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Identity

The word of the moment is IDENTITY.

What is your identity? Different people will answer this in different ways.

On Sunday, Vanessa preached about the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist and her first point resonated with me which was what We share in Jjesus Christ's Identity. That does not we are christs or equal to God, as Jesus is, but that, like Jeses we have the identity of being beloved of God. 

A number of years ago, I came across a book by the Christian writer, Neil. T. Anderson and at the back of the book was a document WHO I am in Christ It said that in Christ, I am accepted, I am secure and I am significant. All of these things are rooted in the overarching reality that we are beloved of God. (Our 

For someone who has struggled with self-belief, i.e. I have struggled to believe in myself, the idea that God accepts me was hard to take on board. And although on an intellectual basis, I knew that God loves me, I think at a deeper spiritual level, I didn't REALLY believe that. You see I was too steeped in the cultural notion that we have to DO something to deserve to be loved and I did not see any positive qualities in myself. The good news is that we cannot deserve God's love. For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him, should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16) All I need to do to be accepted by God, is to accept Jesus, and he has loved us from the very beginning.. 

One of the things that I struggled with was, as I saw it at the time, my "same-sex attraction". I viewed this with about as much relish as I might have viewed cancer, in fact I probably would have preferred cancer. I hated myself for being attracted to other males, as my understanding at that time, was that this is a shameful thing. I viewed my sexual orientation, not as a natural aspect of my life, but a sin and a temptation to be avoided. The thing is, it was not only about who I felt attracted to, but who I was, and my self--expression. Because my Christian world-view said that because I am a man, I had to be a certain way. And so that view was not just about avoiding the temptation of being in the relationship with a man, but working out how I could be an acceptable man. And feeling almost doomed to fail at it. 

To cut a long story short, God freed me from my burden, not by removing my sexual orientation, but by helping me understand at the very base level that I am His child, and NOTHING can separate me from His love. 
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8 v 38 -39]

It finally dawned on me after 25 years of struggle that there is nothing in all creation, including my sexuality that would separate me from this basic identity in Christ - I am beloved of God. 

On Monday, the sad news that David Bowie had passed away was reported. There was a very moving Pause for Thought given on Monday or Tuesday about how David Bowie was a very individual person who lived to BE DIFFERENT and not conform to the expectations of others. The irony was that those who idolised David, sought to be like him. I wish that I had taken a leaf out of David Bowie's book, and just been myself.

Romans 12:2 says it like this: Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind.  The way I understand this now is different to how I understood it when I was a zealous young evangelical. Then, if I was asked what this verse means, I would have said it means that we should not be listening to worldly advice but only think about what the Bible says. Now I would suggest that I should not let anybody SQUEEZE me into their mould, it was not made for me but I should be changed by the way I think about myself. (Renewing my mind). 

Yesterday, Ade preaching about the calling of the boy Samuel, shared how many people are claiming to have known David Bowie. It is as if they wanted to boost their own image by being associated with the star. Many of us, ache for acceptance and want people to know who we are. There is a hunger for fame. When I was a teenager, one of my favorite TV shows was Fame, a series about a performing arts school in New York City, where young people were desperate to become, well famous. Today we have varity of talent shows on TV, like X-Factor with people desperate to convince us that they are the next big name in show business. Our competitive natures drive us to big ourselves up, because if other people like us, then maybe we can like ourselves. One way people think they can be famous is being associated with famous people. We want to count famous people among our personal friends. Of course many such boasts are exaggerations, you might say you know David Bowie, or Barack Obama, etc, but they did not know you, and it is quite possible that you might have walked passed them in the street or in a context that you were not expecting to see them, and walked right passed them. The recent film, Royal Night Out is based on the fact that the British public who loved the royal family passionately didn't really know the royal family and did not recognise the princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret outside of the context of royal occasions. Most certainly, we may claim to know Mr. or Ms. Famous, but does he or she know you? But we also say we know God, but do we really know God? Or is it only an intellectual notion of God? One difference of course is that Mr. Or Miss Famous may not know us, but regardless of our knowledge of God, God knows and God loves us. He knows us intimately. He knows the good stuff, even if you don't, He knows the bad stuff, even if you don't. And He loves us all the same. But because of His love for us, He wants us to know him better. 

Often our identity is rooted in what we do, or in what we have. These things can 
be lost. And when they are lost, we lose our sense of self. I was reading a devotional and the writer was saying that much of his identity was rooted in his work as a pastor. When circumstances meant that he lost that, he was left feeling bereft, but He was forced to draw near to God. We have to get away from the crowds, and spend time BEING in God's presence. We need to be still. Stop the talking. Stop the doing. Turn off the radio, the TV, the computer, the smartphone, shut up and just BE. And listen, and hearbGod talking to us. We might not be used to hearing God. We might only have heard God talk to us through others, or through reading the Bible, and those are not bad things, but God wants a relationship with Him. Only hearing God through reading the Bible, is like hearing David Bowie through listening to his music on the radio.

If we are asked for our identity, our first response is to say our name. My name is John. And being called by our name is important to us. When I was little, my doctor who was a very good doctor, had one irritating tendency of calling me Jonathan instead of John. I don't know why he did that but I didn't like it. Sadly, that doctor passed away, and another doctor took over the practice and I think I told the new doctor that my name was in fact John and not Jonathan. Being called by the right name, is important to people. Big institutions depersonalise people by assigning a number to them. How many numbers are attached to you? But God doesn't regard us as a unit amongst a multiplicity of units. He knows your name, your individuality. But we don't have one name. My "Christian name" is John, I was named after someone. That fact is significant. In my case I was named after my Dad's Grandad. I have a second name, which was my Mum's Grandad. Not everybody is named after family members or someone specific - sometimes it is just because the parent likes the name. Then of course there is a family name or surname. This name links us to our first community, our family. And of course our family name has a history too. It might be the name of a place, or a profession, or it might be a colour. I have friends whose surnames are White, Black and Green. You have official names, and you may also have a nickname. Sometimes nicknames are shortening r lengthening of our our names or surnames, So as a little boy I was often called Johnny. Other times it is an adaption of our name - or it might be because of some physical attribute - Lofty if you are tall. Etc. Well nick names will link us and identify us with another type of community, our friends. We also may have as part of our identity, the school we attend, where we live, our job, our social class, the sports team we like to support, especially in UK. Different teams have names for their supporters, Gooners, for Arsenal F.C., Hammers, for West Ham supporters, The Canaries, for Norwich. Football team loyalty is very serious thing. It is a community thing. It's a sense of belonging. Team supporters will invest in team paraphernalia. It could be a item of clothing, or keyring, or flag with the team crest. Another thing that people identify closely with, is their religion and place of worship. So amongst Christians, although their common bond is Jesus, there are many different denominations, with different credal statements, and sadly, though all Christian denominations claim to love the same God, each one views itself as doing a slightly better job at it than everyone else, and thus infighting and even wars have started. The same can be said of other religions too.

Our need to belong and to be included, has its roots in our need for acceptance, and thus the deliberate refusal to accept a person and deliberate exclusion has been a weapon of bullies for centuries. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people have been victimised by exclusion from families, to religious communities who brand them as "sinners" and evildoers, and even nations which kill and imprison LGBT people.

Each of us has an identity, it is at its core, our basic humanity, that we are, I believe, beloved of God, but beyond that, it is comprised of many different aspects which both make us part of a group that we crave to belong to, and make us unique and individual. The belonging helps us feel accepted, and that is important. Our love for others should mean that we are willing to help them feel included and involved and not let others push people out because they don't fit in. Sometimes our love for an individual means we have to patient and tolerate that which would normally irritate us. For instance, if you belong to a drama group, and there is a member of that group who has a learning disability. Our love for that person is to ensure that they have some part to play in the production, even if they don't do it quite as well as you would want them to. Being inclusive means ensuring that our Churches have well kept access ramps and toilets that a wheelchair user can access discretely. Inclusivity means ensuring that the T-loop is working effectively on the sound system so that people with hearing impairment can hear what is being said, etc.

But our identities also point to things that make us unique. And inclusivity recognises diversity and values individuality, and says, God made you different to me and each one of us, has a special part to play in the overall scheme of things, 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 speak about the variety of different giftings in the Church. Our uniqueness gives us significance and that is an important aspect of our identity in Christ. Because God loves us We are being created differently. This is why STEREOTYPES are so damaging. They, limit us based on inaccurate generalisation.
  • Boys are like this, girls are like that...
  • Africans are ... Europeans are. .. Asians are...
  • Christians are..., Muslims are... Atheists are...
No, all of those things might be true of some people in that group, but often are inaccurate, and often results in a great deal of hurt. Accept a persons uniqueness, and respect how they choose to define themselves, by not contradicting that self definition, even if you thought of them differently. That is humility. So if a person says they are a boy, even though you have always thought of them as a girl, they are not wrong you are. Or if they say, actually they are agender, (having NO gender,) and want to be known as they, then accept their decision.

Respecting a person's individuality helps them accept themselves, and thus help them know that they are loved.

If you want to be an effective witness for Christ, allowing a person to feel comfortable, that they can belong to your community, that you see bthem as "belonging to the family" while at the same time recognising their uniqueness and valuing their uniqueness and celebrating it, will mean that they will want stick around.

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