Oct 22 - Who Am I?

Who Am I?

October 22, 2017

Proverbs

 

WHO AM I?

October 22, 2017

Proverbs

 

One of the questions that probably all people asks themselves at some time during their life is with regard to their own identity – “who exactly am I?”  That’s especially true when we are in our teens, but it can happen at various periods in our lives.  Some people end up ditching all their responsibilities and morals in an effort to find themselves.

 

When we do ask ourselves that question, “who am I?”, the hope is that IF we can figure out who we are, then maybe we will have an easier time to figure out life itself and how we fit into it.   The hope is that when we will feel comfortable in our skin, then we might know what we should study, who we should date or marry, what career we should pursue, or what we are capable of. 

 

For some people, the question about identity is answered by the image that they project to others.  They believe that their clothes, looks, cars, possessions, who they associate with, the number of friends they have on face book, how popular they are, reflects who they are.  So much of their identity is wrapped up with their body, how they look, with what they wear, what they drive, who they are seen with, and what they possess or are able to purchase. 

 

We may appear to be cool, successful, and nice.  But people who put such a high stock on image realize instinctively that it's really just a facade.  Maybe it's an attractive facade, but it isn't who they really are. 

 

Deep down there’s this realization that image and substance are NOT the same.  External image does NOT equal internal reality.  But regardless of this fact, many people still attempt to feel good about themselves by being the kind of person who is popular or who impresses others. 

 

The Bible tells us that while people judge by externals, while people look on the outside, God looks at the heart – he knows what is really going on inside (1 Sam 16:7; cf. 2 Cor 5:12).  We are told, what’s inside is what really matters to God, and it should really matter to us as well.  If we are all wrapped up with projecting a certain image, we really haven't discovered yet who we truly are.

 

There are some people who tend to avoid the subject about identity, about who they are, because they already have made up their mind that whoever they are, they aren’t good. 

 

Maybe they were told as kids that they’re stupid or ugly or fat or not worthy of love.  Maybe they were told they can never measure up, never be good enough.  And when they grow up, they will tend to repeat those very same messages to themselves. 

 

In essence, they are allowing those negative messages to define who they are, even though it's a lie, that isn't their true identity. 

 

This woman pays a visit to her psychiatrist.  She’s attractive but says, “Here’s the thing doctor.  I think everyone in the world is staring at me because I’m a big fat ugly pig.”  The psychiatrist says to her, “I can tell you right now, quite objectively, that this isn’t true.  You’re smart and attractive.  If anything, you look a bit thin and tired.  You might want to think about the root cause of your feelings.”  The woman breaks down in gentle sobs, nodding in agreement.  She wipes her eyes, blows her nose and says, “You’re right, you’re right ... I pack on the weight because I feel so bad about needing a nose job.

 

Some people believe they’re too tall or too short,

too ugly, too dumb, too young, bad at sport.

Their ears are too big, their hair's too stringy,

their belly's too fat, or their arms are too skinny. 

They simply know they can’t do much that's right,

It is hopeless to conquer a bad habit, why fight?

They are haunted by all the mistakes of the past.

In this race called life, they think they’re dead-last.

 

A person who is filled with these kind of negative messages, would rather be someone else - someone who looks better, is smarter, is stronger, is more athletic, richer, more successful, more glamorous, more popular, someone without hang-ups, bad habits or a sordid past. 

 

Stupidest song by Meghan Trainer:  If I was you, I’d wanna be me too ....  (she also wrote “it’s all about that bass.”)

 

When people allow their short-comings, perceived or real, to defines them, they too have not yet discovered who they truly are. 

 

When some of us reach middle age, and we realize that half or more than half of our life is over, that we’re about to move into what, in our teens, we used to consider old age, there is often an identity crises. 

Our bodies are beginning to show the inevitable signs of aging, our parents are in poor health or dying, and our children are leaving home, and no matter how successful we appear to be, we still think life is passing us by and we haven’t accomplished the stuff we thought we would when we were young. 

For some people, this is a really tough time of life.

 

If we don’t have a strong sense of self or don’t like who we’ve become or what we’ve accomplished with our lives up to that point, it causes us to enter this period of dramatic self-doubt commonly called a mid-life crisis. 

 

A midlife crisis often causes a person to try to redefine themselves, sometimes by making some significant changes.  They may make a career change.  They may try to find a more supportive or attractive or younger partner.  They may make major purchases like a sports-cars.  They may try to rejuvenate their physical appearance with hair implants, botox injections, face lifts or tummy tucks.  They may drop all responsibilities, leave their families, their jobs, and go somewhere to find themselves.  They go out to “find themselves”, because they don’t like themselves as they are, and in the process often irreparably hurt those who love them.

 

Ultimately, our identity, who we are, is not something that is external to us, something we can purchase or wear.  It’s not even our physical appearance.  It isn’t our ethnic or socio-economic background, our family of origin, our upbringing, our education or lack thereof, our career, even though all those things affect us and are part of us.  But when it comes right down to it, who we are is actually defined by our true inner beliefs, convictions and thoughts.  My identity is found in what goes on in my mind.

 

My identity is found (or based) on what goes on in my mind:

 

Am I who I think I am?

Am I who I think others think I am?

Am I what I think about?

 

[So Paul warns Timothy of individuals in the church whose mind is corrupt (1 Tim 6:5)[1].  In Romans, Paul notes that a mind that is set on the desires of the flesh will result in a life that is in rebellion against God (Rom 8:5,7), whereas the mind that is set on following the voice of God's Spirit will result in someone seeking to live in harmony with God and others.  By the way, in Hebrew thought, the heart is considered to be the seat of emotion as well as the seat of reason, belief, decision and will.  Because of that, we will find expressions in the Bible such as “the thoughts of the heart” (Gen 6:5; Luke 2:35; Heb 4:12) or “the plotting of the heart” (Prov 24:2), or “the plans of the heart” (Ps 33:11; Jer 23:20; 30:24).]

 

In part, my identity, who I am, the core of my being, is revealed by what I say, what comes out of my mouth, either on a regular basis, but also in unguarded moments, moments of stress, because it sometimes exposes what’s going on in my mind.

 

Jesus said that,

 

Out of the overflow of the heart (mind) the mouth speaks. 

Matthew 12:34

 

Being foulmouthed on a regular basis shows something about who we are. 

 

I don’t know if you remember a man named Abu Hamza (formerly Mustafa Kamel Mustafa), the former cleric of the Finsbury Park mosque who preached ongoing hate-filled sermons that called for acts of terror against the western world. 

 

If a kafir (non-muslim) goes in a muslim country, he is like a cow.  Anybody can take him.  That is Islamic law. ... You can sell him in the market.  ... Even if they don’t do anything ... just kill them.  ... That’s in the Muslim books.

 

Thankfully Mr. Hamza is in prison without any chance at parole and so no longer able to spew his hate and venom.[2]

 

Because of the realization that what we say in some way reflects who we are, Paul writes to the Ephesian believers that individuals who are God’s holy people should demonstrate that reality by refusing to say anything, including jokes, that are filthy, foolish, or crude (Ephesians 5:3b-4). 

 

My true identity, who I am, my heart, also reveals itself, in part, by my actions, by what I do on a regular basis.

 

Jesus said,

 

By their fruit you will know them. ... Are figs gathered from thorn-bushes?                                        Matthew 7:16

 

Thistles produce thistles.  Fig trees produce figs.  What Jesus meant is that bad people generally do bad things and good people generally do good things (Matt 7:16-20).  Whatever actions are characteristic of us exposes our true identity, who we truly are, and what we truly believe. 

 

The Bible is full of verses that point out this truth.  For example, in the OT, the author of Proverbs points out that ...

 

Even a child is known by his actions.         Proverbs 20:11

 

Or the author of the book of James, notes,

 

I will show you my faith by my actions.     James 2:18b

 

This last verse was written in the context of practical deeds of compassion.  Doing acts of kindness demonstrates what the person believes, in other words, they prove that his faith is genuine.

 

Based on the fact that our identities are tied to our beliefs and thoughts, Paul writes to the believers in Rome that the only way we can experience transformation, the only time when we can change, is when our minds are renewed, when our thinking, our attitudes, our beliefs, our hearts are changed (Rom 12:2). 

 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of you mind, ...                            Romans 12:2

 

Let me give you just one example of how that works.  God gave each one of us a conscience, he gave most of us a Bible or the ability to get one, and, if we are believers, He gave us the Holy Spirit – all of which he wants us to use to discover who we can be in relationship to God, to others and to ourselves. 

 

So we read in the Bible that God loves us, that he is seeking to connect with us, and that he has provided a means through Jesus Christ, whereby we can connect with Him and become, not only a part of His creation, but a part of His family. 

 

If that is something that we genuinely believe, that we internalize, so that it becomes part of our world view, the way that we think about and look at life, then it will cannot but affect every area of our lives:

 

  • the way that we speak,

  • the way that we act,

  • the way that we react,

  • the way we spend money,

  • the goals we set for ourselves,

  • how we cope with difficulties.

 

Literally every area of our life will be changed, transformed.

 

[In that process, our conscience plays an important part, the Spirit of God will play an important part, and the Scriptures can play an important part because in combination they will speak to us and, if we listen and are truly convicted, changes the way we think about something (changes our world view).

 

This is why we read in Hebrews 4 that God’s Word can penetrate our very being and expose, affect and even judge the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts (4:12), the very thing that defines who we are.[3]  

 

It is why we read in 2 Timothy 3 that the Scriptures, if we

 

  • know them,

  • properly interpret them (cf. John 5:39), and

  • heed them ...

 

they will, among other things, make us wise, lead to our salvation, and will help us to be equipped for every good work (3:15-16).[4]

 

The end goal, as Paul tells the Corinthians, is that we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16),[5] in other words, that we get to the place where our attitudes and thinking and beliefs reflect Jesus’ mindset.  When that happens then our lives will reflect this.

 

If you have been following everything that I have said up to this point, I hope that you will have recognized that God has given you the ability, not only to discover who you are in relationship to Him – a child of God who is loved by Him – but He has also given you the ability to define who you are, or, in some cases, the ability to redefine who you are.  But that can only happen if you allow your thinking, your attitudes, your core beliefs, your mind and heart, to be renewed. 

 

At this point, I could go to any passage in the Bible and find principles that, if internalized, would give me the ability to define myself better or, perhaps, even to redefine myself.  For today, I want us to look to the book of Proverbs because it speaks into our lives in practical ways. 

 

Just to give you a bit of background, Proverbs are sayings that are to guide a person into living a wise life, which begins with ? .... the fear of or reverence for God.  A single Proverb is a saying that generally holds true.  There may be some exceptions to the rule.  (Ecclesiastes challenges the idea prominent in Proverbs that good people will have a great life and bad people will have a terrible life).

 

Proverbs are sayings that speak of consequences.  Virtuous actions, words and attitudes will have good results.  Bad actions, words and attitudes will have bad results.

 

For example, there are many proverbs that speak of what happens if you never discipline your children: 

 

Correction imparts wisdom but a child left to himself will end up disgracing his mother.                            Proverbs 29:15

 

Many other proverbs speak of what happens when a person is lazy:

 

A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing.                                     Proverbs 20:4   

 

A slack hand causes poverty.                      Proverbs 10:4   

 

Someone who only talks and doesn’t work will be poor.”  

Proverbs 14:23  

 

An idle person will suffer hunger.               Proverbs 19:15

 

We have to understand that these proverbs were written at a time when there is no social safety net.  It generally does not hold true in our society, although there are many kids who go to school hungry.

 

Proverbs are virtually useless if we read them, say to ourselves, “yup, that's a nice sentiment,” or, “that is true,” but deep down we think that we are the exception to the rule.  My kids will turn out wonderful even if I spoil them rotten.  I will win the lottery or I will inherit a bunch of money, so I don't have to be wise with my finances.

 

If we don’t bind the truth and wisdom contained in a proverb on our heart (mind), as Proverbs 3:3[6] tells us we should, then we shouldn't be surprised if there is no transformation of life-change.  Our actions, words and attitudes will not change. 

 

So let me quickly share with you just a few proverbs that spoke to me this week.

 

He who follows useless pursuits lacks sense.                                                                                                        Proverbs 12:11

 

As I read this particular proverb, what caught my attention was the whole idea of “useless pursuits.”   But immediately I ran into a problem.  What exactly constitutes a useless pursuit?  Watching sports?  Playing video games?  Spending time on facebook?  Reading a novel?  Doing Sudoku?  Writing a sermon?

 

So I thought of it in a different way.  I asked myself, “what are the things that I really want to do, but I never seem to get around to”? 

 

And there were a number of things that came to mind.  This is my list, yours likely is different. 

 

In theory, I want to finish writing the book I've started – it is something I tell myself is really important. 

 

I think I want to finish some projects that need to be done around the house.

 

I want to be more consistent when it comes to exercising.

 

I want to have more time to visit with people.

 

You get the idea.  Now, instead of trying to “find the time” to do these things, which I always struggle with, I simply had to start doing them – and as a result, almost automatically I wouldn't do the less important things.  To borrow the Nike slogan, “just do it.”

 

So whether that means getting to the pool or writing or driving the motorcycle, or getting a reno project finished, I needed to do them in the time slots that I usually reserved just for down time. 

 

So here's the first principle I want to internalize, to write on the tablets of my heart. 

 

  1. If I Want To Stop Useless Pursuits, I Need To (stop talking about things that are important to me and) Just Start Doing them

 

Here are another few verses that spoke to me. 

 

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his way crooked will be found out.  Proverbs 10:9

 

The integrity of the upright guides them.  Proverbs 11:3

 

[What jumped out at me from those verses was that word “integrity.”  Integrity speaks of being consistent, honest, trustworthy and possessing a high moral character.

 

In the past, people would be able to seal a business deal with a handshake because it was taken for granted that a person's word was his or her bond – integrity was assumed.  Nowadays, you would be considered a fool if you entered into an agreement because values have changed. 

 

One of the things that I thought of, was the need to actually speak the truth.  Someone can say, “I phoned my mom,” even though he realized immediately after the words leave his mouth that it was actually his mom who had phoned him. 

 

A second principle that I want to internalize, to write on my heart.

 

2. If I Want To Be A Person Of Integrity, I Need To Correct Myself Immediately Whenever I Say Something That Isn’t 100 % True

 

As I continued reading through proverbs there were a huge number of verses that kept repeating virtually the same theme – something happens when I give to the poor or when I show kindness to someone in need.

 

The man who is kind benefits himself but a cruel man hurts himself.                                                   Proverbs 11:17

 

Blessed is he who is generous to the poor.           

Proverbs 14:21[7]

 

He who is generous to the poor honours his Maker. 

Proverbs 14:31[8]

 

Whoever pursues … kindness will find life …                                                                                                         Proverbs 21:21

 

What spoke to me wasn’t just the case that if I demonstrated kindness and gave generously to the poor I would benefit, be blessed, honour God, and find life, but it raised the whole question about what it means to be “generous to the poor,” a question I dealt with in part last week. 

 

So who exactly are the poor?

 

SLIDE 22 - And who exactly are the poor? 

 

As I thought a bit more about this particular issue, I realized that “the poor” are, first of all,

 

They do not have a social net to take care of their most basic needs.   Those are the ones, of whom Proverbs 3:27 says:

 

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.                                Proverbs 3:27

 

I also realized that “the poor” are also those who are struggling emotionally – particularly those who are desperately lonely or deeply distraught.  As Mother Teresa once said, the greatest poverty is being unwanted, unloved and uncared.

 

Whatever “Being generous,” entails specifically, I figured out, that it means that the help I provide will cost me something – personally. 

 

It can cost me financially.  It may mean that I will not be able to go out for a meal this week, or that I won’t be able to purchase something I want, or I won’t be able to take that trip I was planning on.  Giving generously simply implies that I will do without in order to give to someone in need. 

 

Being generous may mean that I will have to give of the most precious of all of my commodities, and that is my time

 

In fact, I think it is harder to be generous when it comes to our time, then when it comes to our money.  I find that the cost is much higher when I give of my time, because it has such drastic consequences.

 

If I spend time on community volunteering, it usually means that I have to work evenings or that I won’t have the time to do some of the things I’d really like to get done.

 

Generally speaking, I pay a much higher price when I’m generous with my time than when I’m generous with my money. 

 

Nevertheless, I’m called to do both.  And that is a constant struggle, because being generous means it will cost me – financially or with my time. 

 

I thought I would throw this in just as a reminder of what I spoke of last week:

 

So here is a third principle that I want to internalize and actually live out.

 

3. If I want to be generous, I need to deny myself something once a week and use the time or money gained to help someone in genuine need

 

To borrow another slogan – no pain, no gain. 

 

And then, because I can be impatient at times, I noticed a whole bunch of proverbs that spoke about the problems with having a thin skin.

 

One given to anger causes much transgression.  One's pride will bring him low.                                          Proverbs 29:22-23

 

When a fool is annoyed, it is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.                                            Proverbs 12:16

 

He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.                  Proverbs 14:29

 

He who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. 

Proverbs 17:27

 

It isn’t that I’m struggling so much in this area as much as I have in the past, but it just reinforced the need to be so secure in who I am, that I can have a thick skin and don’t have to react to any slight, real or imagined, - and so I do not have to use anger as a way of getting my own way or manipulating others.

 

I have personally found that the times when my skin is at its thickest is when I am close to God, when I am filled with gratitude, and when I find my self-worth in His love rather than in what others do or say. 

 

So here’s another principle that I hope is becoming more and more real in my life.

 

4.  If I want to be slow to anger I need to constantly remind myself of my worth to God and draw close to Him with thanksgiving

 

Concluding Remarks

 

There may be verses in proverbs quite different from any of those I mentioned.  Maybe your issue has more to do with thinking that you are smarter than other people.  Proverbs has a lot to say about this.

 

How long will the scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge.                                               Proverbs 1:22

 

A scoffer does not listen to rebuke.            Proverbs 13:1

 

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?  There is more hope for a fool than for him.                      Proverbs 26:12

 

A scoffer is someone who treats other people with distain and contempt.  He ridicules others, makes fun of them – in the belief that he himself is always right and always knows best.  

 

That is what he has in common with the person who is wise in his own eyes.  People who are scoffers and who are wise in their own eyes will never find real wisdom because they’re too busy thinking they are always right and others wrong.   

 

The scoffer cannot take correction and is too arrogant to actually learn from others.

 

Application?

 

If I asked those closest to you about the kind of person you are, what characteristics do you think they would say defines you as a person?

 

My hope is that if not now, those closest to me will be able to say that I am someone who is focused on the important things in life, who is a person of integrity, who is generous, and patient.  Maybe I’m not all the way there yet, but that is who God is challenging me to be. 

 

For you and I to become all that God would want us to be, we will have to have a strong sense of self-worth.  Without it, we will never get to the point where we can be content within ourselves while being honest about our strengths AND our weaknesses, our good AND our bad points, our virtues AND our faults. 

 

Only then will we come to the point where we don’t have to pretend to be perfect or always right. 

 

We don’t have to posture or try to appear “cool.”  We don’t have to be controlling or hyper-sensitive or judgmental.  We can admit faults, confess them, ask for forgiveness … and then move on and try to do better.  We fall neither in the trap of pride nor in the trap of self-hatred.

 

Only when we have a strong sense of our identity will we take every opportunity to improve ourselves and not constantly beat ourselves up about our mistakes.  We will realize that, with God’s help, we can become better, kinder, more joyful people.  We can experience change and renewal.  We will have the power to define or redefine ourselves.

 

AM I THE PERSON WHO I WANT TO BE?

IF NOT, HOW WILL I REDEFINE WHO I AM?

 

 

[1] Those with a corrupt mind think that they can use religion to get rich.

[2] 2015 sentenced in the US and imprisoned in a super secure prison in Colorado (ADX Florence) along with terrorists, spies, cartel leaders, cult leaders, serial killers and organized crime figures, almost all of which are serving multiple life sentences.

[3] The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

[4] From childhood you have been acquainted with the holy writings that are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. ...

[5] Who has understood the mind of the Lord?  But we have the mind of Christ.

[6] Let not steadfast love (hesed) and faithfulness forsake you.  Bind them around your neck and write them on the tablet of your heart.

[7] Similar in Prov 22:9.  Prov. 11:25 - Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.

[8] Whoever is generous to the poor lends to YHWH.  Prov 19:17