God Meets Culture, the writing home of Michael J. Klassen

September 28, 2012

What Defines You?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Michael J. Klassen @ 10:16 am
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“I want to ask you a question that probably no pastor has ever asked you. If you could get a tattoo, what would it be?”

Seeing that most of my listeners sported an assortment of intricate designs on their bodies, I reworded my question. “Now, I know some of you already have tattoos, but if you could choose only one, what would you get?”

Without any hesitation, a hand shot into the air.

“I’d get the word ‘Perseverance’ tattooed on my forearm so that every time I look in the mirror when I comb my hair, I’d see it.”

“I’d get the names of my kids,” another voice answered.

“I’d get a crucifix,” a man in a suit replied.

“That’s an interesting answer,” I said to the suited man. “Ten years ago, a good friend asked me the same question.” Then I rolled up my left short shirt sleeve…

Sometimes People From the Roughest Backgrounds Can Be The Warmest Listeners

Two or three times a year, I speak for a very special group of people. All of the participants are unemployed and attending a morning Employment Ready workshop through a ministry called Denver Works.

The demographics vary every time I’m there. Occasionally, white collar workers attend, but usually the listeners consist of blue collar-type people. Due to the poor economy over the last few years, attendance has been higher than normal.

Sitting in the back of the room waiting to speak, I noticed that all my listeners were men in their 20s and 30s. Most of them had just been released from jail.

Speaking before a group of recent ex-convicts can be a little intimidating. But I find they can be extremely refreshing if they have a faith in Christ—which was the case in this situation. The men were volleying Scripture passages back and forth and sharing their need for Jesus in order to get a job and stay out of jail.

As their training came to a conclusion, I knew my audience that morning would be warmer than most churches.

We All Need Reminders Of What Defines Us

Rolling up my sleeve, I showed the men that I sported some ink just like them. It was a crucifix.

That morning, I explained that getting a tattoo was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life. I wanted a reminder of what Jesus did for me two thousand years ago. But I also wanted a reminder of what defines me.

All of us gravitate toward different dictionaries of sorts, that tell us who we are. Some people define themselves by their jobs. Other people define themselves by the status of their relationships. Still others define themselves by their good or bad conduct.

Two weeks ago, my wife and I spent the whole weekend arguing (my ex-convict listeners were surprised that a pastor would fight with his wife). By the end of the weekend, I felt exhausted and demoralized.

But halfway through the next week, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart. I realized that I was defining myself by my wife’s opinion of me. I can’t blame her for that.

Suddenly I was reminded of the crucifix on my arm. Nothing, no one can define me except Jesus Christ. God loved me so much that he sent his only son to die on a cross to forgive me and win the right to define me for himself.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an ex-convict.

It doesn’t matter if you willingly choose to reject God’s love.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an addict, an adulterer, unemployed, or an “upstanding” church attender.

God loves you–and you can’t do ANYTHING to make him love you any more or any less.

One of my favorite verses in Scripture is Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Did you see that? God didn’t wait for us to get our act together before sending Jesus to earth. He sent him while we were still sinners.

Feasting on this truth with my new ex-convict friends, we all realized we were sharing a holy moment.

Only God can define us because we belong to him. He created us, but he also purchased us.

Michael J. Klassen is a freelance writer and co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado. 



  1. Well said, Mike. I have a small wooden cross that, though I can’t wear it, except in my heart, reminds me of who I belong to as well. Thanks.

    Comment by Eugene C Scott — September 28, 2012 @ 11:32 am | Reply

  2. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. (~Genesis 18:27) The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. We enter this world with nothing, and we’ll leave it in just the same way.

    Ecclesiastes 12:7 “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.”

    Some invest their whole time here gathering — (one way or another) — external “riches”,… “things” and appearances which they believe (hope?) will help them define themselves and give them a greater sense of significance,… or maybe a copied and imitated sense of significance and belonging,… or maybe even just the proverbial “delusions of grandeur” and unhappy props of an insubstantial and superficial way of living an empty life,…

    Taking care of “outer concerns” in a good way is certainly appropriate and significant to a point, but it can NEVER “cover ALL the bases”,… the real true and lasting riches (that you CAN discover AND “take with you”!) are really discovered ONLY on the inside,… the “Who are we?” questions of time eternal,…

    Many, in our super-materialistic times, fail to realize what a great personal “treasure hunt” God has allotted to each and every one of us, for our time being spent here on earth,… and it is a treasure hunt that ABSOLUTELY REQUIRES DIGGING,… and the DEEPER we dig — (into ourselves, into the Spirit, into the longstanding wisdom of those who have gone before us, and even into “the Divine Silence”) — and the LONGER we keep on digging, the more likely we will be to “find Gold”!,… Olympic Gold is a rather Big Deal to some these days, but it is of no comparison to the treasure I’m speaking of, or that God seriously and persistently instructs and admonishes us about, or that His wise disciples have written about, or that seekers keep seeking, or that finders quietly enjoy,…

    Matthew 7:6-8
    6 “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”
    [Keep Asking, Seeking, Knocking]
    7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

    1 Corinthians 9:25 “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.”

    It’s a personal search, personal for each one,… we can set an example, but we can’t actually give our own results directly to the “next guy”,… and not even to the people we love the most!,… (which is most often “why parents cry”! — imho),… our results may not ever completely match another’s results anyway,… and what we are here to learn, to “pray through”, and/or to do, may not be the same situation and/or assignment as the “personal work” of anyone else,… and this IS Holy Work,… it is truly deserving of great respect,…

    At some point, finding and respecting our own true (godly!) individuality, is very very important,… in fact primary,… when we “know” who we are and why we are here, it is much easier to walk out our walk before the Lord,… for His eyes — (our Master’s eyes) — and not for the vain approval ‘”of the empty-headed world”,…

    It’s precious personal treasure,… buried treasure,… worth sacrificing many of “the world’s distractions and preoccupations” to focus on and find,…

    Matthew 13:44-46
    [The Parable of the Hidden Treasure]
    44 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

    [The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price]
    45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, 46 who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

    There is often much “struggle” involved in this “search”,… the devil (as well as our flesh) doesn’t want to let go of what he falsely holds onto and blinds, so he will put up a steady resistance,… the average ways, assumptions and momentum of “the pushy world” do not really allow/(“courteously make room for”) deep personal God-searches,… read Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” or Hurnard’s “Hind’s Feet on High Places” for some classic observations,… they are excellent standards,… and in our struggles, we must always remember that:

    1 Corinthians 7:15 ” … God has called us to peace.”

    The peace we find, when we find the “who” God has made us to be, is worth all the efforts we put forth,… why??,… because he made (designed) us, of course,…


    happy digging,…

    Comment by Georgie-ann — September 28, 2012 @ 1:32 pm | Reply

    • edit: There is often much “struggle” involved in this (serious) “search”/(spiritual) birth (process),…

      Catholics are pretty well-known for “making the sign of the cross” in blessing themselves. If not having grown up doing this, it can be a little “strange” to begin doing it. Having grown up in a rather “modern-thinking atheistic” (but Christian background) family environment, I found myself strongly drawn to Christian things and symbols (definitely without my immediate family’s approval). I would quietly “sneak” making the sign of the cross when passing in front of a Catholic Church, as my neighboring childhood friends had instructed me to do,… I liked the way it felt,… I felt connected to Something invisible, silent, strong and very awesome,… my “insides” were touched,… I was 9 years old and beginning in the 4th grade in a new town. Daily, I walked past a small Catholic Church on the way to school,… I was in love with God,… but I didn’t know what to do with it,… which was probably ok under the circumstances,… & God was Faithful to me anyway,…

      From time to time, in varying circumstances, I have started again to make the sign of the cross — sometimes “the Catholic way” and sometimes just very small — and when I first “spontaneously” do it, I often wonder to myself “why did I just do that?”,… and I might feel that initially “strange” feeling again,… my ordinary conscious mind isn’t very tuned into it, I guess,… but quite often, it will become a little pattern that is actually very meaningful to me,… and I’m regularly reminded of my Lord and His Love,…

      A current up-to-date example, is when I’m daily “washing up” and every time I use a certain skin product, I just always make a deliberate small “sign of the cross” motion when applying it. This motion has become pretty much automatic along with whatever other washing up procedures are basically totally “sleep-walking” automatic at that time, but it inevitably “wakes me up” and draws my attention to think of the Lord,… sometimes I say a little prayer, or dedicate myself to Him, or even remember His wounds and suffering on the cross,… It seems to bring me closer to Him each day in awareness, and is certainly easy enough,… I get the feeling it was His idea, even more than mine, in the beginning,… I think many of God’s gifts to us are meant to be easy for us,…

      Comment by Georgie-ann — September 30, 2012 @ 12:16 am | Reply

      • edit: … beginning in the 4th grade, living in a new town.

        Comment by Georgie-ann — September 30, 2012 @ 12:20 am

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