Tuesday, May 04, 2010

R12: Have you answered life's biggest questions?

(No Blog Carnival for me this week, but I strongly encourage you to check out everyone else's contributions here.)

Go to a public place with large crowds and look around. I travel a lot and love to do this at airports. Depending on one's demeanor, I sometimes try and guess what that person is thinking about or why they're traveling. I like to look at families and watch the interplay between parents and children who are trying to run off. I watch people as they're sitting- what are they doing? I watch as they run through the crowds to catch their connection- where are they going? In every case, it's humbling to look at these people and remember that they are people, children of God, and each has their unique story.

It is also fun to see how these people identify themselves. The business traveler in a suit, the retired couple going on vacation in their shorts and Hawaiian shirts, the sports fan with a jersey of his favorite player. We project an identity by all of these things whether we're conscious of doing so or not. There's a reason you put that TapOut t-shirt on, there's a reason you put the NOTW sticker on your car. And I'm guilty to, I wear my Chicago Cubs hat when I know I'm connecting through Chicago, or a Wyoming or Colorado t-shirt when I'm connecting through Denver. We want to be identified a certain way and the world has trained us to identify ourselves with name brands and external labels. It is virtually impossible to project to the world your unique identity free from any other "tag". That is, unless you choose to strip down bare and present yourself naked to the world.

While I don't recommend this (though this is one motivation in nudist colonies), it brings up a challenge. We don't want to be naked to the world. That would be embarrassing, indecent. So we understand we need to cover ourselves up, and we do so with labels, brand-names, external facades to hide what is truly underneath.

Each of us struggles with three questions throughout our lives: who am I, where do I belong and what am I supposed to do. Wild at Heart answers this with the three points: an adventure to live, a battle to fight and a beauty to save, all in the context of living how God created us. Chip Ingram digs deeper in LOTE: The Book by turning our attention to the first people to ask themselves these questions. Genesis 3 describes the "Fall of Man". After Eve is tempted by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, Adam also succumbs and they are faced with these questions. Who are they with their new identity having eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil? Where do they belong since they disobeyed God's word? And what are they supposed to do now? Instead of answering these questions, they hide and set the standard for every relationship throughout history- between mankind and God, between others, and with themselves. They were naked, and they didn't like it.

They were afraid and naked so they hid. And when finally confronted, Adam blamed both Eve and God. He did not take responsibility. (Eve didn't either, but Adam set the standard) This sequence- fear, shame, and blame- continues to play out throughout history. It is the tools we use to identify ourselves and they are the means by which Satan keeps us from discovering our God-given identity. Following this pattern: Adam and Eve were afraid because of what they had done, they were naked and insecure, and they blame shifted. Sounds a lot like us, doesn't it?

These are each described in more detail in the book. Personally, I would switch the descriptions between fear and insecurity, but they do blend together. We are ashamed of who we are and what we've done. We don't want anyone to know our sinful nature, our struggles, our failures. So we are afraid. In some cases of success, in others failure. But most importantly, we're afraid of being found out, exposed, naked. This then makes us insecure. We're convinced the things we've done or who we are make us lesser. So we hide behind labels and images. We get tattoos or piercings, drive fast cars, and make sure the color our shoes match our shirt and cap (guys) or turn to plastic surgery, makeup, designer shoes/purses/clothes (girls) because that's the cool thing to do. We hide underneath the world's definitions of masculinity or femininity, success or strength, belonging or rebelling. Finally, when we can no longer run from who we are, we blame others- our upbringing (most often), our culture, our disease, even both Satan and God are blamed for our own behavior and character. "I'm not a sinner, Satan tricked me!" "God made me like this, I don't have a choice." So many turn from God because of this: "The church I grew up in was..." "People judged..." "If God really loved us, why does he allow...?" "How can God condemn what he created in our nature?" We hide and do not take responsibility for who we are and the choices we make.

Obviously this is not how God intends for us to live. But before we can be naked to the world, we need to be naked to ourselves. We need to be honest with ourselves of who we are and what we've done. We need to own up to the choice we've made to our Creator in heaven and trust in his forgiveness and grace. We need to take courage that God created us for a purpose beyond any worldly label and humbly seek out His will. It all starts with that first step. Strip down. Look at yourself in the mirror. This is who you are. Embrace it. Praise God for it.

Think: What are the three barriers that keep us from discovering who we are?
Reflect: How have you seen these barriers play out it your relationships?
Understand: When and with whom do you have the greatest freedom to be yourself? In what situations do you find yourself projecting strong or weak reactions to keep people at a distance?
Surrender: Admit to God and yourself that you are desperately insecure and need to find your security in Christ- not in your appearance, performance, or possessions.
Take Action: Take off your mask with one trusted friend this week and discuss what you are learning in this chapter about how these three barriers play out in your life and relationships.
Motivation: Download the audio message "How to come to grips with the real you" following the R12 button on the right, going to the "Self Assessment" tab and looking under free resources.
Encourage Someone: Choose to look beyond the irritating strong or weak reactions of someone you don't particularly enjoy being around. In the next few days, seek to understand why they are hiding, blaming, or pretending. Where possible, affirm the person hiding behind the mask by demonstrating the compassion of Christ.

Today continues our "virtual small group" covering the book Living On The Edge. For how this group is going to work, read this entry. For an introduction with disclaimers, click here. For some numbers from Barna to motivate you to continue reading, go here. For the R12 videos, click the R12 button on the sidebar to the right. Finally, as we move forward through the book you can always catch up by clicking the R12 label at the end of each post.

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