Who Do You Say I Am?

It was a tense moment. Jesus popped the question that had been gnawing at the disciples for some time: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter, the spokesman for the group, answers succinctly: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter understood correctly the identity of Jesus, but now he is in for a real surprise. It’s as if Jesus proceeded with something like this: Peter, you know who I really am, and that was given to you by my Father, but now I am going to tell you who you really are. Then using his name, Peter, which means rock in Greek, Jesus makes a sober pun. On the basis of Peter’ life and confession, he will become a rock, a solid foundation, on which the church is to be built. That foundation, in turn, will be so solid that despite all opposition and hostility, it will never die. Peter, the impulsive and unstable one, finds out that he is really a rock. 

We are left with this remarkable insight: the more we grow in our understanding of who Jesus is, the more we will come to understand who we are. This question of identity is a crucial one, for what we think about ourselves is the pivot of our existence. Every day, in one way or another, we live out who we think we are. Yet our identity can only come from the outside, exterior to ourselves, and it comes from the voices we have listened to. What are those voices?

Sometimes it is the voice that shames us through mockery or public criticism. Other times it is the voice that offers us praise only when we perform up to certain standards. And sometimes it is the voice of silence, where we must cobble together some sense of identity in the void that is left. This latter voice was certainly strongest for me. After initial success as a sprinter for two years, some of my high school peers began to beat me. Because failure had stung me so badly in the past, I couldn’t handle it and quit track halfway through the season. In the silence, with no one to help to me interpret what had happened, the shame of being a failure became my identity. Along with that came this pernicious lie: “If I can’t be a great athlete, I’ll never be a man.” It is difficult even now to communicate the power this voice had over me. I have heard similar stories from many others, of coaches that shamed and teachers that scolded, of parents that forgot and friends that betrayed. We are all left with a fallen identity that painfully cuts and corrodes. 

Yet only Jesus knows who we really are, exactly the lesson Peter learned. As we come to Him, He will begin to reveal that lost identity to us, even giving us a new name. How will He do that? It will be different for each one of us, but first we will all have to renounce the old voices we have listened to and the seek to listen to one Voice that knows us. One day while driving my truck on an errand, I quietly heard this in my heart: “Your name is Healer.” It just clicked, how so many of my life events, even seeking once to be a doctor, began to make sense to me. This is who I really am, not the failure I thought I was.

Who am I? It’s a question that must be turned into prayer: Who do you say I am, Jesus? Ask Him and listen. Then keep asking until an answer comes.

For only Jesus knows who you really are.


The Grace To Detach

On the day track season officially began, Heidi often felt like wearing black because she was going into mourning. For the next three months as the varsity track coach, I was basically non-existent at home. I had a state-ranked team that needed training and preparation. I had a reputation to keep up. And that meant more time, more work, more preparation. I also needed larger teams to insure more victories to keep placing high in the state, and larger teams meant even more time, more work, more preparation. I think you see where this all is going. On the outside, I looked like a very successful coach, but that’s not what I felt on the inside. I was driven to succeed because that was where I found the affirmation I had failed to find in high school. In short, coaching track had become my identity. There was simply no way I could ever think about stopping. But after eight years of year-round coaching, I was drained, empty, and exhausted. On top of that, my family was suffering from my absence, and my classroom teaching was deteriorating. I knew I had to stop.

A similar scenario happened in the gospels (Mark 10:17-22). Jesus is approached by a young man with a question about his own salvation: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Yet the question was fundamentally misguided, for behind it lurked the assumption that it was ultimately something that he did. Jesus’ response was basically this: You want to know what is good: Look at God’s will in His commandments. Only by doing these will you live. And now the man revealed his blindness: he quickly replied that he had kept the law from his boyhood. Yet the initial question he posed revealed the lurking insecurity inside: Have I been good enough? Am I missing something? Then Jesus exposed the man’s real issue, his greed, by asking him to let go of his wealth. The text states that Jesus looked at him and loved him as he said this. Why is this love? Because the misguided faith this man had in himself was going to destroy him. His real problem wasn’t a deluded understanding of his goodness; it was his idolatry and attachment to wealth. The answer to the man’s initial question about eternal life was really this: Follow Me. To do this, he would have to detach from his riches so that he could attach to Jesus. 

The story of the rich young man is the story of every man and woman. It is the story of our hearts clinging to something besides God and discovering that what we cling to for life is leading us to death. This is the tragedy of the fall of man, our idolatry. In modern day psychological terms, it is called addiction. What do our idols do to us?

  • They deceive us: they promise life, happiness, and fullness, but never deliver.
  • They enslave us: we choose them only to find out that we must now have them. We become slaves, in bondage to them.
  • They destroy us: What happens to a substance abuser is an outward visual for how idols destroy. They harden our hearts so that we become blind to our sin, destroying others and eventually ourselves.

But unlike the rich man in the gospels, I was given the grace to detach from track a number of years ago and find more of my identity with Him. It’s how Jesus loved me so well years ago. And He will continue to love us relentlessly until we let go of everything that keeps us from attaching to Him. He knows it’s the death that will truly lead to life. This is how we keep following Him.

Where do you need the grace to detach today?


Can We Trust Again?

When we choose to follow Jesus, He asks us to enter a life of trust, one that lives in His presence, pregnant with possibility, ripe with hope. But to do that, we have to face our experiences of trusting others. Our hearts that are inclined to unbelief anyway are further pushed in that direction by disappointment, betrayal, abuse, and abandonment. We all have stories of trusting others with our hearts, only to have that trust belittled, violated, or just shattered. We learn early from playground taunts and unrequited loves that to trust ourselves into the hands of others is dangerous, even foolish. So many stories I know tell a tale of violation, followed by self-protection, afraid of further harm. Think about your own story. How have you handled your own violations of trust?

Mine centered so much around sports. I longed to be a part of a team, to feel trusted in and to trust others in the play of sports. Underneath that longing was a deeper one to be coached and mentored by an older man. Both longings were repeatedly disappointed, not by actual rejection so much as by being unnoticed. One day during the cold chill of the winter in high school, I remember walking to a classroom building after school, feeling lonely and disconnected. As I looked out onto a nearby field, I saw some peers playing soccer. The longing surfaced to trust and risk being a part of it, but the fear of failure and lack of mentoring jerked me back. Pushing the ache down, I tried to drown it in the icy waters of cynical unbelief, saying to myself: “I’ll never be a part of that.” My refusal to risk and trust became a paradigm for the way I handled the unknowns of life, but that unwittingly bled over into the way I handled God. I could say that I trusted Him and sincerely tried to believe Him, but something in my heart felt frozen, locked up, inaccessible. How was I to find that bold confidence in Jesus that is able to risk it all? 

How can any of us learn to trust again?

A desperate father faced the same question in the gospels (Mark 9:14-29). His son was possessed by a demon that repeatedly tried to destroy the boy, throwing him into fire or water. It was a pathetic sight, yet the father's faith that Jesus could do something had already been shattered by the failure of His disciples to help. Jesus then appears on the scene and offers another chance for the father: “All things are possible for one who believes." The father’s heart awakens, yet with hesitation: “I do believe; help my unbelief.” Yet even in his ambivalence, he trusted Jesus to overcome his lack of faith. It was all that Jesus needed to release the healing power needed for the boy.

Just as He spoke to the father’s crushed heart, so He will come to each of us, teaching us how to trust again—in Him. One way is through His personalization of Scripture. If we will stay in the silence and listen, He will come and speak to us, healing us at the very places where we have known violation. Over and over, Jesus has simply invited me in with this: "Trust Me." Then, as we learn to trust Him, He will call us out to do something risky or seemingly crazy for His Kingdom. It will take us beyond our resources, where we learn to lean on Him even further. It is this life of trust that leads us not only into a felt bond with Jesus but surprisingly into our truest selves.

So how do we start this journey? Remember, He is not looking for perfect trust. A small, ambivalent amount will do. Just start where you are.

He will come and meet you there. 

Turning Shame Into Glory

Everything Jesus did in the gospels was either surprising or stunning. What happened on the mountain with Peter, James, and John is no exception. For one fleeting moment, Jesus was transfigured, unveiling His real identity before them, and it was dazzling (Mark 9: 2-8). The Gospel of Mark describes His clothes radiating a brilliant, blinding light; Matthew says His face shone as the sun. The one who veiled Himself in flesh and took on the shame of the cross is briefly seen as the true King of glory. 

Jesus took on flesh like us for one purpose only—so that we could become like Him. The whole point of the cross and resurrection is to make a way for us to take on glory ourselves. Glory is represented in the Bible as brilliant light, but it connotes approval, right standing, and affirmation from God. It is to feel fully known, loved, and enjoyed. 

But, alas, our stories are not filled with glory but with its counter opposite—shame. One of my more vivid moments of shame happened in the 10th grade. I had been persuaded by a friend against initial objections to go on a blind date to a high school sorority presentation. Having never worn a tuxedo, I struggled to put on the cummerbund and cufflinks, but became really perplexed when I could find no bowtie in the rental clothing. When we arrived, I saw bowties on all the young men and to my horror realized I had come incorrectly dressed. But the real moment of shame happened during the actual presentation. As I walked across the stage with my date, the spotlight hit us, and I was exposed for everyone there to see. As we walked off, I even heard several mocking voices refer to my improper attire. To make matters worse, when I got home and put the tuxedo back in the hanger, I discovered there a box I had missed containing—you guessed it—the bowtie. I felt utter self-contempt for being so stupid. 

This story follows the same pattern of so many other stories of shame I have heard. Shame is being exposed before others as contemptible, unworthy of love and worthy of mockery. It quickly turns into hatred, either toward those shaming us, or more likely, toward ourselves. Finally, along with the hatred comes a vow never to be found in that situation again. Overall, shame is a primal sense that something is deeply flawed about us and that we must hide as a result. It is what Adam and Eve did after the Fall and what we have been repeating ever since. Shame has drastically shaped the way all of us see ourselves.

So how can shame turn into glory? First, we were shamed in the presence of others and only in their presence can we be healed. We must learn to tell our stories to trusted friends, especially the shameful parts. Only then can the terror of being exposed be transformed into the delight of being known. The very thing that shamed us can now become the very thing for which we are loved.  My own work with men in story groups constantly attests to this truth.

But Jesus will do the deeper work here, as we learn to give our shame as well as our sin to Him, for He bore both on the cross. He will then teach us to see ourselves through His eyes, as those in whom He fully knows, loves, and enjoys. We begin to taste the glory that those three disciples only saw on that mountain. It’s a glory that trumps shame now and will one day triumph over shame forever.

This new year, ask Jesus to start turning your shame into glory.