If I could sum up in one word describing my faith journey the last 27 years, it has been about identity. Who am I?
It was my first semester away at college when I began thinking about identity. A huge poster advertising a popular local band called “Identity Crisis” was performing on campus. God used the name of this band to begin showing me that I did not know who I was I was searching and there were so man loud voices from the world speaking lies.
Since graduating from college and working with hundreds of students the last 27 years, I would say themes around identity are a common and normal struggle. Only today it is far more complex. Growing up in the heart of Silicon Valley, I was impressed with success, money, and achievements. It was in the air! I believed I would be happy, fulfilled, content and be somebody if I had these things.
Recently a respected mentor of mine reminded me of a powerful story and experience that played out in my life. In 1995 I moved back to the Bay Area to work with students at Stanford and De Anza College. I moved into the home of a retired executive PG&E located in the closed gated community of Atherton. I was surprised to discover that this man had met and interviewed 11 of our nation’s presidents as well as 500 other famous and important political figures. Former U.S. ambassadors would stop by the house on occasion. Up to this point in my impressionable life, most of what I worshipped, deemed important and of value was right before me. I am reminded of the saying from Mark Twain, “All that glitters is not gold.” Soon I was confronted with the TRUE reality of his life behind the image of success, wealth, power, and influence. It was smoke and mirrors. I was confronted with an angry, bitter, and unhappy man. IT WAS NOT PRETTY!
At the end of his life, the false identities of security, success, social influence, and power were exposed as empty and he could no longer hide behind them. He was being confronted with his impending mortality. In the gospel of Mark 8:34-36 Jesus says, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow m and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, My way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?” MSG
The incredible miracle of this story is that God loved this angry, lonely, bitter man so much that He placed me in this home to introduce him to faith in Christ before he died. This man willingly prayed with me to invite Jesus into his heart and to ask forgiveness of his sin. He recognized his need for something greater than himself. Of all the thousands of questions this man asked in his numerous interviews and social gatherings, none measure up to the one question God asked him through me: “Where are you going to spend eternity, and Who is your trust in to get there? Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Rev.3:20) I am profoundly grateful for this eternal object lesson God gave me as a young man that has helped center and anchor me when the lures of the world and my flesh have brought temptation.
2020 was a year where many things that we may have looked to for security and safety have been confronted and shaken in our lives. As we embark into 2021, let us remind ourselves that the greatest gift ever given was sent by God in the gift of His son Jesus!