Over that last couple of years I have gotten to know some of the staff and volunteers at a great church in West Chester, OH, on the Northwest side of Cincinnati. Journey Church was planted right about the same time we planted Living Hope in the Northwest metro of the Twin Cities. Over the years I’ve grown to deeply appreciate Pastor Tom Planck (@tomplanck). We’ve shared resources, ideas, and he’s given me some great advice along the way. Last summer as our family travelled through Cincinnati on Father’s Day, we were able to swing in and meet face to face at Journey. It was awesome.
But now, the real benefit of social media begins to show itself. Tomorrow, the Cincinnati Bengals will be soundly spanked by Brett Favre and my beloved Minnesota Vikings. There really is no greater joy than punching up the Twitter handles of a church’s Senior Pastor, Youth Ministry Director, Head Technician, and Worship Leader and hurling some digital smack talk their way from hundreds of miles away. Especially when their imminent demise is a foregone conclusion. This alone would legitimize Twitter’s very existence.
So as I pick and choose from the many, many available targets on the Bengals lineup ripe for criticism, my sights landed on #85. Chad Javon Ochocinco. And he got me thinking… What drives a guy – any guy – to legally change his name to the number on his NFL jersey? And as much as I’d love to spend the rest of my energy between now and game time verbally abusing Bengals players, I’m stuck on this. What in the world happened in Chad Javon Johnson to realign his identity with his job? His name now = what he does. Ochocinco’s value = Ochocinco’s performance.
That is so sad. And so normal.
(In case you were caught unaware, this is the point where I jump off the smack talk train to make a point. Consider yourself warned…) In America, when people meet for the first time, one of the first questions asked is, “What do you do?” That’s not the case in much of the rest of the world. Often people meeting in Scandinavia or Europe will ask the question, “Where are you from?” instead of “What do you do?” They see identity tied to a person’s roots, not their output. But in America, it becomes very easy to fall into the productivity trap. The subtle (and not so subtle) communication from our culture is that our value is directly tied to WHAT we do.
This was the slavery that the Israelites lived under in Egypt. Pre-Moses. Pre-Passover. Pre-Red Sea. The slaves were only valued by their Egyptian masters for the number of bricks they could produce in a day. And they groaned under the oppressive weight of that expectation. THAT is why God showed up. THAT is why God set them free in the first place… so they could WORSHIP Him. And once again enjoy the reality that their identity was not rooted in what they PRODUCE, but in WHO they BELONG to.
The Bible tells us that when we give our heart to Jesus, we have been bought with a price, and we become sons of God. Part of His family – His people – a people BELONGING to God. That is my identity in a nut shell. Like John, Jesus’ disciple who wrote “The Gospel according to John,” he simply identified himself as “the disciple that Jesus loved.” His identity was in Jesus’ love for him. I recently gave a message about this in our church called “Who Do You Think You Are?”
If you have fallen into the trap of believing that who you are = what you do, it’s time to let yourself off the hook. Your identity is determined by WHO you BELONG to, not by what you produce. Jesus came to the cross to set you free – just like He came to the rescue for the Israelite slaves in the desert – so that you can properly ENJOY your freedom, and bask in being His forever.
I’ve always dreamed of being a part of a church family that is full of people who identify their church family as an integral part of them. Because I believe that our identity is shaped by those we belong to. And by our understanding of who we belong to. If you think of yourself as someone who belongs to God – belongs to your wife – belongs to your family – belongs to your church… it will hugely impact the way you live, and the decisions that determine your life’s course. When someone I meet asks about me, I usually answer along these lines: “I’m a follower of Jesus. I have an amazing wife and five great boys. We belong to Living Hope Church…”
I belong to God. I belong to my family. I belong to my church. Nothing that I do or produce will ever have deeper ramifications on who I am than WHOSE I am.
Tomorrow, Brett Favre will lead our mighty Vikings to victory over the sorry Bengals. Brett belongs in Minnesota (and I really say that to push the buttons of @utech). I hope, for his sake, Chad Ochocinco has a great game. Because if his identity is tied so closely to his performance that he changed his name to reflect his profession, I’m a little worried for him tomorrow. Maybe you guys from Journey Church can all chip in and save up for some therapy…
“favre and ochocinco :: identity and belonging” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.