Who am I?
That’s an important question considering how my identity can either be a benefit or detriment to my life.
Proper identity is vital in our lives as it affects how we think about ourselves and others and significantly impacts the choices we make. While I will be primarily talking about my identity crisis in life, I hope that you will find yourself taking a closer look in your own lives. To varying degrees, wrong identities have impacted people around the world and down through the centuries. I would be surprised if it hasn’t in some way impacted you.
A series of crises became the impetus for change in my life as is often the case with people. I had grown increasingly tired and frustrated with the way I saw myself and the struggles—the constant struggles and failings which over the years had latched hold of me and morphed into my already distorted identity. While I did experience bright spots along the way, the overall arc of my life was marked by failure and the frustration which followed. I saw little satisfaction and virtually no rest—only agitation and intensifying anxiety. I knew that I was in trouble and only the Lord could fix me.
The trail up to that point was pretty messed up and I just couldn’t see my way out of it. Born and raised in a Christian home, my father was a pastor and I accepted Christ at a pretty young age. If you asked me to pin down the date or at describe the moment I can’t. As long as I can remember I have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ as my savior. But when I left home, I left Christ on the bookshelf along with my Bible and for the next several years I had little to nothing to do with God, apart from extreme moments of stress or depression, where a few verses came bubbling up from memories long past.
It wasn’t until I was about 40 that things began to unravel to the point where I knew that I had to get back to God. Picking up the phone, I called my dad and asked if he could come to Vegas and spend some time with us. He asked me if he needed to pack his truck with tools as he was accustomed—to put in some cabinets, pour a slab or lay some tile. I told him that I didn’t want him to come to work on projects, but to come as a pastor. The only tool he packed was his Bible.
That was nearly twenty years ago.
Since that visit, my life has been in pursuit of Christ amidst struggles—painful and difficult struggles. I embraced the things of God with a deep and insatiable hunger for him, though I was not at all prepared for the reflection I would see when God held the mirror in my face. My calloused flesh gripped tightly, dragging me deeper into the collapse of ruin which was made all the more possible by deeply rooted strongholds. Planted early in life, they remained for the most part hidden away—eggs buried in the drought-cracked soil. My life had all the signs of lifeless soil where it appeared that nothing could possibly grow.
But then, after years of drought, baking in the hot sun, dark clouds inexplicably gathered, pushing the sun out of view and released a torrent of rain not seen in decades. When the flash-floods subsided and the standing water receded into the parched soil, life emerged—strange creatures pushed through the shell of their eggs and crawled on to the hard surface, moving from one shallow puddle to another. I looked at them with a bewildered look, realizing that I wasn’t looking at some patch of desert but my life.
But how could this be? How could someone, a born again child of God have such dreadfulness inside of him? I tried to look away from the mirror but everywhere I turned, my sin was ever before me. No amount of confession or prayer seemed to provide sufficient consolation to my troubled soul and I began to question everything about who I was and even what I was. My wretched revelation put me at odds with my God for how could God really love me when I hated and detested myself so much? How could God really forgive me when I could not even forgive myself?
The grace of God.
It rolled off my tongue.
I thought I knew what it was. I thought I had grasped it, at least to whatever extent a human being apart from eternity could.
I knew that I had been forgiven and approved by God. I knew that I was a new creation—blameless, perfected and yet I continued to be pulled back into the anger, the emptiness and the anxiety of the darkness. I collapsed under the weight of my burden, a spiritual and mental mess. The relentless attacks began seeding doubts as to my salvation and at times my sanity. But by God’s grace it could not take away the eternal hope I have in Christ.
Upon the altar I crawl, with a broken heart and a yearning to be transformed and set free, grasping the light of God’s mercy with trembling hands and thankful for the periods of spiritual respite. But the darkness returned as it always did, and I knew that failure was not far behind. How clever the enemy is to capitalize on my circumstance, to reinforce my bewilderment and dismay. He loves to twist the truth of our identities. He has done so from the beginning when he tempted our first parents with a new and diabolical identity—you shall be as gods.
I understood with grim reality the words of Paul when he asked the question:
Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Romans 7:24 NASB
How I longed to breathe the fresh air of freedom, resting in my Lord to deliver me from the darkness which had overtaken me. I knew that such a life was possible, for I believed what the Bible said. Yet I frequently found myself on the outside looking in wondering why I could not put off the deeds of the flesh with any consistency. Year after year passed by as I listened, I studied and I prayed with glimmers of light piercing the cloud, only to find myself back in the mud yet again.
One thing that rang consistently in my life was this:
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. Romans 7:18 ESV
And that very flesh, though crucified with Christ still had a stranglehold on me.
I was bound and chained in darkness and I cried out to him again and again and again.
And then, by the grace of God, He heard me.
If you grew up in the days I did, many of the things we played with seem out-of-place with today’s generation of XBox and Playstation fans. Those were the days of board games, Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets and marbles. My sister, being 6 years older than I had little patience for a kid brother like me, and we spent much of our times chasing each other through the yard and the house when we weren’t arguing and fighting. But when things settled down or the weather wasn’t cooperating, we often found ourselves involved with a game of Jacks or Pick-up Sticks on the porch or kitchen floor.
I am not certain which characteristic would be most important in a game like Pick-up Sticks, but I think that besides having a steady hand, patience would be right up there. That’s probably the reason I didn’t win very often. Better for me to be back in my room, building something new with my Erector Set or outlining airplanes on a pad of paper.
The Lord is sovereign and it is He who chooses the game and establishes the rules for our lives. His game as it is unfolding in my life appears to be a lot closer to Pick-up Sticks than Erector Sets.
Each piece or step which he orders in my life (Psalm 37:23) has to be accomplished in the proper divine sequence which only God knows and with the care only He can provide. While the work God is doing may at times seem slow and tedious, rest assured and be confident of this very thing, that God which has started a good work in each and every one of us will continue steadfastly in that work until we see our Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).
Oh and by the way, God’s hand never shakes as He moves the pieces.
I hope you come back for the next post as we begin to go through some of the strongholds (weights) which ensnared me and were hidden until the Lord began to pick through the rubble of my life and show it to me piece by piece.
…line upon line; here a little, and there a little…