Identity Killers

(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on Nov. 10, 2013)

Colossians 3:12-13

You are God’s chosen people. You are holy and dearly loved. So put on tender mercy and kindness as if they were your clothes. Don’t be proud. Be gentle and patient. Put up with each other. Forgive the things you are holding against one another. Forgive, just as the Lord forgave you.

You are God’s chosen people. You are holy and dearly loved.

You are.

This is who you are.

This is what we’ve been talking about for weeks. You are chosen. You are dearly loved, and this can be the foundation of an unshakeable identity.

When we believe this down deep, it’s beautiful. We know and believe we are chosen and dearly loved, and so we put on “clothes” that match who we are; our lives display actions which God weaves onto us beautifully.

But so many times it just doesn’t go like this. 

Here’s the reality that you probably already know: many things work together to kill our identity as ones loved and chosen by God. There are truly so many identity killers out there.

When the root of our identity gets killed, wounded, blurred, wiped away–then we end up clothing ourselves with different things. Things which don’t match our true identity, things which aren’t reflective of God’s character and love. We then get caught in a vicious cycle. Those ill-fitting, inappropriate “clothes” we put on, the ones that aren’t in line with God’s character and love, they do more damage to our view of who we are. They also do damage to the people around us. We wound others, making it harder for them to see their own true identity as ones chosen and loved by God.

What do I mean? Let’s look at the same verses in the TNIV .

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

When the first part gets dim, when we lose sight of being chosen and holy and dearly loved…then the clothing we put on is different than compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Instead, things like competition, jealousy, shame, denial and blame find their way into our lives. These are identity killers for ourselves, and they are identity killers for others. They take over completely,  wiping out the basis of our identity as ones chosen and loved by God.

What are some other things that are identity killers? What other things wipe out that solid identity as someone chosen and loved by God? [ASK]

You know I love the Lord of the Rings.

I’m proud of myself that I haven’t mentioned it for a very long time, and haven’t shown a clip in even longer. But today is the day! One of the best scenes in all three movies is when Gollum, seen by many as a completely evil character, actually wrestles with his own identity. You become sympathetic toward him when you realize what is happening inside his head, and it’s portrayed beautifully on the screen.

As you watch this, think of your own internal battles, the ways you have negative words in your head reminding you of all the ways you don’t measure up and are not worthy. Think of the ways the external voices of blame and shame have been internalized.

“Not listening. Not listening.”

As Andy led us through earlier in the service, we find ways to avoid our pain and our junk. We find ways to escape. At times, blaming others is our escape; we don’t take responsibility, we won’t admit that we are wrong.

But the voices keep yelling. We try to not listen to those words in our minds, but they seem so insistent and so loud. The more we try to avoid facing the dark things, the louder the voices get, the more they up the stakes and bring up more and more things we’ve done wrong.

All of this ignoring and denial and not listening and blaming and shaming…it’s going in the exact opposite direction of where true healing is found. It’s letting our right identity be killed.

There’s a story Jesus tells in Luke 18 that keeps growing in significance to me the older I get. Turn with me in your bibles as I read Luke 18: 9-14.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed:’ God, I thank you that I am not like other people–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. ‘

‘ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

What you see in the Pharisee is someone who is covering up insecurity about his own identity by reminding God and himself how much better he is than other people.”I’m not like them. I do these good things.” He is doing damage in two ways. His own identity is at risk because it is based on false things that will crumble. When you base your own identity on comparison to others and on the works that you do, it will crumble. The day will come when you meet someone better than you, and when you fail to do what you should. His own identity is built on the wrong foundation.

But he’s doing damage in another way. If he’s not afraid to pray that way to God, you know that he’s teaching and saying similar things to others. When we believe like this Pharisee, we also usually are letting that attitude spill out to others and hurt them, too. These comparison words, these blaming words wound others, who then use them to beat themselves up. Our attacks and our blame become the voices in other people’s heads.

When we are like the Pharisee, we are afraid to look at our wrongs, because we think it will make our identity crumble. Everything in our worldview is making us like Gollum, covering our ears and trying to avoid facing the yuck or taking responsibility.

That’s why this story Jesus tells is so important.

The tax collector is a striking contrast. There’s no avoiding, because he’s at the bottom. He’s looked fully at the wrongs he has done, and he comes to God in honesty, taking responsibility, and admitting he is “a sinner.”

This is the path to healing. This is the way to kill the identity killers.

Jesus says the tax collector, not the Pharisee, went home right with God. Despite the voices, despite our fears, Jesus says this is the truth: you don’t have to justify yourself and pretend. Just acknowledge your need and ask God for mercy, and you are on the road to healing.

I like thinking of Gollum’s trust in Frodo’s friendship as a great analogy for our trust in Christ’s love.

Watch how the earlier scene finishes.

It’s funny and it’s beautiful. Gollum realizes Master Frodo is taking care of him now. We get so used to those voices, thinking they have so much power. But WE have a master who looks after us now! When we trust this new relationship with Jesus….trust it against the lies that say we aren’t worthy and don’t have any friends…when we trust this truth that we ARE chosen and we ARE dearly loved…we can stop listening to the voices and trust the love of Jesus.

Rather than blaming; rather than comparing; rather than avoiding…we must choose the road of the tax collector and trust God and ask for God’s mercy, admitting our failures and trusting they won’t erase God’s mercy and love.

But it’s hard to admit we’re wrong, isn’t it?

People around my age and older will remember the tv show Happy Days and the Fonz. How many of you younger ones have heard of the Fonz? He was the coolest person ever. The show is from the 70’s, but it was set in the 50’s. He was always the coolest, always right, always perfect. At least that was the image. He had a hard time admitting when he was wrong.

Here’s a clip from a show where he had been rude to one of his friends, to Ralph Malph (great name!). He’d told him to join the Marines and get out of everybody’s life. But now even the Fonz realizes that was wrong. Watch.

Anybody else struggle with saying you’re wrong? The Fonz has this image to uphold; he can’t admit that he’s wrong. That causes damage for Ralph, making him feel unloved, unwanted, like he has to leave. But when the mask comes down, and the Fonz can admit the truth…when he can admit he WAS wrong and he WOULD miss Ralph-two identities begin to be healed.

Last weekend, I was in California with our youngest daughter Aubrey, visiting her big sister Natalie at Azusa Pacific University.

We got to go with Natalie and her roommates to their church, Fellowship Monrovia. It was a blast! They are a church plant with a mission to be “a racially and culturally diverse church compelled to worship God by serving Monrovia through the power of the Gospel.” They have met their vision! Their pastor is African American, and the people do reflect the diversity of the Kingdom of God.

I loved it. I wish I could pull off preaching like in the African American tradition! That is so fun to listen to!

The pastor’s name is Albert Tate, and he was in a series looking at the Lord’s prayer. He was on the part of the prayer, “lead us not into temptation.” I loved how he called us all out on how we don’t like to talk about that in church. We don’t like to admit any of us even have temptations. We don’t like to admit we have problems. We look around and it seems like everybody has their act together, so we hide behind our masks, too. Listen to this little part of his message from last week that I downloaded from their website.

It’s hard to be vulnerable.

It’s hard to admit. It’s hard to be real. But we are hurting ourselves, hurting our identity. We are missing the healing love of God with our inability to admit when we are wrong, to be honest, to be real and vulnerable.

In the book “The Cure” that I read from a few weeks ago, the authors talk about masks.

“No one told me that when I wear a mask, only my mask receives love.” 

“We can gain admiration and respect from behind a mask. We can even intimidate. But as long as we’re behind a mask, any mask, we will not be able to receive love. Then, in our desperation to be loved, we’ll rush to fashion more masks, hoping the next will give us what we’re longing for: To be known, accepted, trusted and loved.”

Let that sink in.

Our masks, our pretending, our comparing, our denial, our inability to admit our junk-it’s killing everybody. It’s killing ourselves, because when we put on the good front and people like us because of the pretending we are doing, we know that’s not the real us. We whisper to ourselves, even at the moments when people most show us love, “Well, they wouldn’t love me if they REALLY knew what I was like.”

The masks and the inability to be real and vulnerable hurt others as well. It feeds the whispers and lies that say we must be missing something that everybody else is getting, because we know we aren’t as put together as the masks around us appear.

It’s all killing our identity! It’s all missing the path of hope that God sets before us.

When I was looking for the Fonzie video clip, I found a hidden gem.

I found an interview with the actor who played the Fonz, Henry Winkler. In the clip I showed earlier, within the show, we saw the power of admitting he was wrong and admitting he would miss Ralph. This interview takes it a step deeper.

The character of the Fonz, the show itself, was in itself a huge mask. Henry Winkler is nothing like the character of the Fonz. And in this interview, he is willing to be real and vulnerable about his own struggles. To me, this vulnerability is so compelling! It’s a great example of the healing and power that come from honesty.

Henry Winkler, this actor, is willing to take off the mask and be real.

The guy who was the Fonz, an idol for a generation of people, now stands in front of a camera and talks about his daily struggles with dyslexia and how the motorcycle riding in the show was just fake.

When Jesus told that story about the Pharisee and the tax collector, the Pharisees were like the Fonz. They were the image of all that was right. Jesus steps up boldly to say, nope. That’s not the way.

It’s not putting others down to make yourself feel better that heals. It’s not listing the good things you do and hoping they add up to enough. Rather than saving you, those are the identity killers.

The way to healing is much more scary. You face the yuck. You get swallowed and overwhelmed by how you’ve missed the mark. And in that very place of being real and broken, you call out to the one whose love for you is unending, that cannot be broken or lessened by anything you do. You stand with the tax collector and say, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

And God does!!

Remember what Paul said to the Colossians.

He laid the foundation as a fact: you and I are chosen by God. We are holy and dearly loved. We are to put on actions that are in line with God’s character, not in order to be loved, but BECAUSE we are loved! This is our identity.

May we put aside the lies we are told and that we tell ourselves, those identity killers that tell us we don’t measure up and aren’t worthy.

May we accept the truth that God loves us deeply with a love that isn’t dependent on our actions or our performance.

May we risk being real and vulnerable with each other, casting aside comparison and blame.

And may we stop avoiding and denying the wrong we do, but rather admit it to God, and ask for mercy, love and forgiveness. Jesus promised we will receive it!

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