“Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good.” 1 Peter 5:8-11, MSG
Our first camp of the summer started off with this verse. “Stay alert. You are waking up at your age,” Melissa said to the 11th-12th graders that were with us at camp this last week. “You’re aware of new things around you and new feelings inside of you. There’s a destructiveness that you’re waking up to, as well. It wants to destroy you. It wants to destroy who God wants you to be…your identity. And it’s an easy thing to happen, particularly at your age. You start to give in to being like everybody else, instead of who God has uniquely made you to be. You give in to pressure….to emotion...to being who it feels like you’re supposed to be, instead of who God created you to be.
Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer who has won 18 gold medals, went through a period of struggling with his own identity. He became depressed. And, as he worked through that depression, he realized that his identity had been caught up in being “just a swimmer.”
If you’re dependent on what you’ve done, it doesn’t carry over. Your successes, your accolades, your achievements don’t really make a difference in your life for the long haul. When you base your identity on externals, they change. One day you win and one day you lose. One day, you’re in the in crowd. The next day you’re not. You don’t want to put your identity in the hands of this world. The biggest threat to the darkness—to the destructiveness that’s out to get you is just to be yourself.
And that’s what we want you to discover more of this week. What do you believe? Who do you want to be? Who are you in the big scheme of things? Too often, we don’t get to ask those questions. We live with a naivete about the destructiveness. We think we’re victims of what someone has done to us or what we haven’t achieved. Those are not the things that make us feel depressed. Instead, it’s when we think something is wrong with us and our identity becomes based on other things.
In Joshua 5, the Israelites are camped out at Gilgal. They’re about to go to war against Jericho. The night before, Joshua, their leader, moves from their camp and goes near Jericho alone.
You’re a lot like Joshua. You have a community…family, friends who care about you. But there are things you just face alone. “How am I going to do this?” Joshua was probably feeling much the same. He looked at Jericho and all he saw were walls. We all have them. The depth and height of our walls may vary, but we all have walls in some shape or fashion.
What are some obvious Jericho’s for you? College? Anxiety? Relationships? Unknown futures? Family? Someone who has hurt you? Stress? Pressure to perform?
It’s important to start to name your Jericho’s.
‘And then this, while Joshua was there near Jericho: He looked up and saw right in front of him a man standing, holding his drawn sword. Joshua stepped up to him and said, “Whose side are you on—ours or our enemies’?”
He said, “Neither. I’m commander of God’s army. I’ve just arrived.” Joshua fell, face to the ground, and worshiped. He asked, “What orders does my Master have for his servant?”
God’s army commander ordered Joshua, “Take your sandals off your feet. The place you are standing is holy.”
Joshua did it.’ Joshua 5:13-15, MSG
The next thing that happened for Joshua is that he looked up. He saw standing, right in front of him, a man standing with his sword. When Joshua saw him, his response was to ask, ‘Whose side are you on?’ That man is one many theologians believe to be the pre-incarnate Christ. His response? ‘Neither. I’m commander of God’s army.’
In other words, I’m for you, but your agenda is about your needs. I see something so much bigger for you. We get so me oriented that we miss the bigger picture. ‘Neither,” he proclaimed. I’m not here to take sides. I’m here to take over. I’m here to bring about good that is bigger than even you can imagine. It’s more than your side. It’s mine, and that side is redemption.
He then went on to tell Joshua to take off his shoes. Why? It’s a symbol of rest. Removing separation. Surrender. The commander is taking care of it. It’s like coming home. You walk in and take your shoes off because you don’t have to be on guard. You can rest and trust.
Joshua’s response? He did it. He felt safety and rest and trust in his presence.
As you sense and learn more about your Jericho’s, I hope you know he appeared here—at Joshua’s Jericho for a reason. He does at yours, too. And, in the midst of those Jericho’s, he is the commander. His side is ultimately what’s best for us. We can rest in that. And we can rest in the fact that he ultimately keeps us safe from destruction, but not in the ways we necessarily think.
Joshua and the Israelites defeated Jericho. And then, in 7, they went to battle at Ai. There, they were defeated in their first battle. And Joshua’s experienced the up and down we all feel when our identities become tied up in circumstances.”
Over the course of the week, we went on to talk about what it means to place our identities on the internals rather than externals of our lives. “Joshua was more than a warrior. Michael Phelps is more than a swimmer. You’re more than a runner…or artist…or part of a particular group. One day, you’ll feel close to God. The next day you won’t. But God has given you a deeper identity…as his child. He has made you to be you in a way that no one else can do. As my friend, Dan Allender says, ‘You are the only you this world will ever know and something about you is meant to make something about God known in a way no one else can.’ We discover that identity through relationship—particularly, relationship with God.
We take off our shoes in humility and rest. We trust him. We believe in who He is as our Savior and commander and find who we are, in the midst.
‘So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus.’ 1 Peter 1:5-9
There is a darkness around you…even inside of you. It will do anything to tear down your identity, especially during these teenage years. But God wants to do the opposite. He wants to build your identity from the inside. When you do and the outside things fail or falter, you won’t be devastated because your identity is deeper. As you take off your shoes and rest in him…trust him, your identity will be found in his love. It’s not about the externals. It’s about the internals…God’s love and redemption at work in your life. He’s on your side, which is ultimately his side. He is doing great things—inside of you this very minute. Rest in that. In him. He loves the only you that’s waiting to come out more and more.