Where is Your Identity?

2 Samuel 7:18-24

In the hills of Kentucky, in a quiet shop off of a dirt road, an Amish man works alone.  He does not advertise his work on the Internet, nor does he place adds in the newspaper.  He depends on word of mouth to make his sales.

He is a painter.  His signature work involves painting beautiful pictures of animals, nature, old barns, practically anything a customer wants on a single turkey feather.  He takes something already beautiful and puts beauty on top of it.

While that man is likely to continue his work in obscurity, Norman Rockwell did not.

He became most famous for his cover illustrations of everyday life he created for “The Saturday Evening Post” over seventy years ago.

Rockwell’s unique style included a touch of humor.  He helped us to see the ordinariness of life as sacred.  We saw ourselves or someone we knew in many of his paintings.

In one of Rockwell’s paintings, a child not more than ten years old, dressed only in her slip, is sitting on a footstool looking at herself in a mirror. Her elbows are resting on her knees. Her fingers are beginning to touch her face, and her hair is pulled back in a bun.

Resting in her lap is a magazine where she sees a photograph of Jane Russell, a marketed sex symbol of her day.

Lying beside the mirror is the little girl’s doll.  The doll is being traded for her mother’s lipstick, brush, and comb, as she contemplates making herself like more like an adult.  She is asking the question we all ask ourselves at some point in life, “Who Am I?”

Rockwell named the painting, “Girl at Mirror.”

We all stand there at some point every day, in front of a mirror, looking back at ourselves.   At various points in our lives, we ask ourselves in one way or another, “Who Am I?”

You may only be 10 years old, or 17.  You may be 35 or 60 or 85.  Regardless of how old you are, we have all asked this question, “Who am I?”

This question goes much deeper than our looks.  The mirror peers into our souls when we ask that question.  It’s about personality.  Sometimes it’s about the way we are acting.  It’s about the way we feel inside.  It’s about the person we are and about the person we are becoming.  It’s about our identity as a human being.  Who am I?

When teenagers go through high school, they may belong to a sport’s team, the band, or club.  They have a community of friends.  Even so, most say they can’t wait until they graduate.  Then graduation comes and suddenly, their identity changes.

They are left with a lot of memories and life lessons, but most will never their sport again for school.  Most will never play again in a marching band.  Some will never go to school again.  Those that do must make new friends and find new clubs and organizations to join.  Most ask themselves.  Who am I?

A mother and a father spend 18 years raising these children.  They finally watch the last one walk up and receive her diploma and then she leaves home and goes to college.

Suddenly, the house that had five is now is reduced to two.  For the first time in 27 years, the meal table only has two settings and sometimes only one.  These two people are still parents, but suddenly their role is much different.  As empty nesters they suddenly find themselves asking the question, “Who are we?”

For over 35 years a man has gotten up every day and gone to work.  Like most Americans, he’s not gone to the same job. Most Americans will change jobs 12 times before retirement.  This man has not changed jobs that often, but he’s had his share.  At least he was smart enough to set aside enough money to retire.

However, two months into his retirement, something happened that he didn’t expect. He discovered that he was struggling to find his identity.  All his life you had been known as a leader in the school system, but now that title was missing and it left him asking, “Who am I?”

Something happened to a woman that she didn’t think would ever happen.  Her family asked her to give up the keys to her car.  It wasn’t a pleasant day.  It was difficult to admit that age was winning the battle with her body and mind, and without her independence, she was asking the question, “Who am I?

This is a question that King David ask God, “Who am I?”

“Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” (2 Samuel 2:18)

For David, his question may have been more of a statement of humility. By this time in David’s life, his identity was already connected to God.

Just how far had God brought David?

When David was a teenager, a prophet named Samuel traveled to his home in Bethlehem. He asked his father Jesse to bring his sons out so he could meet them.

One by one, starting with the oldest, they came out to meet the prophet. Finally, Samuel was told that there was only one left, the youngest, but he was tending the sheep.

The prophet waited for him because God has told him not to look on the appearance or the height as the determining factor in deciding which of Jesse’s son’s to anoint as the next king of Israel.

When David arrived, the Lord directed the prophet to anoint him as the next king.

Even with such an anointing, David went back to shepherding sheep. Being called by God to a special job or important position did not keep David from doing humbling work. Nor should it for us.

David did not suddenly know everything just because he had been anointed the next king.  He had to grow into that job.

The first opportunity for him came when his father sent him to carry a load of cheese, bread, and grain to the commander of his brother’s unit that was involved in a battle with the Philistines.

When David arrived in the Valley of Elah, he discovered that the valley separated the two sides and that each morning Israel was being taunted by a giant of a man named Goliath.

Goliath was humiliating the entire army of Israel and had challenged King Saul to send one man to face him in a winner-take-all battle.  This had been going on for forty days.

As David asked questions about Goliath and made statements about how he would go and fight him, the king got wind of it and sent for David.

Saul dismissed David like his brother Eliab did, telling him he was just a boy, but unlike his brother, David was able to persuade the King that he had some skills.  He told him he’d killed a lion and a bear and rescued a sheep from its mouth.

But David was not arrogant.  He said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you” (1 Samuel 17:37)

Even as a young teenager, David’s identity was tied to God.

What happened next is legendary.  Even those who have read the Bible have heard about David and Goliath.  Everyone knows who won the battle.

I’ll spare you the gory details.  Some say that David’s identity was forged that day on the battlefield.  Some say it was forged the day that Saul’s son Jonathan threw his full support behind David, giving up any claim to the throne.

It was that day that David became more famous than the King, which caused Saul to have such jealousy for David that for the next 15 years David’s life was in danger from King Saul.

But David’s identity was forged on the quiet hillsides where there was no one around but David and a bunch of sheep and the Spirit of God.  There was no Bible for David to read.  There was no preacher for David to listen to.  There was no music for David to hear.  There was no school for David to attend.

There was just sheep, the grass, the moon, the stars, the streams, wild animals, and the Spirit of God.  There David heard God speaking to him.  There David knew that God was with him.  Because God was with him, David knew who he was and whose he was.

For so many of us, we believe that our identity is forged in what we do or what we have done.

That is the reason when we lose a job it is such a crisis for us, or when we can no longer work, too many people do not know who they are.

It’s the reason when change occurs, we become lost.  It’s the reason we need to know whose we are and not just who we are.

Our son Ryan was an All-American diver at the University of Tennessee.  From the time he was eight years old he dreamed of going to the Olympics.  When he was seventeen, he became the United States Men’s Champion on 1-Meter springboard.  He was chosen to represent the United States at the Pan-Am Games, and he won a bronze medal on the three-meter board.   He later became a two-time SEC Champion at the University of Tennessee with many more collegiate accolades.

But we all knew that one day his diving career was going to be over.  That’s true for 100% of every athlete that ever attends college.  But his career could have ended with an injury at any practice or any competition, and it almost did.  We knew that one day diving was going to be only a memory and not a part of his life.

So I made a point of telling him often, “Ryan, remember, diving is what you do. It is not who you are.”

Who was David?

David was anointed by God to lead the nation of Israel as their king.   King Saul said it best himself before David walked out into the Valley of Elah to place his life on the line with Goliath, “the Lord be with you.”  That was something that never changed for David, nor does it have to change for you.

After Saul’s death and David became king over Israel, David humbly reflected on God’s choice of him as the nation’s king.  “Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?”  (2 Samuel 2:18)

In doing so, David reminds us that he knew that he had not done anything to deserve his position, but that he attributed it to God.  David’s identity was tied to the Lord.

When I think back to that little girl sitting in front of that mirror with that magazine in her lap of  Jane Russell, it would be nice if children just struggled with identities that are gender specific.  But today, there is a lot of gender confusion and a lot of questions about sexual identity among young people.   Our world is so much different than the day when Rockwell painted this picture.

I only mention this to remind us that people are suffering and confused about identity and multiple levels.  Our job is to respond with love and compassion rather than judgment and to offer them hope in Christ.  While I do not mean to offer such a simple answer to a complex problem, the answer for all of our identity struggles comes down to this: we need what David had.  We need an anointing.  We need the Spirit of God to be with us.

Amid any healing process, the Savior stands and asks us to walk toward Him.

Jesus once said, “I am the way, the truth, and the light.” (John 14:6).

It was the light of Jesus that caused Saul to stop his journey to Damasus to persecute more Christians.   Saul recognized that blinding light and voice as Jesus.

After being blinded on that road, Saul was taken to Damascus where a man named Ananias was instructed in a vision to go and lay hands on Saul to restore his sight.

Ananias was afraid to go because he had heard so many terrible reports about Saul and what he had done to believers.

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Before Saul met Jesus, he was a zealous employee of the High Priest who arrested disciples of Jesus and had them imprisoned and put to death.

After Saul met Jesus and received the Holy Spirit, he became a zealous defender of the Christian faith, planter of churches, and evangelist to the Gentiles.

Because he found a new identity in Jesus, he changed his name for Saul to Paul.

From that moment on, no matter what difficult came into Paul’s life, he knew who he was. He was a sinner saved by the grace of God.  He was God’s servant.  The Spirit of Christ was with him.

Where is your identity?

Here a test.

Other than your family, of the people that know you best, what are three words they would use to describe who you are?

Let’s pretend we were able to resurrect Norman Rockwell to paint your portrait using these words.

What would that painting look like?  What are you doing?  What scene would Rockwell paint?

Perhaps that will help you with your identity.

If you don’t like it, there’s still time to change it.

For Saul, Rockwell might have painted a picture of an uncompassionate man standing in approval while other members of his faith stoned a follower of Jesus. The name under the painting might have been, “Zealous for Religion and its Rules.”

For Paul, Rockwell might have painted a man being stoned for his beliefs, or a man in chains in prison writing to one of the churches he had established with the caption, “Zealous for Jesus and His Church.”

If you cannot find your identity in Jesus, you may be like the little girl in the Norman Rockwell painting.

You can recognize beauty and talent, but you can be misled by it, just like the height of King Saul misled Isreal.

You can build a beautiful house, but end up building it on the sand instead of the Solid Rock.  When life changes, your foundation will be washed away, and you will not know who you are.

You can earn a lot of degrees, build a fine business, have a great career, but one day someone will take away the keys, then who are you?

Finding our identity in Jesus does not guarantee that we will not struggle, make mistakes, or disappoint God or others, but it does mean that we understand and know where our true identity lies.

When those times of struggle come, when we make mistakes, when life changes unexpectedly, and when we move through the natural progressions of life, we do not have to be lost.

We will always know that our identity lies in God.  It lies in the grace and mercy of God, not in what we do, not in our goodness, not in our works, or any battle or contest that we may win.

As much as our son Ryan wanted to go to the Olympics, when he was in college, he stopped training and went on a six-week mission trip.  Why? One reason was that he knew that his real identity was in the Lord.  It wasn’t as a diver.

Where is your identity?

The most important thing that can be said in our obituary is that we identify ourselves with the Savior, that we have been saved by the grace of Jesus.

Can you say that this morning?

That means that when we look in the mirror, we always see a sinner looking back at us, but we see a sinner that is saved by grace, who has the assurance that God is with us through the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Is that what you see?

Photo Credit: dailyartmagazine.com