The person you can see isn’t the real me

Who are you? When you look in the mirror, what do you see? If you’re like me, you probably see your flaws. Hopefully you’re not like me and can focus on the things you like that are staring back at you in the mirror. But the person who you truly are goes deeper than your face or your hair color or skin color or your nationality. The real you is invisible. That person can’t be seen and can’t be identified by our normal categories. Oh, because we’re so good at labeling, aren’t we? We love to label people, and most of the time we even love to label ourselves.

If I ask you who you are, most people would probably respond with a job description. You’re a teacher. You’re an engineer. You’re a farmer. Whatever. I do it too. I’m a writer. It’s just easier to label ourselves so that other people know what to expect from us, but that doesn’t identify you. Not really. You’re more than your job. You’re more than what you do for a living or for a hobby.

Identity is something I’ve struggled with my whole life. I’ve been an introvert. I’ve been an extrovert. I’ve been in the background and in the forefront. I’ve been a singer, a musician, a librarian, a secretary, a teacher, a photographer, and a writer. I’ve taken inventory in a soda pop warehouse and answered phones on a switchboard. I’ve taught kindergarten Sunday school, led high school drama teams, blundered my way through adult drama teams, and given presentations in front of sales professionals and hated every minute of all of it, but I did it because it was my job. It was who I was–or who I was supposed to be. And I prided myself on being able to fill so many different roles for so many different people, but it left me feeling empty inside.

None of it had anything to do with who I actually am as a person. I’m not sure I’d ever even met myself until a few years ago, as weird as that sounds. I was too busy trying to be all these other people that I never took the time to see the real me in the mirror. I think all these years, I was just afraid to look. I was afraid that the person I truly am inside would be as full of flaws and imperfections as the me on the outside is. And you know what? That’s true.

The real me is just as screwed up as the me that people can see, but I’m okay with that. Well… not okay. But I’m okay enough with it because I came to understand a very important lesson that Jesus had to teach me: I’m a work in progress.

fingerprint-1Today’s verse is Zechariah 13:9.

I will bring that group through the fire
and make them pure.
I will refine them like silver
and purify them like gold.
They will call on my name,
and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘These are my people,’
and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’

God’s not done with me yet. He won’t be done with me for a while, and He’s in charge of that. So it’s okay that I’m not perfect yet. I try my best not to screw up. I do my best to live the way He’s called me to live, to love people the way I love myself, to put Him first in everything I do. But that’s not the lesson.

Do you know how metals are refined? I’m not a silversmith or a goldsmith or any kind of smith for that matter, but this is the information age. And you can find anything with Google’s help. What I’ve found in refining metals is that a goldsmith or a silversmith has to heat the metal until it’s a crazy ridiculous temperature and then skim all the imperfections off the top. And the smith knows that gold or silver is ready when he can look into it and see his reflection.

That’s what God is doing in the lives of His children. He’s working on all of us, working in our lives and through our lives so that we can become more like Him. See, what I was trying to do with all my performance-based perfectionism was heating up my own gold and silver until I could see myself in it. But I’m not what I can see either. The person I am inside should reflect Christ’s image–not the image I have of myself.

That’s who I am.

So to get to know who I am truly, I figured I needed to get to know Jesus better. Because it’s so easy to read about Him and hear about Him without really letting it sink in, without truly understanding who He is.

That’s the journey I’m going to be on for the next little while, getting to know Jesus better. I want to read the Bible and see what He says and understand what that means about who He is, because the more I know Him, the better I’ll know me.

I am more than a job description or a resume. I’m more than a hobby or a talent. I’m more than what I look like, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. I am who Jesus says I am. I’m His. Now … what that looks like practically, that’s what I’m going to find out.

Flamingos at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Define yourself

Are you good at something? Have you got a talent for something, or do you look at it like God has gifted you with certain abilities? Everyone has those gifts. Everyone has talent. Those things in life that come easy to you may not be easy for someone else. So it’s only natural to build a life on those talents. It’s a smart decision to choose a career doing what you’re good at, and if you enjoy doing it that’s an even bigger plus. Talents and gifts are wonderful, but there’s a downside to them too.

The problem with talent is that sometimes I think we let it define us. And if you’re a very talented person, you can get kind of lazy about it. If everything comes easily to you, you don’t really have to work to achieve anything. I was one of those kids in high school who never had to study, so when I got to college and had to start, it threw me for a loop. I’d gotten used to school coming easy, so when I had to work for my education, I learned a couple of things about life in general. Because life is that way too.

No matter how talented you are, you can always increase your skills. No matter how gifted you are, you aren’t going to be perfect. And if you let your talents or your gifts define you, when you encounter those moments where you could learn something, you won’t want to. Instead, you’ll just get discouraged because it feels less like learning and more like a personal attack.

Flamingos at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Flamingos at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Ephesians 2:13-19.

But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.

It’s very easy to use your talents and gifts to identify yourself. If you ask me who I am, I’ll tell you I’m a writer. That’s what I do. Constantly. As in all the time. I never stop writing, even when I’m not writing things down, I’m still writing in my head. But writing is my job–it’s not who I am. It’s just hard to distinguish sometimes, but I’m trying to learn how. Because I don’t want to take something that I do and turn it into who I am as a person. That cheapens who I am because a job has a description and a job can change and a job is subject to other people’s opinions, but I shouldn’t be. As a person, I am who God made me.

Paul sort of touches on this in the passage today. Jews and Gentiles, two people groups who were constantly at odds with each other, came together to become one people through Christ. Because that’s what Christ does. He reconciles us to God, and in being reconciled to God, we reconcile with each other in spite of our differences. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Thanks to Christ, it doesn’t matter where you were born or what your family looked like or what kind of job you have. If you believe in Him, you are part of His family, citizens of God’s kingdom. That’s where your identity should come from. If you’re a Christ-follower, you’re a child of God.

But I’m kind of a practical person. So what does that mean practically?

Well, that means you’re loved and accepted unconditionally. That means there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more or less than He already does. It means you’re never alone, you’re always welcome to speak to Him, and you’ve got someone on your side who is your biggest fan. And it doesn’t matter if you succeed and make it big or fail and fall flat on your face, God will never ever let you go.

Personally, I find that identity more appealing than Writer. Because a writer is bound by the limitations of his/her craft. Writing is subjective. Writing is entertainment and entertainment is fickle, just like people. And if I find my identity in my writing, what will I do when people stop liking it. If my writing identifies me and people don’t like it, that means people don’t like me. See where this is going?

Whatever you’re using to define yourself today, stop. Just take a moment and ask yourself who you are. And if God isn’t the source of that definition, something’s wrong. Your religion shouldn’t define you. Your job shouldn’t define you. Your family shouldn’t define you. Your personality shouldn’t even define you. The only person who has the right to define who you are is God.

So if you don’t know who you are, ask Him.

He’ll tell you that you are loved. And once you know that, you can do anything. You can face any challenge, any discouragement, any problem, and they don’t have to touch you because your identity comes from Someone who never changes.

Lifeboat on the Galveston Ferry, Galveston, TX

Name it and claim it?

Did you ever scribble your name on your lunchbox? Or on a toy you loved? Even as children, we understand that if you write your name on something, that indicates it belongs to you or that you are taking responsibility for it. But it doesn’t stop with identifying our toys; we label everything to indicate ownership, from carmakers to life vests on board ships.

In the past few days, I’ve been posting about the instances where God has changed people’s names, but I read today’s verse and had a thought of a different sort.

Lifeboat on the Galveston Ferry, Galveston, TX

Lifeboat on the Galveston Ferry, Galveston, TX

Today’s verse is Isaiah 62:2.

The nations will see your righteousness.
    World leaders will be blinded by your glory.
And you will be given a new name
    by the Lord’s own mouth.

God, through the prophet Isaiah, is actually talking about something that will happen in the future, concerning the Jewish race and the city of Jerusalem. A promise for what is to come. But as per usual, verses in Scripture can usually have more than one intention. And it’s not so much the verse itself that hit me this morning but the meaning behind it.

God gives new names. He doesn’t just change our names, but he takes our old names, our old identities, and does away with them, replacing them with something new. God is a God of second chances and third chances and fourth chances and fifth and so on and so forth. He never gives up on us, and He’s always there waiting for the day when we realize we can’t handle life on our own.

But there’s a part of naming that people forget, I think, and that’s the part about inscribing names and ownership. Because if you name something, usually it means you own it. If you name something, usually that means it belongs to you. We name our pets. We name our inventions. We name our ideas. And honestly, that’s how it works with God.

Not saying we are property to be owned, but someone has to be responsible for us. Maybe that’s a better way of looking at it. Who else is willing to take responsibility for the out-of-control mess that is my life? Who else other than God?

When we decide to follow Christ, God marks us as His own. Yes. But there’s another level of ownership going on in the universe. God created everything. He owns it all. He’s set His signature on every part of creation, and only those who are too blinded by their own importance don’t see it. And as the Creator, the Imaginer, the Owner, He has the right to do whatever He wants with what belongs to Him.

If you buy a car, people don’t get to tell you where to drive it. If you create an invention, people don’t get to tell you how to use it. Why is it different with God? He created the world, and He gave it to people to take care of. And what did we do? We turned it over to our Enemy to wreak havoc and destroy.

God is sovereign. He has the right to do as He pleases with what belongs to Him, and that includes this world, this universe, and everything down to the smallest quark–which also means you and me, whether we have chosen to follow Him or not. But even more so in the lives of those who have specifically given their lives to Him. We are so fortunate that God is good and patient and loving.

So if you are a Christ follower, don’t be thinking that you get to live however you want. If you follow Christ, don’t get the idea that you choose your own path without consequences. Even people who don’t follow Christ face consequences when they do wrong or when they choose foolishly; don’t think you’ll get away with it just because you gave your heart to Christ.

If God has changed your name, He has taken responsibility for you. He has the right to tell you how to live. And if you want to take issue with that, if you want to live in conflict with Him over that, why did you choose to follow Him in the first place?

Personally, I’m so thankful that God was willing to take responsibility for me. I have so many issues in my life that I can’t handle them on my own, and it’s a comfort to me to be able to turn it all over to Him and ask for help. And the way I look at it: He’s God. He knows. He knows what’s coming. He understands my potential. He wants to help me and do good things for me. So when He speaks, when He tells me to do something, I’m going to do it, whether it makes sense or not.

Rocks reflected in rippling waters at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Changing the way others see you

I used to work in library, and one of the most embarrassing things that can happen while you’re working in a library is smudging ink on your nose because people will rarely tell you it’s there. It was easy to do too, since we worked around ink all day long, stamping books that were checked out, stamping books that were checked in. Ink, ink everywhere. So it wasn’t unusual to get it on your hands, and all you had to do was scratch your nose. 

It amazed me how nobody would tell you. They’d just let you walk around the department all day, dealing with patrons and other staff people, with a big green splotch of ink on your nose. Even people who would come up to the desk wouldn’t say anything; they’d just look at me funny. 

Isn’t it interesting how people look at you differently when things about you change? If you lose weight, they look at you differently. If you gain weight, they look at you differently. If you curse or if you don’t curse, if you dress modestly or if you don’t, if you talk loudly, if you sing off-key, people look at you differently than they look at other people. I’ve always figured it’s because being different makes you stand out, and once you stand out, it’s hard to fit in again.

I posted yesterday about how drawing closer to God changes us and how we should be looking for our identity in Christ and not in the superficial stereotypes of the world. But I got to thinking that when we choose to follow Christ, our view of ourselves isn’t the only thing that changes. The way other people view us changes too.

Rocks reflected in rippling waters at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Rocks reflected in rippling waters at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Genesis 41:45.

Then Pharaoh gave Joseph a new Egyptian name, Zaphenath-paneah. He also gave him a wife, whose name was Asenath. She was the daughter of Potiphera, the priest of On. So Joseph took charge of the entire land of Egypt.

If there had ever been a person who deserved a break it was Joseph. Joseph’s story covers a good deal of the last part of Genesis, so if you have a chance to read it, you really should. I guarantee it’s better than the cheap Kindle eBook you just downloaded.

But this passage comes from the later part of Joseph’s experiences in Egypt, after all of the struggles were over and he was finally getting to live in peace. And not just peace but power and recognition and success. This verse comes after Joseph interpreted the Pharaoh’s dreams and pretty much saved the nation of Egypt, which would pretty much save the entire region during the years of famine.

But what I had to focus on was the fact that when Pharaoh assigned Joseph this powerful governmental leadership role in Egypt, he changed his name. Now, I don’t know what Zaphenath-paneah means; according to the NLT it might mean “God speaks and lives.” What I do know is that when Joseph was brought to Pharaoh, Pharaoh thought he was a dirty prisoner, arrested for rape. But when Joseph was done, Pharaoh understood something–that Joseph knew God. And not one of their fake false Egyptian deities. He knew the real God, talked with the real God, walked with the real God. That made enough of a difference to Pharaoh that he changed his view of who Joseph was.

That’s the kind of life I want to live. I want to walk out my door in the morning and know that every person I meet won’t see me as just me. I want people to see my best friend Jesus through me. I want people to experience what a life can be like when you don’t turn away from God and what God says is right. Our culture has this idea that God is there to squash our fun, and that the Bible is only a rule book to prevent you from actually living. But that’s a lie.

Joseph did it. He lived in a completely pagan culture all alone with no one to be his friend. Abandoned, forgotten, lied about, falsely accused–if anyone had a reason to give up on God, it was Joseph. Because he hadn’t done anything wrong. On the contrary, he’d done everything right. But he never turned away from God, and he kept moving forward because it was the right thing to do. And God honored him for that.

So let’s remember today that when people look at us they aren’t just seeing us. If we’ve chosen to follow Christ, we are His ambassadors to a world that doesn’t want anything to do with Him. And it’s our job to help people see that life without Christ is no life at all. Judge your actions today by that rule. If someone who doesn’t believe is watching your life, what do they see? Do they see a life that’s worth changing their own life for?