Who/what do you place your identity in?

Today’s blog post happens to fall a few days after the start of our church’s start of a new series through the letter of James titled Faith that Works: a journey through James.  As such, I wanted to share briefly on a question I posed to our community this past Sunday morning: “Who am I?”  This question about who we are is a question that is often tied to what inspires us; it is tied to our identity.  Identity plays a huge role in our lives because this is what we believe defines us.

What would you say if you were asked this question of “Who am I?”  Let me venture to guess that your response may begin something like this: “This is who I am (fill in the blank).”  Who/What you place in that blank spot reveals what you place your value or worth in; it shows what matters to you.  For some, they will mention their family, others their faith/religion, and then others politics.  Others by their national heritage/ethnicity, and some will even state something about their occupation or the school they went to.  We even identify ourselves with places of worship and even our favorite hobbies such as sports teams.

Everyone puts their identity in something.  The moment when we talk about something and we use the words “we” to identify ourselves as part of something, we have already made a connection to that thing.  For example when the San Francisco 49ers play, I tend to say “We won!” or “We lost!” Though I didn’t really play for the team and probably would never make the team, I have placed my very identity with this team.  This is what happens when people fall in love with and root for sports teams, we identify with them.  When the SF 49ers lost last week in the Super Bowl, I was really forlorn!  Like me with the 49ers, we have placed our identity in something, we become emotionally connected/invested because we have placed a lot of “heart” weight and “me” into those things.

Often times, we place so much value in these things that if one was to insult us about something that we do not have emotional investment in, we could care less and can ignore the insult.  When the person insults what we place our value or worth in such as our family, career, school, faith or even sports teams… we become greatly offended. We feel so offended because you have attacked what I have placed my worth and value in.  What you have attacked is my heart aka what I believe in, and me… who I am.  The reality is we do this a lot, and we may not even know it.

For example, if a guy was to let a girl know of his interest in her and she lovingly/ prayerfully rejects him, the guy may respond by becoming inconsolable and totally depressed. Despite the girl’s loving response, he may totally be wrecked by the matter.  Why is this?  It is because the guy had placed much worth/value… his identity… in being in a relationship.  He may have put so much of “heart” and “me” into it that when she responded negatively, it hurt him much more greatly!  Though she may not have intended anything hurtful and didn’t see it that way at all, this is what happens when our identity comes into play in our interactions.

With such a heavy emotional tie into our identity, it is no surprise that: Whoever/whatever we identify with often defines who we become. If you tell me your inspirations (idols), I can usually kind of tell how you will be like.  We end up modeling ourselves like those that we identify with or what we are inspired by.

With that thought, I shared with our church this past Sunday that what we identify with becomes very defining in our lives.  If you consider the opening words of the letter of James, James identifies himself first with this simple statement:

“James, a servant of God and of The Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1).

James, the brother of Jesus, identifies himself by answering the “Who am I?” question with a very simple, but powerful answer.  He first identifies himself as a servant/slave/bond-servant (Grk. doulos).  A doulos was a person that had willingly given themselves up to another person’s will; it was a slave/servant that had given up their freedom to serve a master they deeply loved.  James in his opening words showed what he had placed his identity in!  James saw himself as a willing servant/slave to the Almighty Powerful God and of His Lord Jesus Christ, whom is His Savior! God’s love and plan brought James to where he was!

How did this identity as a servant of God and of The Lord Jesus Christ shape his life?  Let’s take a moment to look.  Prior to Jesus’ crucifixion during his early life (before 30/32 AD), we know that James was one of Jesus’ younger siblings (Mk. 3:31-34). James did NOT believe in what Jesus was teaching during this time (Jn. 7:5).  Yet soon after seeing his brother die, Jesus resurrected and appeared to James personally (30/32 AD) (1 Cor. 15:7)!  This radically alters James life, and he becomes an early church leader in Jerusalem despite great persecution (Acts 12:17b).  James also counseled and encouraged Paul multiple times (Acts 21:18; Gal. 1:19; 2:9, 12).  He did this over the next 20+ years as a Church leader, and was part of the first Jerusalem council dealing with Jew/Gentile question in 48/49 AD (Acts 15:13-21).  James was later recorded being martyred in 62 AD by stoning, and despite the abuse up to his death, he continued to proclaim the Gospel to those accusing him and praying for his persecutors to The Lord!

Here is an account of how his identity as a servant of God and of The Lord Jesus Christ shaped his life.

“James, the brother of The Lord,…has been called the Just by all from the time of our Savior till the present day; for there were many who bore the name of James. He was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine or strong drink; nor did he eat flesh. No razor came on his head. He did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath…. And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was often found on his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard [calloused] like those of a camel” (Hegesippus according to Eusebius, Church History 2:.23.4-6).

In closing, Who/what do you place your identity in?

Who/what we identify with defines who we will become.  #faiththatworks

James identified himself as: “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” and his life reflected this belief after he came to Christ; he lived, and died becoming what it says in James 1:1.  Tell me who inspires you, who you identify with, and I’ll tell you who you’ll be like.  Oh, may you be like James and may you place your identity in Christ first above all things!


Please preserve the unity

In the last two months around the Dallas area, I have heard that various churches have split due to various reasons. There is a time and a place for church split. For example in church history, there have been three main church splits all for fundamental doctrinal reasons: 553 over the incarnation of Christ, 1054 over the authority of the church and Scripture, and 1517 over redemption/soteriology. Fundamental doctrinal reasons should be, in my opinion, the only reason for churches to split. In today’s culture, churches split for selfish reasons: different visions, money, location of a new church building, the new senior pastor, wanting to be a senior pastor, and so many more. If we can’t have it our way, then we will try to make it our way one way or another. How dumb of the body of Christ. We have let the mantra of our culture shape the church. What a pity. We are the light of the world shining in the darkness, but because of endless church splits, our light is being dimmed.

The church is the body of Christ, why are we dividing the body of Christ? The plea of the apostle Paul is “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3). The battle cry of the apostle Paul is twofold. First, Paul calls us to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit. The idea of being diligent is to spare no effort, to do our best, and to take/make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit. This is counterculture. We are too quick to give up and split the church. Paul urges us to give it our all to what… preserve the unity of the Spirit.

The second part of the battle cry is to preserve the unity of the Spirit. The word preserve has the idea of to keep, to preserve what is already in existence. It is not the establishment of a new entity, but rather to keep and not lose or destroy something already in our possession. We are the body of Christ and we have to make every effort to preserve the body of Christ.

The local church must do everything within her power to be diligent to preserve the unity of the church. The church is one body. When one part of the body hurts, the whole body does not function as it’s supposed to. In like manner, if one part of the church hurts, then the whole church is not going to function as it’s supposed to.  One would not cut of an arm if it suffers a broken bone, rather one would do everything in one’s power to restore it. If that arm, however, suffers from a flesh-eating bacteria that would spread to the whole body if it is not cut off, then yes, it would be better to cut that arm off ­­–– only after all possible remedy have been tried –– than risk death. In the same way, the local church has to do everything in her power to preserve unity in the Spirit when “petty” differences exist. Fundamental doctrinal differences such as, half the congregation does not believe in the Trinity and the other half does, without any possibility of reconciliation, then yes, split the church. I am not promoting church split. I hate it. I abhor it. I detest it, yet I am not callous to the fact the sometimes it is necessary. We have taken church splits too lightly. The battle cry is to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Oh love ones, please preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.