Who do you say that you are?

I’m not generally one to procrastinate, but occasionally I fall victim to that little voice of temptation. As I scrubbed the day-old stain–chiding myself for letting it sit so long that the stain had worked its way into the fibers of my shirt, spreading like some sort of disease–I couldn’t help but think that sin works in much the same way. The longer it goes without being confessed, the more it works its stain-disease into the fiber of my being, corrupting my identity.

I hate to be called a sinner. While the simple definition of a sinner is “one who sins,” the connotation in my mind is “one who habitually sins.” In other words, that’s their primary identity in God’s judgement. Yes, of course, I was once a sinner. I willingly chose to do what was wrong in God’s eyes, in the interest of self-gratification. But I am not that person anymore, thanks be to God!

Half my lifetime ago, the Spirit of God spoke quite plainly to me and I repented of my wrongful choices, allowing the blood of Jesus to wash me clean. As a result, self-gratification became wanting to choose the right and the good and the God-pleasing (admittedly not perfectly or instantaneously). I am no longer a sinner in God’s judgement. Rather, I am his beloved child, saved by his amazing grace!

Clearly and honestly, I do still sin. I live in a corrupted body and in a fallen world. Sometimes I willfully sin, but more often it is unintentional. And when the Spirit pricks me with stinging conviction, I turn to Jesus to confess, repent, and receive his cleansing forgiveness. And I do it quickly, lest the stain spread; this is no time for procrastination!

I know that, for some folks, referring to themselves as a “sinner-saved-by-grace” is what best helps them remember who they are in Christ, and aids them in choosing the right over the wrong. Certainly there is nothing wrong in that! However, for me, calling myself a sinner lowers the bar of expectation. It tempts me to feel helpless, and somehow still under condemnation (which is, of course, the enemy’s lie!). But when I claim my identity as a child of God, saved and cleansed by a price I was unable to pay, the bar is set higher…high enough that I have to reach for it. It prompts me to stretch myself by asking, in the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola, “What return of love can I make?

How we think of ourselves often determines our behavior. Who do you say that you are? Which way of identifying yourself best helps you make a return of the love that saves you? Questions worth pondering…

 

Embracing Downward Mobility

Throughout my working life, I have often borne the title of “Assistant.” I’ve been a medical assistant, an administrative assistant, a loan assistant and a ministry assistant. My current title is “Associate Pastor,” which means I serve as assistant to the pastor, among other things. I am also an ordained deacon and, as such, one of my functions is assisting priests and bishops.

I came of age during a time when assistants were often thought of as second-class workers, people who couldn’t quite “make the grade” for anything more. Yet I was a member of the National Honor Society in high school, and made the dean’s list in college. Being an assistant has always been more about my personality than about my abilities. My natural dispostion is to help and to encourage; my spiritual gifts align with my dispostion, as do my learned skills and natural abilities.

There have been seasons in my life when I objected to the assistant title. I didn’t necessarily object to what I was doing, just to what I was being called.It felt like I was being relegated to a lesser role, to second chair. It precluded recognition as any kind of leader. I preferred to identify with Jesus the King rather than Jesus the Suffering Servant.downward mobility

What about Jesus? He certainly practiced downward mobility. God became man–Jesus–and came down to earth, where He willingly stepped into the role of  Suffering Servant. From God to man, to servant washing feet, to criminal nailed to a cross, to death. Downward mobility…in order that He could lead us out of death into eternal life.

I am reminded of the wisdom of two Anglican bishops. In commenting on his role as bishop, one said that it appears to the world that he is climbing the ladder of success. “In reality,” he said, “becoming a bishop has nothing to do with upward mobility but, rather, just the opposite. It’s about downward mobility, becoming more and more a servant.”  In the Anglican tradition, one is first ordained a deacon before he/she can become a priest; one must be a priest for years before being considered for consecration as bishop. Deacon means “to serve.” Which brings me to the wisdom of the second bishop. As he was preparing to ordain a priest, he said to the ordinand, “Remember, once a deacon, always a deacon.”

It has taken most of my life to embrace downward mobility, to realize that being an assistant is a good thing, and that I can indeed lead from “second chair.” This is who God created me to be; it is what God created me to do. And it is where I find true joy.