On Mother’s Day ay at Gateway Church in Austin, our Next Gen and Women’s Recovery Pastor Jamie Schwarz spoke!
These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.
Audio of the Message Jamie Shared at Gateway Church in South Austin:
Here are notes from the message from Jamie Schwarz:
“Who am I?” is a question we are born asking. Deep within us there is a desire, a longing for the answer. At the core of this question there is a need to establish an identity. How we answer this question means everything. How we see and interact with the world around us stems from who we believe we are and what we are finding our identity in.
Starting about three weeks ago I began to feel a little off. I had a lot going on and trying to keep up with it all left me feeling worn out. That’s when things started to slip. The first thing I let slip was completely forgetting about my son’s band concert. When I realized what I’d done I felt horrible. That’s when the negative thoughts started to come, “You’re not being a very good mom. You’re letting your kids down. You’re not very good at this work/family balance thing. You’re never going to figure this out.” My identity as a mom was under attack and what was my answer? To try harder.
Then, I had two volunteer roles that I’m committed to which both had important things happening the last couple of weeks. In both cases I couldn’t seem to keep up with what I had committed to do and I kept feeling like I wasn’t serving with excellence. The negative thoughts came again, “You’re not keeping your commitment. You’re not dependable. You’re not giving enough. You need to do more.” My identity as a volunteer was under attack and what was my answer? To try harder.
Then, I started missing meetings with my friends. Sometimes I would have to cancel things. Other times I’d forget and over schedule myself. I felt the weight of letting my friends down and not being there for them like I wanted to be. Of course, the negative thoughts came again,” You’re not a real friend. If you loved them you’d make time for them. You’re letting them down and disappointing them. They probably don’t even think you care anymore. What kind of friend are you?” My identity as a friend was under attack and what was my answer? To try harder.
Then, as I was trying to juggle my relationships with friends and family, as well as volunteer roles, work, and other responsibilities, my time alone with God became less and less. At first I thought it was ok because I’m in a busy season and I’ll get back to a good rhythm soon. God will understand, right? When I was opening God’s word it was to accomplish a goal like finishing my bible study, instead of seeking to spend time with God. That’s when I noticed I felt distance between God and!. I wasn’t feeling connected and I started to feel restless. The negative thoughts came again, “Look at you, you hypocrite! You don’t want a relationship with God you just want what he can do for you. Who are you to be leading others when your own relationship with God is struggling? Why should anyone listen to you? If you love God, you would make time for him. You’re not as faithful as you thought. You’re not a good friend to Jesus!” My identity as a follower and friend of Jesus was under attack and what was my answer? Try harder.
The Striving Cycle
Have you ever done something only to look back on it and wonder what was I thinking? These last few weeks have been like that for me. I got caught up in the endless cycle of striving, a cycle I know all too well. Striving is my default. It’s what comes most natural to me. In my cycle of striving I feel this need, this pressure to do things in order to be something.
For instance in my cycle of striving I operate from a belief that in order to be loved I have to do lovable things. Another example would be the belief that in order to be valued I have to do things that give me value. In this cycle of striving I operate from the belief that what I do determines who I am. There are moments in this cycle, when everything seems to be running pretty smoothly, so, I feel pretty good about myself. However, I have found that things running smoothly is not the norm. There are more days than not where I feel like any second I’m going to drop one of the many balls I am trying to keep in the air. The second I let something fall I feel my worth, my value, and my acceptance all going down with it. In the cycle of striving you can never stop. It is endless. There is no rest in striving. It is because of my weeks of slipping into the striving cycle that I’ve been feeling so worn down and tired. I strived and I strived but it was never enough.
Every single one of us is born with a desire to know and understand our self. We are all trying to answer the question, Who Am I? And our natural default it to try to prove who we are by what we do. We work hard and try to excel in our careers so that we can be successful. We bend over backward and let people take advantage of us so that we can be seen as nice and well liked. We sign our kids up for everything, volunteer at every school function, and never miss a single game or event so we can be good parents. We work late, say yes when we should say no, try harder, work faster, do more, sleep less, run ourselves into the ground, and for what? In all our striving we are trying to earn the answer to are question. Who am I?
What we’re really asking is…Am I valuable? Am I acceptable? Am I worthy of love?
Our striving is only as dependable, reliable, and consistent as we are. Even the most reliable humans have to deal with the unexpected and unforeseen. No matter how hard we strive we are imperfect people who live in an imperfect world where sickness, accidents, extreme weather, and many other uncontrollable circumstances effect our daily life. We are powerless to perfectly up hold our own standards of value and worth. So, we live in the illusion and denial that we have control and that we are secure, while our anxiety and depression are at an all-time high.
All our striving has left us feeling tired, insecure, and restless. In a world with such uncertainty is it possible to have any security? To really know who I am? Is it possible to have lasting rest and peace? Does God see all our striving? Does he know how hard we are trying? Does he even care? Some of you would say of coarse he cares and yet even though you believe God cares you still struggle with worry and anxiety. You still feel insecure and restless. Others of you might look around at your circumstances and say if God does care than why are so many things in my life going wrong? These are important questions and today we are going to explore a bit to see if we can find some answers.
Being vs Doing – Mary and Martha
In the gospel of Luke chapter 10 Jesus finds himself in a tense situation between two sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha had invited Jesus and a bunch of others over to her home and was no doubt counting on Mary to help with the hosting duties. Martha was excited to have Jesus in her home. She no doubt wanted to take good care of him and impress him with her hospitality. However, Mary threw a wrench in Martha’s plans. Instead of helping she sat at Jesus’ feet listening to him, fully engrossed in what he was saying. I’m not sure how long it took but eventually Martha had had enough and she confronted Jesus about Mary. It seems that Martha was on the striving cycle as well, trying to answer her own question by what she was doing, and Mary was getting in her way. So, she confronts Jesus with what seems to be the same questions we ask Him. Do you see my striving? Do you know how hard I’m trying? Do you even care? Listen to what she says…
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” – Luke 10:40 ESV
Martha, like us, felt the weight of all her striving, and in her frustration, she knew she needed help but her answer was for Jesus to make Mary help her. Do you ever feel that way? Like if only my coworker, my spouse, my kids, my friends, my parents, would do their part, then my plan would work out fine and everything would go smoothly. Jesus was about to reveal to Martha that she needed something but, it wasn’t the help she expected. Listen to Jesus’ response…
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:41 ESV
Jesus was answering the questions that deep down Martha was really asking. By saying her name twice, he was emphasizing to her, I know you. By calling out her anxiousness and trouble he was saying, I see you. By identifying that there was only one thing necessary he was revealing, I am here so that you can be with me and know me, this is the one thing you need more than anything else. By saying what Mary had chosen was good and would not be taken from her, he was sharing with Martha that this was true for her as well. Knowing and being in a relationship with Jesus is good, it was the one thing she needed, and no one could ever take it away from her. This was true for Mary, it was true for Martha, and it is true for us today too. God created us to be with him in relationship, to know him intimately, and to be known by him. Yet we are so distracted in our striving and our doing that we miss the one thing we really need. The one thing that our striving cannot earn us…a relationship with our Creator the very purpose we were created for. In Psalm 46:10 God says it like this…
Cease striving and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10
He is calling us to stop all our striving and to rest and get to know him.
Ceasing Striving – The Nicaragua Story
The first time I had a real encounter with this verse I was on my first mission trip to Nicaragua. I would wake up early in the morning and go to this patio on the roof to watch the sunrise over the volcanos, and to spend time meeting with God. On this particular day I read this verse, and I thought about what it meant I was honest with God. I told him this sounded lovely but if I was going to practically live this out I needed to understand what it meant. Right about the time I ask God the question I got distracted by a man and two kids walking out into the field in front of me. I watched them as they walked up to a horse that had been grazing in the field. The man took a lead rope and put it around the horse’s neck. Then one at a time him picked up the two children and put them on the back of the horse. The man then took the lead rope and led them across the field back towards the town. I was captivated by the situation and watched them until they were completely out of my sight. It was at that point I snapped back to what I was doing and my conversation with God. I became keenly aware that the situation I had just witnessed was no accident. God had just given me my answer.
The horse represented the journey of life, which, from my experience with riding horses seems pretty fitting. The man represented God and the children, us. Without God we are not capable of entering into life on our own. Just as the man had to put each child on the horse, God has to give each of us life. Striving is like grabbing the horse by the mane or the reigns and trying to control it and make it go the way you think it should. If you’ve ever ridden a horse than you know that much like life they can be unpredictable and even when you think you’re in control, you’re really not. Ceasing striving means letting go of the reigns. It means letting go of your perceived control. It means surrendering. Knowing that he is God is like the children sitting back on the horse in a place of rest and letting the man lead. When we cease striving, and know that he is God then we can trust in two very important truths, God is with us on our journey and God is leading us. Notice, God is the one doing all the work in this scene and what are we doing? Trusting and resting in Him. Isn’t that beautiful? Can you imagine living from a position of rest?
Now again, if I’m being fully transparent the story didn’t end there. I really liked what God had shown me but I was honest with him and told him, God this is all fine and dandy when things are going well but how do I live this out in the middle of life’s storms? I should really be more careful about what I pray for.
As that day went on we were taken out into a rural community call La Chuscada to work on digging trenches so we could lay pipe for the water system we were helping them with. In order to get to this community we had to hike a ways from the main road through a big run off trench. This trench was used as a road as well as a place for the run off to go during their rainy season so that their fields would not flood. We just so happened to be there in their rainy season. Are you starting to see where this is going?
We worked most of the day but about mid-afternoon we could see some storm clouds moving in. This meant our work day was going to be cut short. Group members started telling us to pack up our stuff and head out but we didn’t get moving nearly fast enough. Before we knew it the storm was on us and it started to pour. It didn’t take long for us to realize this was not your average rain storm. And to top it off we still had to hike back out of the community through, that’s right, the run off trench. When we started hiking out the water was rapidly rising. It went from the tops of our shoes to our ankles in no time. Within seconds it was all the way up to my knees and rising. Everything was happening so fast. Being from Texas you become familiar with the signs of a flash flood and from everything I was seeking this had all the makings of one. I became very aware that if we didn’t get out soon things were not going to be good. On top of the flooding, there was also lighting striking all around us. I had never been so close to a lightening strike in my life. It was insane! So, not only was I trying to not drown in a flash flood I was also keenly aware I was in water in the middle of a lightning storm. Outwardly I was just trying to get out and get back to the bus like everyone else but inwardly I was coming to the realization that I might not make it out of this. Have you ever been in a situation like this where one minute things were fine and the next you’re fearing for your life? I remember so clearly, like it was yesterday, the feeling of panic starting to rise up from my stomach towards my chest. At that very moment when I thought I was going to lose it the scene from that morning and my time with God flashed back through my mind. I was reminded of the two things he had revealed to me. God is with me right here in the middle of this storm and God himself is leading me through it. This storm wasn’t happening apart from God or out of his sight. He was there. He was with me and He is good. “But” I thought, “what if I don’t make it out alive?” I realized that God’s goodness wasn’t determined by my circumstances or whether I made it out of that storm alive or not. God’s goodness is who he is. And God in his goodness where with me in that storm. He would never leave me and no storm could take him away from me. I realized God is good if I get out of this storm alive but, if I don’t God is still good. God has made it so that through Jesus nothing can separate me from him. I don’t need to be afraid of this storm or of death. What I knew in that moment was what he had showed me that morning, He is with me and he is leading me and that’s all I need to know.
Well, I’m here so it’s no shock that I made it out and back to the bus along with everyone else. Interestingly enough, I have continued to go to Nicaragua every summer for the past 5 years and nothing like this has ever happened again. I’ve thought about, knowing what I know now, if I would ask him to show me how to live that verse out in the middle of life’s storms again, and I think my answer is yes . That day when I got onto the bus and sat in my seat I just started crying and it wasn’t because I was sad or scared, it was because I felt seen, known, and loved by God. And I felt so blessed that he wanted me to know him too. Through that day and the storm I felt more free and at rest then I ever had because God helped me to begin to absorb what it meant to actually know Him and to rest in Him. I was beginning to understand what Jesus meant when he said that he was the one thing we needed. I began to understand that who I am can never be answered through what I do but instead can only really be answered by knowing who God is and understanding what that means for us.
Identity Lost – Back to the Beginning
In the beginning of creation, before our rejection of God and rebellion against him, man and woman where in the garden completely naked and fully exposed before God and God was in perfect unity with them. They got to be with God in his fullness. He knew them and they knew him. When Satan tempted the man and the woman, he twisted God’s words and questioned his goodness. Satan attacked Gods identity. The man and the woman listened and believed him, then they chose to disobey God. This choice was tragic and it affected everything, especially their identity. What they hadn’t realized was that the moment they believed Satan’s lies about who God was that also opened them up to being constantly tempted into believing his lies about their own identity. In their fallen state they began to feel shame, embarrassment, and the need to hide. This skewed perspective was passed down from generation to generation. People stopped even wanting to know God and stopped identifying themselves with him. They started seeking their identity elsewhere. In their work, in their role as a parent, in their good deeds, in their beauty, in their strength, in their creativity, in their intelligence, and in their sin. No one wants to identify with their sin and yet we can’t help it. When we fail, or let our self and others down we can’t handle it. We try to deny it, to do more, and we find other ways to cope. No matter what we do we can’t fully escape the weight of our sin? The problem isn’t outside of us it’s in us and it is in who WE believe we are. Sin is our rejection and rebellion against our loving Creator and it is because of our sin that we lost our desire to know God, we stopped seeking him, and because of that we lost our true identity. The further we’ve wandered from God the further we’ve wandered from our true self, the us that God designed and created us to be. Our feelings of restlessness, anxiety, confusion, and being overwhelmed all stem from the impact of our sin and deep down not knowing who we are, but desperately wanting to.
What we really need to know is, God, who are you? Do you see us? Do you see our striving? Do you know our struggle, our pain, our suffering? Where are you? Can I ever really know? I believe the answer is yes, we can. However, that requires us to stop, cease our striving, and to spend time just being with God in order to get to know him. It is being with God that we were created for and it is our being that translates into our doing. Being with God will transform you but not because you’re trying to be transformed. Being with God will transform you because He alone can help you become who you were created to be.
Identity Found – In Christ
God has never stopped wanting or seeking us. As we turn away and believe lies about him and ourselves, he shows us mercy and continues to present us with truth. He continues to speak even when we won’t listen. He pursues and pursues because that’s who he is and who he is determines what he does. Who God is has been revealed to us over and over, and the culmination of his revelation came, when, God chose to come for us, himself, in human form. Jesus came and revealed himself to us and once again, just like in the garden, God’s identity was attacked. Repeatedly in the accounts of Jesus’ life we see that he was attacked the most for who he said he was. It was who he claimed to be that ultimately led to him being put to death. On the day of his death Jesus gave up everything for us so that he could give us everything. He became naked so that we could be clothed. He was judged so that we could be forgiven. He took on our restlessness so that he could give us peace. He became sin so that we could be his righteousness and be made right with God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says it like this.
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21
Through Jesus God not only reconciles us to himself he restores our identity. He makes us new. Listen to what the rest of that passage in 2 Corinthians tells us about our identity in Jesus.
Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at Jesus that way once and got it all wrong. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with Jesus gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life begins! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through Jesus, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.
God has done everything to reconcile us to himself and to restore our identity. However, just as from the beginning God has always given us the choice, we still get to choose whether we will receive him or reject him. What I want you to know is that your question can be answered through Jesus. Through Jesus God identifies us as his own children and we are adopted into his family. In Jesus, God gives us everything we need to be who he has created and called us to be.
In Jesus we can say with confidence that…
- I am God’s child.
- I am known by God.
- I am seen by God.
- I am provided for by God.
- I am secure in God.
- I am loved by God.
I am convinced that nothing can ever separate me from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither my fears for today or my worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate me from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – nothing in all of creation will ever be able to separate me from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus my Lord.
We experience true rest when our identity is found in Jesus Christ alone.