Friday, September 9, 2016

Our Perspective and God’s Perspective (I John 3:1-3; Col.1;1-2) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Last week we received this letter in the mail.   “Subject:  Notice of Data Security incident.  Dear Alan and Nancy: We are writing to inform you of a data security incident that may have involved your payment card information.  We take the privacy and security of your identity protection seriously.  Here are the steps that we have taken to protect your payment card information.”  We called the bank and after a discussion closed the account and opened a new one.  Have you ever received a letter like that?

As we know, identity theft occurs when someone steals your name and other personal information for fraudulent use.  Thieves can open up checking accounts, charge your credit cards, drain your bank accounts, buy cars or houses, take out loans, all on you and me.  This is a serious cyber-age crime invading our personal privacy and identity.  Why don’t these people put their skills to positive use?

Identity is both collective and individual.   Our collective identity is the shared sense of belonging to a group, belonging to something larger than ourselves.  I am an American is perhaps the most obvious example.  Belonging to a street gang is another.  There are some 30,000 street gangs which are responsible for 80% of the crime in America.  Gang members will do anything to maintain their position in the gang.  But what about our personal identity?

How we think about ourselves matters, right, it matters a great deal.  Baseball pitcher Orel Hershiser, in his book Out of the Blue, tells about an encounter he had with Dodger’s manager Tommy Lasorda.  Lasorda called Hershiser into his office one day and shouted at him.  “You don’t believe in yourself!  You’re scared to pitch in the big leagues!  Who do you think these hitters are, Babe Ruth?   Ruth’s dead.  You’ve got good stuff.  If you didn’t, I wouldn’t have hired you.  I’ve seen guys come and go, son, and you’ve got it!  Be aggressive.  Be a bulldog out there.  That’s gonna be your new name, Bulldog.  With that name, you’ll scare the batters to death.  “Starting today I want you to believe you are the best pitcher in baseball.  Look at the hitter and say, ‘There’s no way you can ever hit me.’”  Two days later, Orel pitched relief and in three innings, he gave up only one run.  Lasorda’s talk, Orel called it the sermon on the mound, had worked.

Identity is an elusive and challenging part of being human.  More precisely, it is a fluid part of who we are, a dynamic aspect of our lives.  We begin to feel like we know ourselves, we begin to feel comfortable with who we are, we believe we can finally define ourselves, and then something occurs and we find that we are in the process of re-defining ourselves yet once more.  We can’t seem to hold on to whom we understood ourselves to be.   Maybe we must answer the question, who am I, throughout our life.  Perhaps we are continually redefining ourselves.  Is the question of identity a lifelong process.  What do you think?

Who am I?  One way to answer that question is to go to  Genealogy is popular today.   I think knowing your lineage is a positive aspect of life.   I like the commercial where this guy says that for all of his life he thought of himself as being of German extraction.  So he often danced around in lederhosen.   Then he went on and made the alarming discovery that he was primarily of Scottish descent.  So as he said: “I traded in by lederhosen for a pair of kilts.”

So many factors contribute to our identity. Our family defines us. Our gender defines us.  Our race/ethnicity defines us.  Our social status defines us.  Our work, our careers, define us.  I remember a professor who had long since retired, but still insisted on being addressed as professor.  Our roles define us.  I am single or married, a son or daughter, father or mother, wife or husband, a grandfather or grandmother, widow or widower, working or retired.   Our physical dimensions, our size defines us, our intelligence defines us, our success or failures define us, our accomplishments and achievements define us, being dependent or independent defines us and the list goes on.

Human beings face many challenges in life.  And one of them, practically from the moment of birth, is to try and figure out who the heck we are in this world and in comparison to other people.  I think this is a critical goal or process in life.  I think we continually battle between defining ourselves and allowing the world around us to define us.  I think we should be proactive, not passive.  We also know the way we see ourselves, is not always, though sometimes it is, the way others see us. The problem is that our identity is often a moving target.

For example, two American psychologists, Pauline Clancy and Suzanne Imes, observed what they called "the impostor syndrome." They described it as a feeling of "phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable, or creative, despite evidence of high achievement." While these people "are highly motivated to achieve," they also "live in fear of being 'found out' or exposed as frauds."

The gifted American author and poet Maya Angelou wrote: "I have written 11 books, but each time I think, 'Uh oh, they're going to find out now. I've run a game on everybody, and they're going to find me out.'" Despite winning three Grammys and being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award, this huge talent still questioned her success.

So we turn to the scriptures:  In the letter of I John we read this astonishing truth about identity, our new identity: “See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are.  Beloved we are God’s children now.  What we do know is this, when he is revealed we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”  This is the word of God.  Ponder this word for a moment.

In the letter of Colossian’s we again hear God’s amazing word: “To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.”  Both of these passages speak about our new identity from God’s perspective.

An author writes: “In August, 2009, we got a rather amazing email from my brother in law, John. Six or seven years ago, when John and his wife, Lori, were working with a youth group in Nebraska, they met Amanda—a teenage girl.  Amanda came from a terribly abusive home and was eventually taken from her parents by the state.

After conferring with their two sons, John and Lori legally adopted Amanda. She is 22, and her name is now Amanda Foote. She will even get a new birth certificate!  Now John and Lori have three legal heirs, and Amanda has two new brothers.   When it was official, John said:  There was a huge change in Lori and me—sort of like when you see your newborn for the first time.  And for Amanda, there was a big change in her, too. Now she knew she belonged. She knew we were her parents."

The author continues:  The beauty of it all made me offer a word of thanks to Jesus, God's Beloved Son. God has given us a new name, a new standing in a new relationship, we are God’s responsibility and God’s heirs, we are a new family of brothers and sisters in Christ, and God is our true Father.”

The irony is that when you become a Christian, you take on someone else's identity.  You are a brother or sister of Christ; you are a child of God.  Through faith in Christ, You and I have been given a new identity that we weren't born with or that we didn't earn or purchase.  By grace, God has adopted us in Christ.  And this is a gift which is true now and forever.

Don’t you walk just a little taller, don’t you stand just a little straighter, when you hear this about how God sees you.  God sees you in a new way now.  And God’s new way of seeing you will never change.  God will never forget about us or who we are.  We may see ourselves one way, the world may see us another way, but ultimately what matters is how God sees us, how God sees you and me.  May we live each hour, each day remembering this, being encouraged by this, and being secure in the knowledge of God’s perspective. Amen!

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