do something we shouldn’t do, their response is to try and hide it. An all-knowing God knows that something isn’t right when humanity takes a bite from the fruit:
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:8-9)
This is such a Jesus moment right here in the beginning of scripture. In the gospels, we see over and over again Jesus responding with amazing questions, leaving the ball in the court of others. It’s almost as if Jesus is saying, “I believe the answer is in you.”
In this Old Testament story we clearly see Jesus’ character in God.
Why do you think God asks Adam and Eve where they are? What does God’s asking this question say about who God is?
They respond, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” Something changed; they didn't hide before, but now they are hiding. It wasn't that they all of a sudden became naked, but rather that they recognized they were naked and the story changed. Things changed and they started to view their story by the things that they lacked, switching from being made in God’s image to being identified by their nakedness, or by what they lacked.
Here’s something to reflect on:
What lack have you defined yourself as?
The question of “where are you” is quickly followed by one of the most important questions in the Bible.
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked?” (Genesis 3:10-11)
Who told you that you were naked? Who told you you are defined by the things you lack? Who told you you are defined by your mess-ups? Who told you your story changed?
Where do the voices of negative self perception come from?
Many of us have traded self discipline with over-working, over-socializing, over-eating, over-consuming, and/or over-worrying. The answer to an overworked life is not a long weekend of self care; rather it’s having the self discipline to make the right decisions for ourselves.
Health is not derived from a day at the spa or a hike through the forest; health is achieved by the discipline of creating healthy habits and by having the discipline to do the small important things. Without self discipline, self care is simply self indulgence.
Modern society really likes to idolize the self: how I feel, what I like, what's best for me, finding my worth and my passion and my purpose and my vision. The modern church has gone completely overboard on this as well. We talk about “identity in Christ,” which is a new idea. It really didn't exist in Christian theology until the 1980s. It’s brand new. It most often has been used as a replacement for “union in Christ.” Let's explore why that might be.
What is the difference between “identity in Christ” and “union in Christ”? How would each impact a person's understanding of God and themselves?
But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise.
In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendants,” heirs according to the covenant promises. (Galatians 3:27-29, The Message)
Every person is born into relationships of mutual obligation. We are sons, daughters, fathers, and mothers. Those identities didn't come out of personal choice. I am American, not by choice, but because of where I happened to be born.
“The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him!” (Acts 17:26-29, The Message)
“If identity is chosen, what place is there for any other obligation than being faithful to yourself? In contrast, Scripture teaches that we are embedded in given relationships of mutual obligation to faithfully steward and embrace.”
This perspective creates a very interesting view of sin, because if identity is not chosen but rather given, then sin is what happens when a person chooses to snub their identity as a son or daughter of Christ. Faith, then, isn’t about finding an identity in Christ; rather it’s discovering and embracing that you are part of the body of Christ.
No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband. (Ephesians 5:32-33, The Message)
You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household. (Ephesians 2:19)
What does a person owe another person? What does a Christian owe another Christian?
The truth that I am discovering is that I can't take care of others if I don't also take care of myself.
I used to think sacrifice meant giving up what is good for me, for the good of others–but what is also true is that sacrifice is investing into myself so that I can be available for others later. Sacrifice isn’t about putting ourselves down or destroying ourselves for the sake of others, let alone the sake of God. Sacrifice wasn't invented by God to appease His need for perfection.
Why is the Bible so full of sacrifice imagery? It’s because people believed that the gods could smite you at any moment for an improper gesture or a sacrifice offered carelessly. That’s how people saw the gods–one screw up and you’re done. The details would have had a significant calming effect, reassuring you that you’re doing it correctly and not bringing unnecessary judgment on yourself. Offering sacrifices came out of a deep human need to do something about guilt and shame and the haunting sense that you haven’t done enough to keep the gods on your side. Sacrifice was for the benefit of the one doing the sacrifice.
Sacrifice is not just a human-to-God thing. It’s also a God-to-humans thing and definitely a human-to-human thing. Sacrifice is a very important part of every healthy relationship. So we are going to take our conversation about identity and end it with a conversation about sacrifice and unity.
What role does sacrifice play in living in unity with others?
Bible Reading Plan
- 1 Chronicles 26
- 1 Chronicles 27
- 1 Chronicles 28
- 1 Chronicles 29
- 2 Chronicles 1