My daughter loves sports. In particular, watching NFL football, learning the game of golf, and playing basketball. She was a little late to the party on the hardwood and never played super seriously until she joined her high school team last fall. But she’s made some huge strides this year, and as Hoosiers that makes us smile.

This past weekend, she erupted in a developmental summer league game like a superhero just discovering her powers – hauling down rebounds, finding the open man, and driving hard to the basket for double digit scoring. We’ve never seen her play that way before. One ball-fake drive between two defenders to the basket even drew audible accolades from strangers in the stand.

Nice move 20!

She still has a lot to learn, but that Sunday afternoon went a long way to developing her confidence, exerting her will, and possibly even convincing her that she might be a halfway decent ball player.

Those are incredible life moments. I remember the first time I sat at the piano as a viable member of a band realizing, “I’m pretty good at this,” the first time I wrote a blog that really connected with people, the first time it hit me that I could genuinely lead a group of people.

It’s inspiring.

It’s empowering.

And if we’re not careful, it’s defining.

When we define our value by what we can (or can’t) do, we may find some short-term satisfaction, but we will eventually have an identity crisis. It’s inevitable. We will fail. We will lose. We will age. We will disappoint. And then we will get very confused.

To ensure “Gospel-sanity,” our abilities must always flow from our identity, not create our identity.

So after a great afternoon of developing her hoops prowess, I tried to end the day with a clarifying locker room speech (that was as much for me as it was for her).

“There is nothing more intoxicating than learning what you’re good at and feeling it begin to click. It’s awesome! Keep going! But never forget that your value doesn’t come from what you do, it rests in what Jesus did. I’m proud of your athletic development, but I love you because you’re my girl. You may do a lot of great things, but first and foremost you are my daughter. Whether you succeed or fail, that identity is settled.”

Isn’t that the message we all long to hear? Settled. Finished. Son. Daughter. Do from a position of done.

In Jesus, that’s your story, too.

There’s a famous story attributed to English writer and theologian, G.K. Chesterton, from the early 20th Century. The Times of London was planning a cover story titled “What is Wrong with the World?” and sent requests to Chesterton and other well-known philosophers of the day asking how they would answer this deep question.

In quintessential Chesterton fashion, he replied with the shortest (and yet most profound) answer in journalism history:

Dear sirs,

I am.

Sincerely,

G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton-I-Am

(Photo credit: The Noble Heart)

Amidst the heated debate about the denigration of our culture and the seemingly daily assault on judeo-christian values, it was good for me to hear this old story once again. I don’t know about you, but my gut reaction to the question, “what’s wrong with the world?” is simple:

They are.

You know who they are. The idiots. The rebels. The sinners. Them.

That’s where Chesterton’s pithy letter gives me pause.

Idiot, rebel, sinner describes me without the Gospel. Me without Jesus.

Last time I checked, the school of grace doesn’t hold graduations (at least not in this lifetime). I need to be drenched again and again in its healing and renewing power every single day. Except for Christ, I am what’s wrong with the world.

So as we stand up for morality, as we defend our religious freedoms, as we fight for what the Bible says is right and wrong (and yes, there is right and wrong), let’s do it as recipients of a gift. It will soothe our tone, it will humble our position, and it might even convince some people Jesus is who we know Him to be…

the only thing that’s right with the world.

There are three different ways to receive to a gift:

gift

1. With guilt.

I don’t deserve this.

What will people think?

They know I didn’t earn it.

How do I embrace this?

I’m so embarrassed.

Preoccupied with self and obsessed with appearances, this response is helpful to no one.

2. With entitlement.

Come on, we all know this was mine to begin with.

Earned.

Expected.

Keep the influx coming.

Don’t you know who I am?

Fueled by an oblivious sense of self-importance, this response is also helpful to no one.

3. With gratefulness.

Wow, thank you!

I don’t know what to say.

How can I honor this gift?

How can I serve this opportunity?

How can I show everyone what this means to me?”

Drenched in gratitude, this gift becomes a blessing to everyone.

Take a second and think about your gifts. A relationship. Family. Your job. A place to live. Your church. That next breath. (Your salvation). How do you receive them? Have you even stopped to considered that they’re gifts?

Choose number three.

On the last day of school, my 8 year old son came home with a giant Snicker bar and accompanying certificate. He won the 3rd grade “Snickers” award for his uncanny ability to make people laugh. His sharp, witty, beyond-his-years comedic quality makes him both hilariously entertaining and difficult to deal with (often at the same time). I wonder if Seinfeld drove his parents crazy, too?

Humor has undoubtedly become a defining piece of my son’s personality. And he knows it.

Like_EditFinal

When I was his age, I was busy forging my own traits.

I was the likable kid.

I obeyed the rules, respected adults, was (mostly) kind and encouraging to my friends. I thank (and blame) my mom for that amiable DNA trait. For the most part, everyone liked me, and I liked being liked. As I got older, I learned to like it even more. Seems harmless (even desirable) enough, right?

But without proper perspective, temperaments like this can eventually morph from mild dispositions into self-defining identities. More than a tendency toward which we lean, they actually become hard-wired into who we are. This is a problem.

In my case, life has forced me to confront and challenge people over the years. They didn’t always like it (go figure). And they haven’t always liked me. With likable as an self-defining identity, knowing someone doesn’t like you isn’t something that can be shrugged off easily. In fact, the slightest disruption in my “likability equilibrium” used to haunt my every thought and decision until balance could be restored. Being liked was an obsession.

Try leading your family, your church, or your business that way. Good luck.

These are the types of identity crises the Gospel has come to heal.

When your identity is found in what Christ did for you, these false identity idols can be put to death. We can step into life freely and boldly, able to handle the difficult challenges that will inevitably arise because who we are has already been settled. 

Son.

Daughter.

Forgiven.

Accepted.

Loved.

When these truths finally swallow our hollow, self-made identities, we truly begin to live the way God intended.

What personality traits have you allowed to define you?

  • Funny? What happens to your identity when no one laughs?
  • Rich? What happens to your identity when that business deal goes bad?
  • Intelligent? What happens to your identity when you give the wrong answer?
  • Pretty? What happens to your identity when age wins its battle?
  • Likable? What happens to your identity when you have to make a controversial decision?

Jesus? It is finished.

Is there something about your self-made identity that is holding you back?

If you could ask a successful leader one question, what would it be?

I found myself with that opportunity recently, riding in the passenger seat of a car next to a highly renowned businessman. Just the two of us, and 25 minutes of highway between us and our destination.

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You wouldn’t know his name. You wouldn’t recognize his face. If he passed you on the street, there’s no real reason he’d ever catch your attention. But he’s a venture capitalist – a real life Shark Tank – and he’s made more money (and given more away) than anyone I’ve ever hung out with.

He’s also a Christian.

And while his gifts in business have brought the dreams of countless upstart entrepreneurs to life, his generosity has brought life and hope to countless numbers of people across this globe. I was fascinated, and outside of a few crazy morning drivers, I had his undivided attention.

“Obviously, you’re skilled at what you do,” I brilliantly noted. “But lots of people are good businessmen. What’s your edge? What makes you special? What’s your ‘secret sauce?’”

He paused, took a deep breath, and let the awkward silence hang in the air just long enough to make me uncomfortable. I fought the urge to fill the void.

Finally, he began:

“A number of years ago, my wife and I were watching one of those old, cheesy Bible movies. It was at the point in the Old Testament where God asked Moses to lead his people out of Egypt. I watched as the actor playing Moses argued with God, as he wrestled and toiled in the tension of what God was asking him to do. And as I watched Moses pray and beg God for help, something hit me:

Moses didn’t know the end of the story. He had no idea what was about to happen!

We read the narrative knowing the outcome – the plagues, the people, the leaving, the chase, the Red Sea’s miraculous parting, the provision of daily food in the desert – we know how it all turns out! Moses did not. All he had was that God had spoken and his trust that God would lead.

I decided that was a pretty good way to run my business.

I start each day by asking God to speak, and then I trust He will empower me to go wherever He leads. If I have any kind of secret, I guess that’s what it is.”

That’s some simple, solid advice. I wonder how all of our journeys might change if we committed to do the same?

“Moses answered God, ‘but why me? What makes you think that I could ever go to Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

“I’ll be with you,” God said.