Great, good morning everybody. Happy New Year. Come on, Happy New Year, you’re awake, right? I hope you had a meaningful, restful, Christmas, great start to the new year. It’s just great to have you back. It really is. I want to also extend a special welcome to our new students, transfers who are just coming in, or if you are just starting this semester, would you stand up so we can recognize you? Where are you, come on? Up, Up, don’t be shy. We want you to feel welcome, any way we can bless you, let us know. But, we’re so glad you’re here. And World Changers, it is great to have you here with your family, your moral support, whoever you brought with you. We’re excited that you’re here. Can you stand and can we just recognize you, all World Changers.
Yeah. So, keep standing. Because I want to pray for you, because you may be a little nervous, and I just want to say, “chill.” You’re here, you have already accomplished so much. We’re so impressed with who you are, the things you’ve achieved, and just lean into who you are, who God made you today. Enjoy it and ask God to give you the confidence and the strength that you need. So Father, thank you for these students and families who are with us. Would you bless them, keep them, make Your face shine upon them. Be gracious to them today. Help them to enjoy this, to do their best. Just guide us through the whole process. Thank you for everybody who has supported them. So we pray all this in Jesus’ name, Amen. Thank you, you may be seated.
I was watching my Twitter account on January 1st, New Years Day, and I saw this tweet. I was intrigued by it. It said, “If you ask me, my new year resolution, it is to find out who I am.” I thought, that’s kind of strange. New years resolutions are about what am I going to do, what are my goals, where am I going, and all that. But, as I thought about it, I was actually quite gratified because I’ll often tell people, “Before you get to the ‘What am I going to do’ question, it’s always really helpful to get to the ‘Who am I?’ And ‘Why am I here? Question.”
You start there, you’ll have a lot more clarity as far as what you’re going to do, what your goals will be. So, I want to focus this morning on the whole question of the “Who am I?” Question. It’s one of the six basic questions of any world view, of any philosophy. It’s one of the six questions people all over the world, no matter who they are, ask. Those questions would be “Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? Does life have any meaning? What’s wrong with the world? Can anybody fix it? Is there any hope?”
So, think with me for a few minutes, just about the whole question, I call it the identity question, the “Who am I? How do I define myself?” And I think it’s relevant for our students because you’re in this time of life where you’re asking the question about “Who am I? How am I gifted? What’s going to happen to my life? What direction will I go in? But, who have you made me to be?” And I think it’s a really important question.
And as we ask that question, there are lots of voices out there speaking into our lives, that kind of cause some dissonance about it. I want us to think about those. For example, the question “Who am I?” I think of the first dominant voice today in our culture, it’s the air that we breathe, it’s on the university campuses.
It’s the voice of contemporary nihilism. Do you know the world nihilism? Nihilism means nothing. It means there’s nothing. I believe in nothing, there’s nothing, I came from nothing, I’m returning to nothing. I have no ultimate significance. Nothing matters. That’s nihilism. It’s a very powerful voice in the modern university. It’s a dominant philosophy that has just influenced so many people. Basically, you’re nothing. Who are you? You’re a grown up germ. You’re the result of accidental, random, cosmic accidents. You’re a tiny speck on a floating rock, hurtling through space. You’re a microscopic blip in the cosmos. You’re dust in the wind. It comes in all kinds of little, cute phrases. But, the bottom line is, there’s nothing about you that’s significant.
Many people believe that. You are nothing. Who are you? You are nothing. From that, they actually go on and they’ll say things like, “and therefore, why care for others? Why be moral? Why value a human being over a stone? Why prefer life over death?” It’s a view that really believes, ultimately, no lives matter.
So, that’s a view that’s out there. It’s the air we breathe, and while we’re breathing it, everybody who hears about this nihilistic answer, they have something inside of them saying, “But I am somebody. I’m significant.” So that’s one voice that’s out there.
Another voice that’s out there is the voice of identity politics. Wow, that’s huge in our time, isn’t it? In the last 10 years, many people have been saying “The most important thing about you is whether you’re black or white. Or Asian or Hispanic. Or whether you’re this gender or whatever gender. Or straight or gay. Or white nationalist, or Black Lives Matter. Or Republican or Democrat.” The list goes on.
Identity politics is really dominant in our time. What it does, is it tries to ultimately define us by a group that we’re part of. To sum us up, to reduce us to that group, and so that becomes the lens through which we see the world. Anybody who doesn’t really go along, we want to shame them, because it’s that sliver of identity that’s really, really important. Who am I?
And then, there’s the answer that comes in our own heads. So the third voice that’s out there, I think is the answer inside of us. Where we wrestle with this question at key moments in life. Who am I? Do you ever have voices in your head? Yeah, we all do, don’t we? We have these voices and they’ll say, “You’re this, or you’re that.” And there are three seasons in life. I’ve noticed this as a pastor, where these voices get really loud. So one season where we ask this question is adolescence. Everything’s changing when we’re going through adolescence. The teenage years. Our bodies are changing, our appearance is changing. Our voice is changing. Our hormones are popping. Lots of things are happening, and we want to be accepted, we don’t know who we are, and we’re asking. Right? We’re asking the question, “Who am I?” We all do that.
It also happens, by the way, in middle age. Some of you parents, you know this. Where we ask that question, we’re stuck in a job. We may not be what we dreamed we would be. We’re tied down with the responsibilities of kids. Our body is changing, our hair is thinning, we have wrinkles showing up everywhere. After three kids, our figure is going, our body is reapportioning itself. I’m talking about the guys, not the girls at this point. So, this happens and you begin to … you’ll know this, someday you’ll say, “He was right.” Where you start to “Well then, who am I?”
And, by the way, it also happens in your later senior years, as I observe seniors at church or just in my life, where they no longer are defined by their career or their position. Their titles are gone, their kids are out of the house, long gone. Maybe they’ve lost a spouse, they’re losing their health, and they ask themselves yet again, “Who am I?” The good news is that, thankfully, in the midst of all this, God has given us an answer to the identity question in His word. I want to just take a few minutes to look at how He answers that question for us. I try to sum it up by saying that this is His answer to us when we’re asking, “Who are we?”
He responds, “You are a created human being and a child of God. You, yes you, are created by God and redeemed by Christ. You are twice mine!” That is who you are, that is your primary identity. That is the most basic thing about you. That is the bottom line. That is who you are. That is how I see you. I hope you get this. This is so important, right now, to settle this. Not at the beginning of the new year only, but at this critical period in our lives. God’s answer, from His word, about who we really are.
So, there are two parts to his answer. I’d like to look at each real briefly and a passage of scripture that will help us. So, the first thing he says to us, “You’re asking who you are? Why, first of all, you are a created human being. You’re created by me. In my image.” And there’s no better passage than Genesis Chapter 1, verse 26 and 27. You go to Genesis and you read. We’re getting a little bit of static, I always expect that.
Sixth day of creation, right, God has created all these other things. Now, He creates human beings and he says, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness. Let them rule over the fish and the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth. Over all the creatures that move along the ground. So, God created man in his image. In the image of God, He created Him, male and female, he created them.”
This is a really important passage, one we’ve heard before. Maybe we skip over it, we’re so familiar with it. But, basically, God is telling us … Are we switching? Okay. This happens. Have to do this little … I’ll trade you this for this and if this doesn’t work, we go Nineteenth Century and we just speak like they used to when there were no sound systems.
It’s amazing actually when you read about people like Spurgeon and Moody, who would speak, and there would be thousands of people. There was no PA system, and that’s just the way people learned to listen in those days.
Can you hear a little bit better? Is that good? Okay. Did you miss everything I’ve said up to this point? Because if you did, I’m going home. Thankfully you didn’t.
This passage, this creation text, this first text is so important. You’re created by God. “You’re not an accident.” God is saying, “You’re not mere dust.” Each person is of immense worth and dignity. Your dignity is not intrinsic, it’s derived. It’s extrinsic. It comes from a God who is ultimate dignity. The God who is holy, the God who is majestic. The God of glory, and he’s the one who gave you this dignity, but he did give to you, to every one of you. And everybody you walk around.
Remember, C.S. Lewis said, “The person next to you is as precious as the most blessed sacrament itself. That’s how God sees you. And Genesis 1 clears up a lot of confusion, if we come back to it, about gender, sex and speciesism, and all the rest. God speaks clarity, and then this truth echoes through the scripture. So, for example, you get to Psalm 8 and the psalmist says, “God, You’re majestic. How majestic is Your name in all the earth, but what is man that You’re even mindful of him? Yet, You have made him a little lower than the angels. And You’ve crowned him with honor and glory. And You’ve made him a ruler over the works of Your hands. That’s who you are.”
Or Psalm 139, where God says, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made.” You were created by God. Let that sink in. He sees you as his special creation, made in His image. Precious to Him. But then, he gives us a second answer.
The second answer he gives us is an answer that involves this wonderful word, Redemption. You are redeemed by Christ. That’s who you are. You are redeemed. That means you’re purchased, you’re specially purchased and bought out. A price was paid for you, to buy you out of your slavery. I think one of the great redemption texts in the bible is Ephesians, Chapter one. There are many, but I think this is one of my favorites. Ephesians is a little letter that Paul wrote to a church. It was probably a circular letter that traveled from one church to another, and they would insert their own church name into the first verse. Paul wrote it to bring confidence to young believers. In the first chapter of Ephesians, he begins by saying, “You are a saint. You stand in the grace and peace of God. But you are-” and then he uses this word, “blessed. Blessed be the God and Father of our lord, Jesus Chris, who has blessed us and the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” That’s how it starts out.
Then we have this long, mammoth, Greek sentence that doesn’t come through in the English, but the whole first half of the chapter is one breathless sentence in Greek. Where he’s pouring out praise to say, “Do you realize how special you are?” And he says, “You are special because of the triune God, special to the Father, special to the Son. Special to the Holy Spirit.” And you can see the whole trinity in this first passage. He starts with creation. But he goes, “Before creation, you are chosen by the Father. In Christ. You are redeemed by the Son in Christ.” Verse seven, “In him, Christ, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins in accordance with the riches of God’s grace, that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”
On top of that, why you are sealed with the Holy Spirit. You are immensely blessed. But, let’s just park on this idea of redemption. You’ve been bought out. Of slavery, by God through Christ in His shed blood on the cross. And scripture, and Paul especially, keeps going on this theme, you’re bought with a price.
The Book of Revelations says, “The lamb is worthy because he’s redeemed. People buy the blood of Jesus from every tribe, nation and tongue, his marvelous vision. You are redeemed, I bought you. You’re mine by creation. You’re mine by redemption. You are twice mine.” I remember years ago, hearing this story about a little boy who made a sailboat, wooden sailboat with the sail, but it was really nice. It was his pride and joy. He put it on a lake and he’d sail it, and somehow he lost it and could not find it.
One day, he was walking through the town and he looked in the window of a pawn shop, and there’s his sailboat. He’s distraught, saying, “Well, that’s mine.” But, the owner said, “Sorry, it’s ours and it won’t be yours unless you buy it.” So, he had to take time, and he saved up money and then finally came to the shop one day, he bought the boat. He brought it home and he looked at it and he said to his boat, “You are twice mine, I made you and I bought you again.” And that’s a great little picture of what happens, and how God sees us. You’re mine by creation, I made you specially, uniquely. You’re mine by redemption. You’re twice mine. I find that these two identity texts, they form for me, a spiritual identity card, that I have to keep coming back to to get my bearings when I’m tempted to doubt who I am.
I’ve been a pastor. The last 12 years I was a pastor in a Presbyterian church. So in the reform tradition. One of the treasures in the reform tradition is the Heidelberg Catechism. The Heidelberg Catechism is a teaching tool that has been used. It came out of Holland and it’s just filled with lots of rich stuff. A catechism is question and answer to teach young Christians. But the first question and answer have always been the highlight of the Heidelberg Catechism. A spiritual nugget, a spiritual treasure. It speaks about redemption. The question is, what is your only comfort in life and death?
Now, this was written in 1563. The answer is, “that I’m not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and death, to my faithful savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the Devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven. In fact, all things must work together for my salvation, because I belong to Him. Christ, by His holy spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on, to live for Him.” But here in this little question and answer, this language of redemption, I am not my own, but I belong to Him. Body, creation and soul. To my faithful savior, Jesus Christ.
So, God speaks above all the other voices that are out there, trying to tell you, be this or be that. This is who you really are. This is your primary identity. You are a created human being, a child of God, created by God, redeemed by Christ. You are twice mine.
Now, I’ve got to end by saying, “Okay, so what.” I like to get to the so what question any time I read the bible. I want to know what God says, but I also want to know why it’s important. I think there are two reasons why this business of our identity is so important, and God’s answer is so important. First reason is, I think it helps me with me. It helps you with you. It helps us to look on ourselves a little more sanely.
The second benefit is it helps us look on others with a little more sanity. First of all, it helps me with me, it helps you with you. Because it’s so easy to let our identity be shaped by other things. You say, “What?” Well, if you’re an athlete … do we have any athletes in the house? Hands up, come on? Say, “I’m here.” We’re proud of you, by the way. We really are. And you have such a privilege as an athlete. You can go farther in competitive athletics than everybody else. We didn’t make the cut. I got cut from basketball in junior high. I wanted to play in high school, I didn’t even get to high school. You’re doing college. It’s incredible.
Probably, you’re not going to go on to become a professional, maybe some of you will be. But, you’re sort of at the pinnacle of your career. But then, it ends so early, and then what? Who are you?
Or, you’re a volleyball player, and you break an ankle. Or, you’re a golfer, and you have a health incident. Or, you’re LeBron and you pull a groin muscle, as happened to him this week. It happens to all of them. Then what? What will define you? Athletics is not enough.
What about academics? I love academics. I am an academic. I was a teacher, seminary professor, church historian, loved to read. Loved to teach, wish I could teach a class. They got me so busy, it’s hard to do that. But, I’m still trying to get there. What happens if you don’t get the grade? What happens if you don’t reach the standard of perfection that you, or somebody else, set for you? What happens if you don’t get the scholarship?
You still have an anchor. That anchor is, you are precious to Him. You are created by Him, a child of God, created and redeemed, that’s primarily who you are.
What about our artists? Any artists in the house? Musicians? Saw a student doing sketches of botany the other day. Beautiful sketches of flowers and bushes and things, just amazed at his abilities. What happens when you lose your steady hand? What happens when you lose your voice? Or, you’re hearing starts to go and you can’t hear the high notes? Playing with a chamber group isn’t as possible as it used to be, then what? Who are you?
Thankfully, there’s this anchor that you have. What happens when your body starts to change? And the flower of youth fades. By the way, it does. Look at me. Right? The other day, I was showing somebody a picture of me when I was a young pastor. He looked at the picture, and he looked at me, and he said, “Wow!” What he didn’t say, this is what he was thinking, “What happened?” And I wanted to say, “This gray side is for my first church, this gray hair is for my second church, the rest is from my four children, and that’s what happened.” But, what are we leaning on? It’s going to fade.
Females, we get obsessed with body image. There are real questions and struggles. But, there’s something more important than even your appearance, as important as that is. And that’s you are loved. And you’re created, and you’re redeemed, and you’re twice His. Lean into that.
What happens when you lose your job? And somebody just says, “You’re fired.” Or “Sorry, we can’t afford to have you anymore?” Do you have anything to stand on? When you are locked into your true identity in the Lord, you have everything to stand on. You have everything to stand on.
By the way, this also helps us in the way that we look at others. The way I look at you. The way you look at me. It helps us in the way we look at our roommates. By now, for most of us who have been here for one semester at least, the glitz, the gloss, the thrill of your roommate, is starting to fade. Right? Starting to fade just a little bit. You realize who you got as a roommate. But, you have to get beyond the challenges that you have and realize they’re created in the image of God, redeemed by Christ, they’re twice His. You have to respect them and love them for that.
What happens with us and non-believers? So often, it’s easy to say, “Well, do I have anything in common with non-believers? When I go out into the workplace and I’m a graduate of Colorado Christian University, and I’ve been in a Christian bubble, quote. How can I relate?” We all wrestle with that. Of course, if you realize that you’re both human beings, created in the image of God. You have a lot in common.
Church historian Martin Marty, great church historian from the University of Chicago, Lutheran historian, was once asked by a student, “How do you define yourself?” And Martin Marty replied, “Well, I’m first and foremost a human being. And I find that being a Christian is the best way to be a human being. And I find that being a Protestant is the best way to be a Christian. And I find that being a Lutheran is the best way to be a Protestant, and I find that being Missouri Senate is the best way to be a Lutheran. You wouldn’t answer like he answered. What I love about his answer is this sense of proportion and order and hierarchy. I’m a human being. Being a Christian is the best way to be a human being. Because of that, there’s lots of things I have in common with everybody I work with and rub shoulders with. We can relate, and we can do things. We can serve each other.
Having a secure identity in the Lord helps you as you deal with other people. It helps you deal with jerks and idiots too, by the way. Do you know any jerks and idiots? I’m not talking about roommates now, I’ve shifted to the next category. Sometimes there is overlap. But, I define a jerk as someone who is just foolish. I define an idiot, literally idios, Greek, it’s someone who is consumed with themselves. So, occasionally in a car I will say, “You idiot.” Because the person’s just on their phone while they’re driving, but that’s another story. How do I really look at them? I can’t just dismiss them as jerks and idiots. I have to come back and say, “No, God calls me to look at them with a new lens of creation and redemption.” What about the least of these, the unborn and the homeless on the streets of Denver and Lakewood? When you’re looking with the lenses that God gives you and you’re locked into who He says you are, and we are, you look at them different.
What about the opposite sex? Guys, how you look at women? Just as bodies? For you? Really? Because they are daughters of somebody, and they’re daughters of the King, and they are precious in his sight. He calls you to look at them with his lens. That’s so important in this Me Too era. The wonderful thing about the Christian world view is it gives you such an expansive vision. Identity politics, it reduces things. It’s just a sliver of who a person is and it poisons the environment. It narrows our thinking. But, a Christian world view opens you up, it begins with this creation ethic, and all of a sudden, you look at others as created in the image of God. It takes down walls, it’s big and it’s broad and by the way, it’s better. It’s more life giving, that’s what it is.
So, as we close, I just want to say, how do we keep our bearings in the new year? I think you keep your bearings, you avoid identity theft. By going back to the word of God and regularly immersing yourself in it, so the world and its voices don’t define you. But, God’s word defines you. The one who says, “You have a creator and a redeemer.” That’s where mental health is found, by the way. That’s where spiritual health is found.
I remember John Calvin, the great reform theologian said at the beginning of his theology, the institutes, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts; the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves.” Then he adds, “that without knowledge of God, there is no knowledge of the self. Man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself, unless he is first looked upon God’s face.” When you look, you get a new vision. And you realize you have a new identity.
I want to close with a picture and a story. The picture is the picture of a cross. This is a unique cross because it’s a cross that was used in Celtic Christianity. It became the symbol of the Scottish church. When you look at the cross, it’s a little different from crosses you’re familiar with because there’s a circle, as well as the cross. Maybe you’ve never thought about why that’s significant, but the best traditions say that this goes back to Patrick, the missionary in Ireland. He would present the gospel to the druids and to the Celtic people, who didn’t know anything about Jesus Christ. Yet, they worshiped the sun and the moon. So, in trying to explain the gospel and evangelize them, one day he set the cross upon the circle. To say, “Look, the Son, Jesus Christ, created the sun. Don’t worship the sun.”
The lord, God, that I’m telling you about, is the creator, circle and the redeemer, cross. And I find this a very potent reminder for myself about my identity. That my identity rests in the God who is creator and redeemer. I can’t forget it, and you can’t forget it.
And I close with the story of a girl. I think it’ll help us as we sum up our thoughts. It was 1837, the king of England was William the 4th. He had just died prematurely. The heir to the throne was this young lady, 18 years old, barely five foot tall. Thoroughly intimidated by the prospect of being the Queen, let alone becoming the Monarch of the United Kingdom, Great Britain and Ireland, the Empress of India, the ruler of the empire that stretched around the world, as the sun in those days, never set on the British Empire. A woman who would later go on to rule Britain and the Empire from 1837 to 1901. The longest reign, apart from the current Queen, Queen Elizabeth.
But in 1837, when William the 4th died, she was not ready. She expected she’d have more time to prepare. But as happens in life sometimes, it happens quicker than you know, and you’re thrust forward. And that happened to her. She wanted more time to prepare. It came time to give her first speech, she was very nervous. Not sure she could do it, and it is reported that her maid said to her, to the young queen who was totally intimidated, “Remember who you are, mum.” To which the queen nervously replied, “I can’t really believe who I am, who I really am.”
That’s the way it often is with us. We forget who we are, we can’t believe who we are, but realize that God says who you are. He calls us this morning as we begin a new year in this important season of life, to remember our basic identity. To remember who we are, created in Him, redeemed by Him, twice His. Would you join me in prayer?
Lord, thank you for the privilege to get our bearings at the beginning of this year. Bless our students as we go out now, and do what You’ve called us to do. Thank you for these moments together, in Jesus Name, and everybody said, “Amen.”
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