Read an Excerpt
redefining life: MY IDENTITY
By Margaret Feinberg
Th1nk BooksCopyright © 2005 The Navigators
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLESSON 1
uncovering your true self
We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! 1 Corinthians 13:12
the defining line
We start every lesson by asking you to do a sometimes-difficult thing: define the core truths about the study topic as it relates to you right now. Use this "beginning place" to set the foundation for the lesson. You can then build, change, adjust, and otherwise redefine your life from there.
If you had to introduce yourself to a group in a hundred words or less, what would you say? Think about the things you would share. What would you mention? Your history. Your background. Your family. Your job. Record your introduction in the space below before reading any further.
Now, think a little deeper about who you are for a moment. Everything you've just written offers insightful pieces of information about you, but it's only the tip of the iceberg. Let's get beyond the obvious labels of job titles and heritage and press a little deeper. If you had to tell someone who you are - without mentioning your history, background, family, or job, what would you say? How would you describe yourself? What hidden thoughts, dreams, memories, hopes, and passions would you share? Which ones would you choose to hold back? Use the space below to describe the real you.
Consider sharing one or both of the descriptions with your discussion group when you meet.
read Could You Turn the Stereo(type) Down?
From "A Clear and Present Identity" by Frederica Matthewes-Green
I'm trying to remember a man I once knew. What was his name again? It was one of those Swiss names.
If you draw a blank at the concept of "one of those Swiss names," you're typical. Some nationalities bring to mind richly detailed associations, and Swiss is not one of them. Rummaging in the corners of memory, we might come up with a dated impression of chocolate, cuckoo clocks, neutrality, and Heidi. Wait a minute, forget Heidi - she was Austrian.
We live in an age that encourages a high degree of self-consciousness about identity, and some identities are more fully costumed than others. Head south into Italy and you immediately find a complete and colorful package, so generally appealing that Italian-Americans sport bumper stickers that read "Kiss Me, I'm Italian" ("Kiss Me, I'm Norwegian" is not as popular). Every Italian, as we well know, is exuberant, warm-hearted, and a great cook. Even Mafia associations become, in pop entertainment, colorful and harmless. If people could sign up for the ethnic stereotype they most wanted to portray, the list of voluntary Italians would be long.
Go not much farther south and encounter Arabs, who are assigned Italians' volatile temperament but not their sweetening charm. In the public imagination, they are "dirty Arabs," unreasonable and fanatical, and potentially violent. When Back to the Future wanted bad guys to covet the professor's plutonium, it gave Arabs the role. Among North Americans, the line to sign up to portray Arabs would not be long.
The question of identity is significant for Christians because we are each on a lifelong journey to find out who we really are. We are like miners trapped at the bottom of a caved-in shaft trying to tunnel through debris to the light. Jesus calls us toward Himself, but sins and selfishness impede us. Our natural state is one of confusion. Prone to self-deception, we don't readily know which elements of self to value and which to deplore. Examination of conscience is a lost art.
If you could choose a stereotype for yourself, which one would you choose? Why? What do you think that says about you?
To what degree do you think stereotypes are true? To what degree do they uncover a person's identity? To what degree do they hide a person's identity?
Why do you think the issue of identity is significant? Do you agree with Matthews-Greene's observation that "we are each on a lifelong journey to find out who we really are"? Why or why not?
Respond to this quote: "Examination of conscience is a lost art."
read What Does True Identity Look Like?
1 Corinthians 5:1-8
I also received a report of scandalous sex within your church family, a kind that wouldn't be tolerated even outside the church: One of your men is sleeping with his stepmother. And you're so above it all that it doesn't even faze you! Shouldn't this break your hearts? Shouldn't it bring you to your knees in tears? Shouldn't this person and his conduct be confronted and dealt with?
I'll tell you what I would do. Even though I'm not there in person, consider me right there with you, because I can fully see what's going on. I'm telling you that this is wrong. You must not simply look the other way and hope it goes away on its own. Bring it out in the open and deal with it in the authority of Jesus our Master. Assemble the community - I'll be present in spirit with you and our Master Jesus will be present in power. Hold this man's conduct up to public scrutiny. Let him defend it if he can! But if he can't, then out with him! It will be totally devastating to him, of course, and embarrassing to you. But better devastation and embarrassment than damnation. You want him on his feet and forgiven before the Master on the Day of Judgment.
Your flip and callous arrogance in these things bothers me. You pass it off as a small thing, but it's anything but that. Yeast, too, is a "small thing," but it works its way through a whole batch of bread dough pretty fast. So get rid of this "yeast." Our true identity is flat and plain, not puffed up with the wrong kind of ingredient. The Messiah, our Passover Lamb, has already been sacrificed for the Passover meal, and we are the Unraised Bread part of the Feast. So let's live out our part in the Feast, not as raised bread swollen with the yeast of evil, but as flat bread - simple, genuine, unpretentious.
What words does Paul use to describe our authentic identity? How do those words compare to what we hear from friends? Coworkers? Employers? Television, movies, and other media?
In what ways would you describe yourself as raised bread? In what ways would you describe yourself as flat bread?
Why kinds of "yeast" have you allowed in your own life?
What does it take to become the "flat bread" Paul describes? How can you do this? Do you even want to?
read Who You Are Without the Fanfare
From "Take Five with Kurt Warner," an article in Today's Christian Woman
Super Bowl champion and [former] St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner hasn't always had a glamorous life. Drafted and then cut from the NFL in 1994, Kurt supported himself by stocking shelves at a local grocery store. After his supermarket days, Kurt played arena football and in the NFL Europe, where he fully committed his life to Christ.
With all the publicity, does ego ever become a problem? When I was cut from the NFL and worked in a grocery store to make ends meet, I learned about finding my identity in Christ. That's helped me remember everything I have is a gift from God.
How do you continually keep your standards high? We have a group of guys on the team who are believers. We regularly meet for Bible study, accountability, and prayer before games. We hope to show some of the younger guys on the team who are seeking "religion" that Christ's available to them, too.
I also make sure my family gets to church weekly. These things remind me no matter what I do, if I make mistakes or fumble things in life, God's always there for me.
What did hard times teach Kurt Warner about his identity? What have hard times taught you about your genuine identity?
Which has taught you more about yourself: times of ease, or times of difficulty? Why?
Think of one particularly difficult time in your life. What did you learn about yourself by going through it?
What does the presence and makeup of your community - friends, family members, and coworkers - reveal about you? Why are other people so important to figuring out who you really are?
read Stripped of the Glitz and Glamour
Madonna, as quoted in Vanity Fair
All my will has always been to conquer some horrible feeling of inadequacy. I'm always struggling with that fear. I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being, and then I get to another stage and I think I'm mediocre and uninteresting. And I find a way to get myself out of that. Again and again. My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that's always pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I've become Somebody, I still have to prove that I'm Somebody. My struggle has never ended, and it probably never will.
Are you surprised by Madonna's insecurities? Why or why not? In what ways do you relate to them?
Reread the paragraph. How does Madonna's vulnerability make you feel about her? Do you feel like you understand her any better? Does it affect the way you think about her?
When you look at your own life, what fears and insecurities drive you to do the things you do?
If you were willing to share those fears and insecurities with the other members of your discussion group, do you think they first thoughts would still care for you? Do you think their compassion for you would increase or decrease based on what you shared?
What prevents you from sharing them?
Do you expect your struggle will ever end? Why or why not?
read True Identity Revealed
Joseph couldn't hold himself in any longer, keeping up a front before all his attendants. He cried out, "Leave! Clear out - everyone leave!" So there was no one with Joseph when he identified himself to his brothers. But his sobbing was so violent that the Egyptians couldn't help but hear him. The news was soon reported to Pharaoh's palace.
Joseph spoke to his brothers: "I am Joseph. Is my father really still alive?" But his brothers couldn't say a word. They were speechless - they couldn't believe what they were hearing and seeing.
"Come closer to me," Joseph said to his brothers. They came closer. "I am Joseph your brother whom you sold into Egypt. But don't feel badly, don't blame yourselves for selling me. God was behind it. God sent me here ahead of you to save lives. There has been a famine in the land now for two years; the famine will continue for five more years - neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me on ahead to pave the way and make sure there was a remnant in the land, to save your lives in an amazing act of deliverance. So you see, it wasn't you who sent me here but God. He set me in place as a father to Pharaoh, put me in charge of his personal affairs, and made me ruler of all Egypt.
"Hurry back to my father. Tell him, 'Your son Joseph says: I'm master of all of Egypt. Come as fast as you can and join me here. I'll give you a place to live in Goshen where you'll be close to me - you, your children, your grandchildren, your flocks, your herds, and anything else you can think of. I'll take care of you there completely. There are still five more years of famine ahead; I'll make sure all your needs are taken care of, you and everyone connected with you - you won't want for a thing.'
"Look at me. You can see for yourselves, and my brother Benjamin can see for himself, that it's me, my own mouth, telling you all this. Tell my father all about the high position I hold in Egypt, tell him everything you've seen here, but don't take all day - hurry up and get my father down here."
Then Joseph threw himself on his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. He then kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Only then were his brothers able to talk with him.
The story was reported in Pharaoh's palace: "Joseph's brothers have come." It was good news to Pharaoh and all who worked with him.
Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Tell your brothers, 'This is the plan: Load up your pack animals; go to Canaan, get your father and your families and bring them back here. I'll settle you on the best land in Egypt - you'll live off the fat of the land.'
"Also tell them this: 'Here's what I want you to do: Take wagons from Egypt to carry your little ones and your wives and load up your father and come back. Don't worry about having to leave things behind; the best in all of Egypt will be yours.'"
And they did just that, the sons of Israel. Joseph gave them the wagons that Pharaoh had promised and food for the trip. He outfitted all the brothers in brand-new clothes, but he gave Benjamin three hundred pieces of silver and several suits of clothes. He sent his father these gifts: ten donkeys loaded with Egypt's best products and another ten donkeys loaded with grain and bread, provisions for his father's journey back.
Then he sent his brothers off. As they left he told them, "Take it easy on the journey; try to get along with each other."
They left Egypt and went back to their father Jacob in Canaan. When they told him, "Joseph is still alive - and he's the ruler over the whole land of Egypt!" he went numb; he couldn't believe his ears. But the more they talked, telling him everything that Joseph had told them and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him back, the blood started to flow again - their father Jacob's spirit revived. Israel said, "I've heard enough - my son Joseph is still alive. I've got to go and see him before I die."
Read Genesis 43 and 44. Why was it so important for Joseph to reveal his identity?
What prompted him to keep his identity secret for so long? How difficult was it for him to keep the secret? How did Joseph feel when he revealed the truth?
What kind of burden do you carry when you try to be someone other than yourself?
What situations, circumstances, or people tempt you to be someone other than your true self? How can you resist the temptation?
live The Redefining
Take a few moments to skim through the notes you've made in these readings. What do they tell you about how you see "your true self"? Based on what you've read and discussed, is there anything you want to change? Describe this below.
Excerpted from redefining life: MY IDENTITY by Margaret Feinberg Copyright © 2005 by The Navigators. Excerpted by permission.
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