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.

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What really matters

Sometimes it is difficult for me to distinguish the difference between my life and my actions. It’s very easy to get caught up in thinking that you are what you do, and it’s even easier to label people (yourself and others) by your job description or by your talents or by your accomplishments. Tony is a lawyer. Sarah is a dancer. Jake is the winner of the race.

I think we label people because we can’t see inside them. So it’s easier to identify people by putting labels on them, either to help us distinguish them from the crowd or to keep them safe in a box where they won’t threaten us. Either way, people are far more than how their labels describe them. We usually just can’t see it.

Every individual’s life is precious. There’s no denying or disputing that. Every person is unique and special and God sacrificed His most precious blood to save us.

Conversely, our actions are repeatable. Our accomplishments can be bested. Our job descriptions change, sometimes like the wind. And our talents aren’t really that unique, if you think about. Any “new” talent anyone has probably isn’t truly new; it just hasn’t been seen before.

I got to thinking about this when I read today’s verse of the day.

Acts 20:24

24 But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.

I find this interesting because Paul (who is speaking) was a pretty important guy. He was educated. He was intelligent. He was a Jew among Jews, which at the time meant he was pretty special. But none of those things mattered to him after he started following Jesus. I’m sure Paul accomplished a lot in his life, but the only thing that mattered to him after he started following Jesus was telling other people about Him.

This really made me wonder about the worth of my own actions.

My life, as in who I am inside, is precious to God. I get that. But what about my actions? What about the things I have done that haven’t been for Him?

Anything I have done only for myself really has no bearing on God. The things I do for myself are small and insignificant because they only benefit me — and most of the time I don’t know if it’s an actual benefit or not.

But the things I have done for God, not matter how small they start out, they usually end up ballooning until hundreds of people are blessed or encouraged. And most of the time, I never intended to accomplish anything like that. I just knew I needed to do what God had called me to do, and I did it. I had no idea how He would use it.

There’s an old hymn (I think it’s a hymn) called “Little is Much When God Is in It” and I think that’s very true.

We only have a limited time on Earth. Compared to eternity, it’s not even substantial enough to classify. The Bible just calls it a vapor, a puff of smoke. One moment here, the next moment gone. So in that limited time, what are we going to accomplish? What talent are we going to pursue? What job are we going to do? And what is the point?

Paul felt like his accomplished life would be worth nothing if it weren’t directed at doing God’s work, at finishing the task that had been appointed to him by God. I agree with that. And I agree with it in the perspective of my own life. The things that I have done for myself won’t last. But the things I’ve done for others in God’s name? That’s a whole different ball game.

I know many Newtonian Laws passed out of vogue with the advent of Einstien’s Theory of Relativity and the craziness of Quantum Physics but as far as I can tell, every action still has an opposite and equal reaction. What we do on Earth effects what our lives will be like in eternity. Our choices on Earth directly effect our lives in eternity. I don’t want to say that Earth is the proving grounds of Heaven, but it kind of is. If you can choose to live your life for Christ while you are mired in the darkness of this world, if you can see past the temporariness that is life on Earth and realize that what is coming after Earth is so much better, if you can live for eternity now while you’re dying with every breath — heaven will be a rewarding place.

I know my life is precious. But my actions are useless, futile, and small until I do them for God.

C.T. Studd wrote a poem that I think pretty much sums up what Paul was saying:

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

In the grand scheme of life, our actions will either make us greater on earth or bring us greater reward in heaven (which usually means we are made more humble on earth). The next promotion won’t last. The next “new” talent will fade into obscurity. The next accomplishment will pass as soon as someone does something better or greater. But the things you do for Christ remain and will be remembered forever, if not by people then by God Himself. And that is what really matters.