Twelve years ago we crammed our belongings, three reluctant kids and an obnoxious sheltie named Bodie into our black Durango and one big yellow Penske truck and headed west. We hadn’t an inkling as we pulled out of the driveway with tears in our eyes, that the 2,300 mile trek from Michigan to Idaho would lead us to a man we would come to know as “Grandpa Phil”.
Grandpa Phil was a true local, descended from a grandmother who was sent West as a little girl on an orphan train. He always had a fascinating story to share of his ‘young buck’ years working in logging camps, commercial fishing in the pristine waters of Lake Pend Oreille, and hunting wild game in the northern Idaho wilderness.
He quickly became a dear friend, lovingly investing in our entire family; especially in our son who eagerly finished his daily school work so he could head down the mountain to hang out with Grandpa Phil. As our children progressed into their teenage years, Grandpa Phil added this exhortation to nearly every goodbye:
“Remember who you are”
I don’t know what inspired him to speak those words. Maybe it was simply an expression he picked up along the way. Maybe it was a byproduct of his observation of the challenges of growing up. Perhaps he was reflecting on some element of his own story. One thing I do know is that I did not fully appreciate the power of those words until much later.
I was blessed to have good kids and I was fairly confident (most of the time) in my parenting, so I wasn’t overly concerned about them making a successful transition to adulthood. As it turned out, there were a few less-than-ideal decisions made along the line. In retrospect, I probably should have echoed Grandpa Phil’s words in my own send-offs!
Losing sight of our identity is easy. I know because I’ve done it —in a BIG way. I also know that once your sense of “who you are” has been lost, you can stumble around for some time before you find it again. Self-identity is important. It is a sort of anchor to which we moor other aspects of our lives. An anchor, however, must be stable and provide holding power. It must be secure.
So the real question is, what kind of anchor is my identity tied to?
It is not a novel observation that the focus of each of the gospels reveals something about its author and the unique vantage point from which they experienced their time with the Rabbi. Each was influenced in a special way that is reflected in their personal retelling of the details of Jesus’ life and ministry.
Luke for instance, being the physician in the group, was powerfully impacted by Jesus’ healing miracles. Matthew, a tax official acutely aware of the legal significance of lineage and inheritance rights, addressed the Messianic identity of Christ, and so forth.
John was the youngest of the disciples. His narrative stands out from the rest in that he describes the gospel in incredibly intimate terms. The theme of love resonates in John’s portraits of the intimacy between the Father and the Son (John 3:35, 10:17, 10:30, and 17:34), the intimacy among the inseparable triune Godhead, and the profound love of the Father for man that compelled Him to send His son.
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 1 John 4:9
Perhaps the most impactful aspect of John’s gospel is the way that he describes the inseparable, symbiotic relationship that Christ desires to have with us as we abide in Him and He abides in us (John 15:5).
John talks about Christ being the very essence of a Believer’s life in ways that the other Gospels do not.
“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.” John 15:9
“I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” John 17:23
Of great curiosity and significance to me personally, was John’s reference to himself as simply “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Not once in his entire narrative does John identify himself by name.
One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. John 13:23
Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. John 21:20
We don’t know what John’s backstory was, but the more I thought about that phrase and the number of times that John addresses issues of intimacy and love in both his gospel and in his letters, the more meaningful it became.
In the end I came to believe that the greatest impact Jesus had on John was that he LOVED him.
John was apparently so transformed by the Savior’s extravagant love for him that all other sources of identity utterly dissipated. John’s sense of self was radically changed by the knowledge of his identity in Christ. He could no longer see himself apart from one who was the recipient of that great, perfect and eternal love.
Lost in His love —How utterly fantastic!!
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” John 15:9