Fill in this blank: I am ______________. How do you identify yourself? I might write “Matt” or “a pastor” or “married” or “male.” You get the idea. There are a million billion ways we could answer the simple question “Who am I?” Yet have you ever considered how profound the question truly is? How I answer this simple question ultimately defines me as a person and influences my every thought and action. For instance, I am “married to Kerri.” Well, that should limit my thoughts and actions towards every other woman…and I can hear my wife lovingly say, “it better!” I am “male.” Well, that’s a hot button issue for our culture. Does or should “male” influence my thoughts and actions? I am “a pastor.” That answer speaks volumes, good and bad. Our identity and how we form it may be the single most pressing and important aspect of our existence. Everything flows from identity.
What if how we form our identity is wrong? You might think right and wrong don’t really work here. Is there really a right and a wrong? Who decides what is right and wrong? Great question! (Glad I wrote it!) Whether you noticed or not, our society avoids questions of ultimate or final external truth. In public discussion, practicality and personal preference decide right or wrong. You may not like those rules. You may disagree. Yet the stark reality is that to have conversation today, truth is relative. (Not a relative like a brother or cousin…but relative as in dependent on the person’s point of view.) So as for how our identity is formed, it all comes down to personal preference. But what if I could show you a better, more personally fulfilling, and practical way?
Last week we talked about “dating Jesus.” Jesus’ approach to most people was a simple invitation to “come and see.” In essence, Jesus suggested you and I try out being his follower. It requires effort and integrity…we can’t pick and choose which parts then say “look, it doesn’t work.” On a date, we must take the person at face value and get to know them. We don’t get to fabricate the person we date, or pick and choose body parts or personality traits, mixing and matching to create the perfect date. I must take the person as they are and decide if I want a second date. Likewise, we must take Jesus as a whole.
So here’s my suggestion. Let’s try out Jesus’ method for forming our identity. Let’s see if it works. We might not like some parts…but we have to accept that this is Jesus’ way. We won’t be following Jesus if we only follow the parts we like. However, what if Jesus’ way truly is the best, the right, the most practical, and the most rewarding? Is it worth the risk to say yes to a date?
Okay…on to identity. How did you fill in your blank: “I am ________.”? I’m betting that our answers could fit into at least one of four categories: What I do, What I’ve experienced, What I notice in others, or What others have told me. Feelings and desires often find expression through doing…so they go there. I’m gonna suggest that using these categories to shape our identity actually causes a great deal of damage. Others mock us, causing us to rethink. Failures challenge our competency. Pain from the past stifles growth. Answers formed from these categories leave us dented, marred, and sometimes fully broken down.
As we move through this next sermon series, iDENTity, we’ll see that Jesus offers another way. Scripture reveals that the best way to form identity comes through: what God does, What Christ experienced, What the Holy Spirit nurtures, and What the Church teaches. Forming our identity in this way brings restoration and reconciliation to the brokenness in our lives. Ezekiel 37:1-14 paints a beautiful picture of restoration. God brings wholeness, fullness, and life to a valley of scattered dry bones. Picture a junkyard full of dented, broken-down cars. The fullness of God’s grace restores every vehicle to showroom condition.
We know what it is to be dented, beaten, broken-down, and maybe even abandoned. Even our best days and best experiences only last a moment, a short drive. Could how we’ve always formed our identity be the problem? Could the culprit be the “ ______ ”? I want to invite you to join me as we check out Jesus, and how he suggests we answer “who am I?”. Maybe the dents in our lives are not beyond repair.