He was a tax collector, but most of them were thieves. They had such a reputation that if you wanted to shame a person, you could call him a tax collector. People put them in the same sentence with the sinners, definitely low-life. Not only were they robbers, collecting more taxes than they were supposed to, but they were employed by the Roman government. People hated paying taxes to the Romans, and that a Jew could work for them meant total rejection by his race. The only friends Matthew likely had were men of the same profession, if you could call it a profession. They sold their soul for money. And they often got rich, but other Jews knew how they made it and despised them.

So Jesus came walking by. He was not afraid to associate with rejects. He was one of them. Isaiah wrote that “he was despised and rejected by men” (53:3). Those are the kinds of people he hung with, not the upper end of the social food chain. They were usually not interested in what Jesus had to say, but tax collectors, full of sin and brokenness, were sometimes all ears.

Two surprises that day. First, that Jesus said to Matthew, “Follow me.” Catch what he didn’t say: “Clean up your life.” He could have dug up plenty of sins to shame him. Jesus “knew what was in man” (John 2:25).  He knew Matthew’s past. Just so you know, prophecy is not focusing on people’s past as much as calling them to their future. It brings “encouragement, edification, and comfort” ( I Corinthians 14:3). I used to think that it was supposed to make people feel guilty, like, “I can see your heart. You have a problem with porn. You’ve been staying up and watching things you shouldn’t.” Jesus could have nailed Matthew, but the merciful Son of God was calling him to a rich future, setting him free from a shameful past. Jesus wants to do the same for us.

The second surprise was that Matthew got up. Shocker. And when he walked away from his desk, he said goodbye to yesterday and never returned. Powerful. I suspect that some of his friends saw the massive change and joined him. They might have even started a club–“Tax Collectors Anonymous.”

Why would a Jew who hated Rome work for that government? Two possible reasons:

  1. Love of money. That might have been Zacchaeus. The Scriptures say three things about him: he was small. Maybe he was teased for it: “Hey Shorty, is your dad a midget?”  He was rich. A third thing: “He wanted to see who Jesus was.” Good for Zac. He is finding out that money doesn’t satisfy.
  2. Need for money. You lose your job farming or building, and you are desperate to feed the family. They did what they had to do. And they lost friends in the process.

But not Jesus. He spent time with them–and called one of them into the inner ring. Paid off. Thirty years later he penned one of the greatest stories ever written, called “The Gospel According to Matthew.” What a destiny! Way to go, Matt! Way to go, Jesus!



Ephesians 1 gives us three strong statements of identity. We are not only chosen by God and given preprogrammed plans–



“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of God’s grace that he lavished upon us” (7,8). No sin need bring shame or separation from the love and purposes of God, because Jesus took care of sin at the cross. And what we believe, we receive.


If we let Satan convince us we are unacceptable because of the way we have blown it, our identity is skewed and our destiny compromised. Far better to receive truth and let it bring us liberty. Finish this sentence: The one who will keep me most from my identity is _________.


Mufasa fathered Simba well, playing with him, correcting him, giving him a sense of worth. He also reminded him of his destiny–he would be the Lion King. However, through Uncle Skar’s treachery, Mufasa was killed in a stampede, and Scar made Simba believe he was responsible. The shame of guilt made him run from his destiny into the jungle. He abandoned responsibility and chose to chill out with a Hakuna matata lifestyle of eating grub. Lions don’t eat grub, but Simba did.


Until Rafika encountered a confused lion and brought him to hear his father’s voice. Mufasa spoke the same message I had heard a hundred times: “Remember who you are.” He had to face his failure–and his uncle, a scary but necessary thing to return to his true calling. He disavowed the lies of Skar and became the Lion King for which he was destined.


An injured eaglet in the woods was taken by a farmer to his home and placed in a chicken coup. He learned to flap his wings and squawk. A zoologist who visited the farm was offended at seeing the young eagle act like a chicken and attempted to throw it in the air to help it take off. It flapped and squawked.


Two weeks later the zoologist returned and took the eagle to a high mountain cliff. He threw the eagle out in the air, and it squawked and flapped, descending rapidly toward the rocks below. Then something changed. He spread out his wings in desperation, and he discovered that he could  soar like the eagle he was created to be.


Some remain in the chicken coup, convinced by the hardships of life that they belong there. They need to renounce the lies, face their fears, spread their wings, and soar.


I taught on identity at a summer camp with a group of twenty young adults, using Simba as the backdrop as an example of how believing a lie negatively impacts our destiny. I asked them to share any lies they have believed. A young lady began boldly: “I don’t think I’m pretty enough to get married.” Ouch! She was a beautiful girl who convinced herself she wasn’t, and it brought sadness and fear.


I pointed to a young man and said, “You’re next.” He said, “I don’t think I have what it takes.” Life had knocked the wind out of him and made him feel like a wimp. I then had everyone break up in groups, share lies believed, and pray for the truth that sets free. My hope was that they could get out of the chicken coup and soar again. You too!!




That is what my dad told me or my sisters when we left the house for the evening. He never said, “Be back at eleven” or “be careful with the car.” This statement was so ingrained in us, that after he and Mom went on, we had a family reunion. All wore tee shirts proclaiming, “Remember Who You Are,” with a picture of the Lion King.


We discussed what he might have meant and decided he was saying, “Remember you are an Anderson; live up to that name. And remember you are a child of God.”


Dad understood three truths:

  1. Those who know their identity can walk into their destiny.
  2. Parents who focus on identity are encouraging the behavior they seek more than those who only focus on behavior. We behave our beliefs.
  3. Two pictures impact destiny–our picture of ourselves and our picture of God.


Identity is shaped by the truths we believe and the love we receive. Ephesians has three chapters that focus on identity and three on destiny–how we are called to live because of who we are in Christ. Paul starts his letter with three statements of identity: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ in the heavenly places. For he chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:3,4).



That is a statement of identity rather than of behavior. Choice implies worth. That the Creator chose us gives us great value, and not to simply take up space on the planet but to walk in a high and holy calling.


Gary, a friend in Junior High, was a science whiz, but he wasn’t a whiz with the bat, and he was always chosen last at recess, and it did not make him feel valued. Some dads focus on golf scores rather than homework scores, and their children don’t feel special. The more love poured in, the more they will know who they are and be able to walk successfully into their future. Identity drives behavior. Who we believe we are impacts where we go.


Secondly, if we view God as an angry Man with a stick, we may have trouble knowing who we are. Lies we believe will keep us from our identity. Satan, the father of lies, deceives us to keep us from walking into our destiny. Truth sets free; lies imprison.


Paul goes on to say:


“He predestined us in love to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” (5).  Love made Him draw up an individually styled destiny for each child adopted into His family, a plan that fits who we are. To know that God has a divinely crafted future should give us peace as we walk step by step. If we choose to believe that we are here by chance or that we ride the bench rather than the first team, we will not walk into our destiny. And sadly, Oliver Wendell wrote, “Most people die with the music still inside of them.” (Part 2 in three days).



A sabbatical will slow me down a bit on my blog output, but first a word from a favorite movie!
Significant people in our lives, and mainly parents, build an identity in us, or by indifference or abuse give us a confused identity. Simba knew who he was because he felt valued rather than being ignored. His father, Mufasa, gave him truth and love, which built an identity and produced a destiny. He knew he was called to be the Lion King.

Until Scar tampered with his identity. Jesus said that Satan comes “to lie, kill and destroy.” Sounds like Scar. He was responsible for the death of Mufasa, but he convinced Simba that he killed him, and guilt and shame replaced joy and self-confidence. Scar made Simba believe that he would be rejected if he went home. His sense of value plummeted, skewing his identity and clouding his destiny. He ran from his chosen purpose and became irresponsible. He learned to eat grub in the forest when rescued by Timon and Pumba, and lions don’t eat grub. They taught him to live for pleasure. Hakuna matata.

When Nala found him, she lovingly tried to call him back to his real identity and destiny. Like a victim, he said, “You don’t understand. I can’t go back.” When life is clouded over by guilt and shame, the prospect of walking into a positive destiny looks daunting.

Rafiki came to an orphaned Simba and convinced him that he had to go back. Rather than live in the past, he called him to his future. One of his best lines: “The past is past.” Victims live with “if onlys” rather than with “what ifs.” They get stuck in passivity and victimization, and if you don’t support them, they check you off their list of supporters. Simba heard his father say to him, “Remember who you are.” That was a call to his true identity, which then gave him the authority to walk into his destiny.

Simba was finally able to say, “I’m going back.” That means confronting shame, lies, false identities, irresponsibility, and passivity. It causes fear to mount up within us. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the willingness to do what we must, regardless. Fear prevents many people was walking toward their God-appointed purpose. It requires taking some risks, and they choose the mediocre life of pleasure to fulfilling their destiny. As one poet said, “Most people die with the music still inside of them,” and Simba almost became another statistic.

When he did go back, he had to confront Scar, just as David confronted the giants in his life. Fear keeps us from facing those things that stand in the way of our destiny. We must take God-honoring risks and go for it.

Scar made one last effort to neutralize a re-fired Simba by reminding him of his past. This time Simba was strong enough not to buy into the lies. Perception is reality. We are who we think we are. What Mufasa had built into Simba was recovered, and he was able to overcome his irresponsibility. The family was reunited when the true source of the death was uncovered. Simba found support from his family, whom he now realized believed in him, allowing him to walk into his true calling as the Lion King. His authority was restored and victory was achieved. (Thanks to Bob Neumann for many insights).


How do you see yourself? Saul started with much promise, “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the others” (I Samuel 9:2). The Lord told Samuel that “he will deliver my people from the hand of the Philistines” (v. 16). Soon after Samuel anointed Saul king, “the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying” (10:10).

From early on, however, his insecurity showed up, and it proved his fatal flaw. When Samuel spoke highly of him and his family, instead of receiving the praise, he said, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” (9:21). Saul saw himself as a nobody from nowhere. He did not tell his uncle what Samuel had done with him or said to him (10:10). When he was called forth to be presented to the people as their king, he could not be found. He had “hidden himself among the baggage” (v.22), not the right place for the leader-elect.

The Spirit of the Lord again came upon him when news came of the plight of Jabesh, and he delivered them and followed it with a great celebration. Then came a rout of the Philistines, the perennial enemies of Israel. And a further commentary said of Saul that “wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them. He fought valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them” (14:47,48). He had moments of brilliance, but he was not careful to obey the Lord.

When Samuel rebuked him, he gave us a clue to his flawed identity: ”Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel?” (15:17). Not only did Saul not wait for Samuel to do the sacrifice, a priestly, not a kingly task, but he failed to carry out the Lord’s instructions to wipe out everyone and everything. His excuse: “I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them” (v. 24). Then he said, “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel” (30). Saul seemed more concerned with what the people thought of him than what God thought of him, and it turned him into a wild man. He fumed with jealousy when David received the praise that he deeply wanted, and it consumed him to his dying day. A warped self-image spelled disaster for Saul.

By contrast, another Saul considered himself a terrible sinner. Then he added, “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe…” (I Timothy 1:16). In other words, a killer became a trophy of God’s grace. And Saul-turned-Paul walked into an incredible destiny in God. Far from hiding among the baggage, he begged to preach the gospel to people who were rioting because of his presence. True humility brings boldness, not timidity. Paul saw God clearly as a Father of mercy and he saw himself as an undeserving but willing recipient of lavish grace! Two accurate pictures made all the difference in the world. And it will for you as you see God as He truly is and yourself as He has made you!


What are your chances of walking into your destiny? Clue: most people don’t. Like a poet once said, “Most people die with the music still inside of them.” The two pictures that most determine destiny are your view of God and your view of yourself.

Your self-identity is not who you are but who you think you are. A prince who doesn’t believe he is a prince does not live like a prince. If he thinks he is a pauper, that is how he lives. Sorry for the prince. A saint who believes he is a sinner lives like a sinner—and many saints do. Our creed becomes our conduct. What we believe about ourselves is how we will live. Said more simply—we behave our beliefs. In fact, it is not possible to live in a way that violates what we believe about ourselves. A person who is convinced that he is abandoned will live as an abandoned person, regardless of what people tell him. A girl who thinks she doesn’t measure up will operate out of her distorted picture. Perception is reality, both with regard to ourselves and to God.

The prodigal left home to discover a more exciting life. When it didn’t work for him, he decided to return home. He was surprised to find out that he received back home what he wanted out in the world—a party, nice clothes, cool shoes, and great relationships. He was amazed at how generous and forgiving his father was.

Meanwhile, his older brother wondered why he never got anything from his stingy “boss.” Choked up by anger and resentment, his tight fists could not accept the gifts the father held out to him, and he lived like a slave, though he was a son. He frustrated the grace of an outlandish dad, which is what Christians with a skewed picture of their heavenly Father do.

Jesus told a story shortly before His passion of a businessman who gave three men money to invest. Then he went on a journey. Two men promptly invested and made a 100% return on their money! The third buried his investment, perhaps out of fear that he would lose it. When the master returned, he commended the first two servants.

The third told him, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you” (Matt. 25:24,25). Something had convinced this servant that his master was difficult to deal with. His perception was his reality, and “hard” is what he got (see Psalm 18:25). Two men fulfilled their calling and carried out their God-appointed destiny. Yay! The third was crippled with fear and fell far short. Bummer. The master described him as “wicked and lazy,” and he never lived out his purpose.

The hardship of life, either what happens to us or (more often) what happens in us, can change our picture of God. If we prayed for recovery and a child died, or we prayed for success and had to declare bankruptcy instead, or a painful divorce made us feel forsaken, we may wonder where God was. We might not turn Him into a monster, but our trust level may plummet. We easily interpret suffering as the absence of God. In fact, He is no more present than in our pain. So who do you think you are, and who do you think God is? (Part II in four days).



“I’m just a sinner saved by grace.” Okay to say that as long as you don’t pull the “sinner” identity into your new life in Christ. “Sinner” is what we were. “Saint” is what we are. We have been given a new identity through the powerful work of the cross.


We are not schizophrenic. Otherwise, we set the bar too low for living in the power of the Spirit. Sinners sin. It is not possible to live apart from the way we view ourselves. If “sinner” is our identity, sin will be our behavior. Identity drives behavior. What we believe is how we behave. In other words, we behave our beliefs.


If your friend is struggling with anxiety, are you going to point it out to him? Or are you going to call him to his true identity in Christ? Only the Spirit can show us what a person needs; maybe it’s an admonition. More than likely, he needs to be called upward: “This is not who you are. You’re not a worrier; you’re a warrior. You fight for others. God is releasing you from a past of anxiety.” People usually know what they are battling. They need a friend who believes for them past their faults to their future.


Calling people to their true identity prepares them to walk into their destiny. Those with a skewed identity walk into a flawed destiny. Those who do not know who they are don’t know where they are going. Eagles raised in a chicken coup act like chickens.


If you are convinced you are a light, shine you will. Jesus declared our identity when He said, “You are the light of the world.” Then He called us into our destiny by exhorting, “Let your light so shine before men…” Had He led with the admonition without the statement of identity, we would have tried and waffled.


I grew up hearing the Gospel, and I embraced it. But I also heard that I was both a saint and a sinner, which I interpreted as meaning that sin was inevitable. It would be like playing for a team that never expected to win the championship. Win some, lose some. I thought it was holy to focus on sin; that way I could confess them and deal with them. My very concentration caused me to keep sinning.


Paul said that we become what we behold. I thought saying I was a sinner was a mark of humility, when for me it was an admission of defeat. I was failing to take seriously the work of the cross. Others may be able to walk that sinner-saint identity—I couldn’t. New Covenant Christians are consistently called saints, holy ones. It is an issue of identity, and by virtue of the work of Christ, we are identified as people in Christ and called to holiness. That sets the bar where it belongs. Am I making too much of myself? No, I am making much of the redemption of Christ on my behalf.

So if you want to walk confidently into your destiny, settle the issue of identity. Then go for it! (Email for identity study in Ephesians.)