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Altar EgoBecoming who God says you are
By Craig Groeschel
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2013 Craig Groeschel
All right reserved.
Chapter Oneovercoming the labels that bind you
Don't rely too much on labels, for too often they are fables. —Charles H. Spurgeon
It's no secret that I've always been financially conservative—at least that's the way I've described myself. Others haven't been as kind in their descriptions of my careful spending habits. The refrain I've heard the most often is "Craig the Tightwad," which I find a bit extreme. I'm just more fiscally responsible than other people, I rationalize.
In my teens and college years, my financial selfishness didn't stand out that much. None of us had a lot of money to spend, so saving was pretty much out of the question. Sure, you might have been able to spot signs of my selfishness. Letting a buddy drive so I didn't have to pay for gas. Conveniently forgetting about a friend's birthday and the requisite gift. In college, some guys actually spread rumors that I'd break up with a girl before Valentine's Day to avoid giving her a present! For the record, if I ever did such a lousy thing, it wasn't more than once or twice.
When I was a young adult with a real job that paid a real salary (real low, but real nonetheless), my selfish tendencies became more obvious. When Amy and I married, my annual income was twelve thousand dollars a year. With the goal of becoming debt free, we held back on giving expensive presents to our friends and families. In the early years, our budget for Christmas was five dollars per person. When people made fun of us, we eventually caved and raised our budget to a liberal seven dollars per person. (Before you judge me, remember that seven dollars went a lot farther in 1991.)
The one habit that cemented my reputation, though, was recycling gifts. Anyone with the gift of penny-pinching has recycled a gift or two in their prime. I admit that I excelled and elevated regifting to an art form. Not only did I not want my kids to open the cellophane wrapping off some presents to ensure we could give those to another child as needed, but I regularly gave to others gift cards that I had received. The granddaddy of them all was when I actually got caught doing it. Sure, everyone suspected my crime, but no one could ever prove it, until the day I gave a Chili's gift card to Mike.
Mike was a painter who did some work on our home. Because Mike did a great job and wasn't a Christian, I wanted to be a good witness by offering him a tip for his work. But not wanting to drop any extra cash, I rummaged through my desk until I found a gift card to a Chili's restaurant. The little envelope it came in displayed the amount, and Mike seemed genuinely touched to receive a card with a twenty-five dollar balance. It was a win-win; Mike got rewarded and I didn't have to spend a cent.
The next night, Mike called me. "Craig!" he said. "Everyone said you're a tightwad, but this is ridiculous!" I could hear loud voices and the clatter of plates and cutlery in the background.
Oh no. My mind raced. What did I do? How did he know?
"I'm at Chili's with a friend and just tried to use the gift card you gave me," Mike said, his words coming out so fast I could barely understand him. "Our bill came to just over twenty bucks."
"Yes," I replied, as much of a question as a statement.
Mike didn't hold back as he unloaded on me. "The stupid gift card you gave me only had $2.43 credit on it!"
I had regifted a mostly used card. I guess I earned my not-so-coveted nickname, Craig the Tightwad.
READ THE LABELS
I'm not the only one to get saddled with identity baggage. You don't have to think long and hard to name people who've been labeled. There is Attila ... the Hun. There is Conan ... the Barbarian. Billy ... the Kid. Buffy ... the Vampire Slayer. And my childhood favorite, Winnie ... the Pooh. Right or wrong, people are known for what they do. Tiger Woods was known for being the best golfer in the world. Unfortunately, because of his extracurricular activities, he has now picked up less favorable labels. Some people's names even become synonymous with their crimes or failures. No one wants to be a Benedict Arnold or a Doubting Thomas.
I've owned up to the negative nickname I earned, and I'm going to ask you to do the same. Even if you don't totally deserve what you've been called, it's important to acknowledge your label instead of pretending it doesn't exist or that it doesn't bother you. What's the label following your name?
Maybe you're Pam the People Pleaser, allowing others to walk all over you, rarely standing up for your rights or what you really want in life. Because of your passive nature, you've been labeled a doormat or a pushover. You're always concerned with what people think, worrying you've let them down, hurt their feelings, or disappointed them in some way. Perhaps people have labeled you as insecure, self-doubting, or apprehensive.
You might be more like Evan the Evasive, someone who postpones decision-making, always trying to keep your options open. Commitments make you feel tied down. So people say you're unreliable or uncommitted.
Or perhaps you're always getting your feelings hurt and people tiptoe around you because you're known to be overly sensitive.
Maybe you lose your cool more easily than most. You tend to say the first thing that pops into your mind. People have labeled you as angry and bitter, a hothead.
Or perhaps you have so much on your mind that you occasionally forget to return a call or a text. You often are late to meetings, if you make it at all. And you've been labeled irresponsible.
It might be that you've been the center of a few too many parties. You've lived on the wild side and had more than your share of late-night fun, and you've been labeled the party girl or the guy who is nothing more than a player.
Or maybe you don't feel like you excel at much of anything. You're not the worst, but you certainly aren't the best. And for most of your life, you've been called average. Mediocre.
No matter what you have or haven't done, God's power is big enough to change you. There is no sin too great for God's grace. There is no habit too big for his healing. There is no label too strong for his love. Let me say it again, because I want you to believe this: God's power is bigger than your past.
And his power is rooted in his love for you. He knows who you really are no matter what others label you—or what you label yourself. What's true about you now doesn't have to be true about you later. The goal is not to reinvent yourself by striving to be some perfect person but to allow God to do an extreme makeover by uncovering your true self in his image, redeemed through Christ. What once was, no longer has to be. God can and will break the labels that have held you hostage.
You were made for more than you've settled for. You know your life does not reflect who you really are deep down inside. You know there's more, and you're tired of settling for less, but you're just not sure how to move forward. It's time for you to learn who you really are and what you're capable of doing across eternity.
So many competing messages vie for our attention, trying to tell us who we are and what we should do, where we should shop and how we should vote, who we should cheer for and who we should condemn. But if we've committed to follow Jesus and have accepted the ultimate gift card of salvation, which carries an infinite balance over the charges of our sins, then there's only one source for knowing who we are and how we should live.
Overcoming labels will likely mean a radical shake-up of who you think you are. You may not even recognize yourself by the time you finish this book! My hope is that you'll discover greater harmony and peace in your life, a tighter alignment between your beliefs and your behavior. You will no longer be a collection of labels glued together by your acceptance of other people's perceptions of you. You will see the truth about who you are and how to live in the freedom of who you were meant to be.
HELLO, MY NAME IS ...
When I became a Christian, I carried more labels than just Craig the Tightwad. Some people knew me as the frat boy who was the center of the party. Those on the outside of our party world often called me an arrogant jerk. The bottom line is, I felt like I had committed most of the sins a person could commit. As I shared in my opening letter to you, my self-image was lower than the belly of a worm crawling in the dirt. Not only did I dislike who I'd become; I outright hated myself.
That's why God's truth about who I am transformed my life and hope. Paul writes, "Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!" (2 Cor. 5:17 NLT, emphasis mine). No matter what others have said or what you've believed about yourself, even if the negative labels are true, God can give you a new view of you.
He will start by giving you a new name. All through the Scriptures are multiple examples of God giving new names to replace old identities and to reflect new realities. Isaiah 62:2 says, "You will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow" (emphasis mine).
Can you imagine: the Lord of the universe bestowing upon you a new name to replace an old and hurtful label? God gave Abram and Sarai new names: Abraham and Sarah, meaning father and mother of many nations. Their new names pointed to God's promise of the blessings to come. God changed the name of Jacob, which meant trickster or deceiver, to Israel, the name of God's beloved chosen ones.
In the book of Judges, we read about a timid leader named Gideon. In our first impression, we see Gideon hiding in a winepress, afraid of the enemy, the Midianites. But when an angel of the Lord appears to Gideon, the angel calls him a "mighty man of valor." Gideon, empowered by God, grew into the true meaning of his name. God will do the same for you, but you must be willing to let go of the old name to grow into the fullness of your true identity.
Like Gideon and Jacob, so often we cling to the safety of a familiar, false identity rather than extend ourselves to grasp who we really are. People tell us we're shy, so we never allow ourselves to take risks to meet new people and become more social; we retreat into the safety of our refrain that "that's just who I am." Or they tell us we're funny and always expect us to crack a joke or deliver a witty punchline, never challenging us to use the intellect behind that humor for something more substantive.
I observed this phenomenon—and challenged it—when I first met my wife, Amy, more than twenty-two years ago, when she was a sophomore in college. Besides her love for God, I was impressed with her quick wit and sharp mind. So imagine my shock when one day Amy casually mentioned that she was just an average student. Average student? I remember thinking, There is nothing average about this girl! So I argued with assurance that she wasn't average at all.
Amy didn't budge on her self-proclamation of mediocrity. She dismissed my observation as the product of infatuation or flattery. When I tried to discern why she felt this way about herself, she explained that everyone—her parents, her teachers, her friends—always told her she was a middle-of-the-road student. For as long as she could remember, everyone agreed that she wasn't at the bottom of the class and never would find herself at the top. Her making mostly B's and a handful of C's only confirmed the label.
After several months of getting to know Amy even better, I was convinced that she believed a lie. With a burden that I felt came from God, I sat Amy down, looked her in the eye, and told her as boldly as I could, "Just because everyone else says something, and even believes it, doesn't make it true. You are not average. God made you very, very bright."
Amy's eyes almost glazed over as she instinctively brushed me off. Unfazed, I firmly but lovingly held both sides of her face and said, "Listen to me. I believe God wants you to hear this. Hear it as him speaking, not me. God did not make you average. You have greatness inside of you. It's time to act like it."
Her eyes teared and locked with mine. Something changed at that moment. I believe that instead of seeing herself as others saw her, Amy saw herself as God sees her. She started her next semester not as Amy the Average but with a new God-given name: Amy the Brilliant. If my story sounds a little cheesy or melodramatic, the results speak for themselves. For the first time ever, Amy made a 4.0—all A's. With a new, God-given self-image, she never made anything lower than an A for the rest of her college studies.
THE BIG REVEAL
It wasn't long after this experience with Amy that God gave me a new name as well—one that I felt inadequate to own. Shortly after joining my church staff at the tender age of twenty-two, I passed a lady in our office. She smiled broadly and said, "Hi, Pastor Craig," and kept on walking. Pastor Craig? Are you kidding me? I don't deserve to be called "Pastor" anything!
Uncomfortable with this title, I found my boss, Nick, and told him that I wasn't ready to be called Pastor yet. I didn't know enough. Wasn't good enough. And still had way too much to learn. Pastor Nick burst out laughing, put his hand on my shoulder in a fatherly manner, and said, "Pastor Craig, I remember feeling just like you. Don't worry. You'll grow into your new name."
Those words helped change my life, and now the same is true of you. God is going to give you a new name; you may already know it. You might not feel worthy of that name or understand how it applies to you. You may not feel deserving. Don't worry. God gave you that new name, and you will grow into it.
You might have done a lot of things wrong and you carry the guilt. Your new God-given name is Forgiven. Perhaps you've struggled with an ongoing sin or don't like something about yourself. Your new name is Transformed. You might live daily with a hurt from the past. You've been abused and don't know if you can ever overcome it. You have a new name. Your name is Healed.
It could be that you know you need to step it up and direct your family toward God's perfect will. Even though you don't feel ready, God calls you Spiritual Leader. You might have battled overeating or underexercising your whole life. Accept the new name Physically Fit. If you've ever felt like a failure as a mom, seek the God of all and own it when he calls you Great and Godly Mom.
When God gives you a new name, even if it feels like you can't fulfill it, don't worry. By his Spirit and through his Son, you will grow into it.
LIVING ON PURPOSE
Not only will "the Lord bestow upon you a new name" but your new name carries a new purpose. Again, God's Word is rich with examples. My favorite is Simon the fisherman because I relate to his inconsistencies, blunders, and well-intentioned failures. Like most of us, Simon didn't have the credentials expected of a spiritual hero. Many would have described him as unstable, unpredictable, and impulsive. But Jesus saw more in him than others saw.
And I can assure you that Jesus sees more in you as well.
Calling Simon to be his disciple, Jesus gave the fisherman a new name that carried a new purpose (see Matthew 16). After Jesus plays a round of spiritual Jeopardy! asking his followers who he really is, Peter lands the big money with the right answer. "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." In recognizing Jesus' true identity, Simon is stepping into a new name of his own. Jesus says, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it" (Matt. 16:17–18, emphasis mine). He is no longer Simon, but Peter. He will no longer cast nets for fish, but now he will be a fisher of men. God will use him to win people into God's kingdom.
Now, if you know anything at all about Peter, even after Jesus' declaration, Peter didn't always live up to his new name. (Like us, he still had to grow into it.) Numerous times Peter fell short of faithfulness. When the guards confronted Jesus near the Garden of Gethsemane, rather than responding as Jesus taught him, Peter resorted to violence and sliced off a soldier's ear. (I'm only guessing, but I'm pretty sure Peter was swinging for the head and missed.)
Peter's most infamous failure followed on the heels of his boldest declaration. When Jesus explained that many would fall away, Peter fought back, promising his allegiance. "Even if everyone else in the world falls away and leaves you," Peter declared with unbending boldness, "I will always be there for you and never let you down" (Mark 14:29, paraphrased). If you know the rest of the story, before the rooster crowed, Peter denied even knowing his Lord, not once, but three different times.
Even though Peter didn't initially live up to his new name and purpose, God helped him grow into it. His consistent shortcomings became his best teacher to learn about the grace and redemption of God through Christ. Since he was forgiven much, he knew how to preach on repentance and forgiveness. It's no wonder that God chose
Peter to be the keynote speaker on the day of Pentecost as he unwaveringly told people to turn from their sins and turn to Christ. Peter the Wishy Washy grew into his new name and his new purpose—Peter the Rock, called not to fish for fish but to fish for souls. History shows us that Peter died a martyr's death for his faith in Christ. Tradition says that his enemies planned to crucify him on a cross just like Jesus to mock his faith in Christ. But Peter begged them not to, explaining that he wasn't worthy to die in the same way as his Savior. Many Christians believe Peter was crucified upside down, displaying his love for Christ and his unwillingness to end his life in the same way as his Savior. Peter may have been born as quicksand, but he died a rock.
Excerpted from Altar Ego by Craig Groeschel Copyright © 2013 by Craig Groeschel. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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