Who am I? - Finding Identity in Christ

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Good morning Casey Church family, and Happy Sabbath!
I want to start by saying, thank you so much from the bottom of my both Hayley and my hearts for giving us such a warm welcome over the past few weeks. Funnily enough I’ve never had to walk into a church before as a minister so I was very nervous my first sabbath here, but that quickly washed away due to the friendliness of this church.
With all that aside, It is a real privilege to be here and have the chance to get to know you and serve you over the next few years. Today I want tell you a little bit more about me and my story and my struggle in finding my identity in Christ. However, before I do that would you bow your heads with me as we invite the Holy Spirit into this space.

My Story

Growing up I have always been in and around church, ministry and pastors! Both my grandfathers are pastors, Dad is a pastor and so as a little kid I can remember going along to Bible studies, pathfinders, getting to church super early, funerals, weddings etc. My 9th birthday was celebrated in my 9th house, a different house for every birthday. I was born in Adelaide, Lived in New Zealand for 2 years where my little brother was born. Then we came back to Australia and lived in Gippsland where dad was the pastor of Bairnsdale and Sale churches and then Dad was called to Lilydale church where my 3 sisters have all been born. For those keeping up, that makes me the eldest of 5. From left to right is Tiarey, She is 15 years old, then Rylan who is 20, then Amity who 8 and on the right is Lacey who is 17.
If you talk to anyone from my extended family, and asked them what I would be doing when I grew up they would probably say he was always going to be a pastor. When I about 3 or 4 we lived in a little country town called Stratford. The head elder of one of the churches lived 3 or 4 houses down the street from us. I would scare mum and dad half to death because I would disappear and walk down the street, and end up at Ray and Glenice’s. I would make them sit down in the living room, get out this little stool and make them sit through church. I would get the hymnal out and make them sing Jesus loves me, and then preach the story of Noah. I did this regularly! While I was growing up there was times where I talked about wanting to be a lawyer or a pilot. Oh, and of course I always wanted and still do want to be the Captain of the Australian Cricket team. But when I really thought about it I always wanted to be a pastor. I felt very blessed because the majority of people who you ask in senior high school, what do you want to do when you grow up reply with, “I don’t know, or I’m not sure.” There is nothing wrong with this but I just always knew. I’m going to tell two stories that have shaped me to who I am today.

College story

It was the beginning of 1st semester of my second year at Avondale. The beginning of second year means a lot of things. However, the big thing means your sort of feel that you belong and understand how uni works. However, when you are studying a bachelors degree of ministry and theology at avondale, 1st semester 2nd year is when we study greek. Most classes at uni your first class for the semester is easy. The lecturer will give an outline of what the semester will entail, maybe run a get to know you activity for the class and then thats it! Not Greek. The first lesson you are given a piece of paper outlining what is to come in terms of the semester and then a piece of paper that has the greek alphabet. We are then subsequently told that tomorrow is our first test, we will be tested on the greek alphabet. Well I went back to my dorm room and studied for maybe 4 hours, trying to memorise this alphabet. I walked into class the next day and I was feeling confident, I had done the work, I knew my stuff. Sure enough, 100%! From that point onwards we had weekly tests, and for some in the class they picked it up easily. I, church family, was not one of those people. So while the grades were good in the first few weeks, as the greek became more complex, the more time I needed put into it and the worse my marks became. We got to mid semester break and I was exhausted, I felt I had failed the big mid semester test for greek and I felt so overwhelmed when it came to study. When I got got back from mid semester I felt like now was the time to really put my head down. However, it continued to go downhill. The more work I put into greek the worse by grades seemed to get. That really frustrated me, I just couldn’t get my head around it. However, the thing was because I was putting so much time and effort into greek ,without reward, I was putting less time into my other subjects with obvious effect. My grades kept crashing down around me. I remember sitting down to try and start writing an essay and I froze, I look back and realise that I was having a panic attack. From that moment on for the rest of the semester I barely touched my studies. When I thought about it, started doing it etc I would start to have this tight feeling all over my body. I felt that my study was controlling me, I was so overwhelmed and so I threw myself into things I could control, Playing basketball, Reffing basketball, Xbox, and all the social aspects that Avondale provides. Part of our study means that pretty much every semester we are placed at church were we get to be involved and help learn some practical aspects of ministry. I was blessed enough to be placed at Avondale College Church for the majority of my time at Avondale. I was under the mentorship of Pr Nimrod Maua and Pr Alex Green and I learnt so much from those two Godly men. Every Friday, all the ministry students that were placed at College church would meet with the pastors for a catch up. On this particular Friday Pr Alex was talking about the pressures of ministry and the amount of classmates he had that had dropped out of ministry very early on because of the pressures and expectations of being a minister. He said a phrase that has changed my life. “Ministry is what you do, it’s not who you are.” In other words, as minster you are employed by the conference and that comes with expectations. There are expectations from the church and then you have your own expectations. If you identity is wrapped up in the ministry, then when you fail at something, or make a poor decision then you will view yourself as a failure or yourself as poor etc. I can remember when Pr Alex was talking I felt a massive weight lift off my shoulders. I realise now in reflection that my whole life I have been a pastors kid. More than that I had for as long as I could remember had my sights on going to Avondale to be a theology student. I realised that i had my identity wrapped up in the fact that I was a theology student at avondale, and I was failing at that. So I was a failure. When Pr Alex said those words I realised that for the first time I was able to seperate my failing grades and myself. I felt on top of the world all of a sudden. I had a newfound energy. However, it didn’t last very long because after about 2 days I realised that I no longer knew who I was. My identity had been in going to be a theology student and then being a theology student who was going to become a pastor that I didn’t know who I was anymore. I got to the end of the semester and out of the 4 subjects that we take each semester, I had failed 3. So the 6 week uni break while I was working full time I had to embark on a journey of finding out my identity, answering the question so many of us have to answer at some point in our lives, Who am I?
To answer that I went back to an experience that I had in year 9.

Rite Journey Solo Camp

I was homeschooled for the majority of my schooling and only ended up going to school in year 9 at Edinburgh College. When I was there they ran a program during year 9 called “Rite Journey.” This program recognised that here in Australia there is no ritual or ____ to acknowledge moving from being a child to adulthood. Instead we have this weird teenage years that mesh into being a young adult and at some point you are expected to be an adult all of a sudden. So it looks at what it means to be a christian man or woman in today’s world. One of the camps we did during the year for it was a 24 hour solo camp. We went to Camp Howqua and we all got given our own territory and we were on our own for 24 hours.
When I was 12 or 13 we had a massive storm rip through and it dropped 3 massive tree branches on our house. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. So there was a period where I really didn’t like thunderstorms. I still don’t particularly like trees being near a house!
As the day starts to turn to night on this 24 hour solo camp you see massive clouds building over the mountain. The thunder started rumbling and my nerves started to increase. As the night came in I stayed out of my tent for as long as I could, because then I could watch what was going on. However, as the rain got heavier and it got darker I had to get into my tent. It is safe to say I was freaking out. Before I had left I had requested to be allowed to take my Bible. As you weren’t allowed to take anything. I was allowed to and it was this little blue Bible in my hands. I was praying and praying and I grabbed my Bible and I just opened it and put my finger on the pages. This is where it landed. Romans 8:31-39, I’m reading from the New Living Translation.
Romans 8:31–39 NLT
What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I will never forget the relief that washed over me when I read, No power in the sky above, I knew in that moment that I was going to be okay.

Finding my identity in Christ

For me this moment in year 9 has stuck with me as a moment where I had my faith confirmed. And in the hard times I always come back to the experience and the verse.
The apostle Paul who is the author of Romans, addresses a few things in chapter 8. In Romans 8:16-17 Paul says,
Romans 8:16–17 NLT
For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.
This has a few big concepts in it. One we are God’s children, heirs of God and co heirs, but also that we must share in Christ’s suffering. Paul talks extensively in his writings about suffering in the Christian journey. I don’t know about you but I know growing up I was taught that as Christians we will face persecution; maybe for some of you, you have. Personally the worst I have faced is being questioned or teased at school. Some of the stories that we hear from overseas of the atrocities that people have to face because of their faith in Jesus sends chills down my spine. We leave in an incredible country and are so very blessed to not have to worry about worshiping together today. So when Paul talks about suffering or persecution, Often we sort of just glide over it because it is not a present threat for us. However, Paul makes it very clear that it is an expectation for us to suffer as a Christian, which in and of itself is a sobering thought. Now this is where it gets really exciting for me. Come with me to 2 Corinthians 11:24-27
2 Corinthians 11:24–27 NLT
Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.
This is a list of all the suffering that Paul had endured during his life. So when Paul says in verse 17 that we must suffer, this is what he is talking about. Now that doesn’t mean we have to suffer through the exact same experiences that Paul suffered. But when we transfer this knowledge back to Romans, Paul before verses 31 - 38 has been talking about suffering and then he says the words “I am convinced that nothing can seperate me from the love of God.”
So coming back to my story, I know that I am a child of God, An heir and coheir with Christ, I know I will suffer, (My suffering is nothing compared to Pauls) but that in it all nothing in all creation can seperate me from the Love of God. I stand here today with my identity in the unshakable rock, nothing can separate me from that.
In the 6 weeks I had to figure this out, my life was changed. If you ask me today, Who are you Jayden? I can confidently tell you that I am the son of God, and that nothing can ever change that.
More than that I am the Husband of the beautiful Hayley, The son of Darren and Rosie, and the Older brother to Rylan, Lacey, Tiarey and Amity. Everything else doesn’t matter. I am confident in Who I am because first my identity is in Christ. Church family, this was hard work for me to realise, because I had to hit rock bottom, I was a failure, and if I fail at something I still struggle with this. I haven’t got it all sorted, but I always come back to Romans Chapter 8 because if Paul can face the perils that he did and still say that he is convinced that nothing in all creation can seperate him from the love of God, then me failing a subject or making a mistake is most definitely not going to seperate me from the love of God. I can confidently stand here and tell you that I am a Child of God and that nothing will ever change that. So Church family, here is my challenge to each of us. Ask the question regularly, Who am I? because we are called to place our identity in God. Because when we are in Christ as Romans 8:1 says
Romans 8:1 NLT
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.
Church family, I challenge each of us today, because while I know it, living it out is as different story, Who am I, Who are you? Is our identity grounded in the fact that we are children of God, who face no condemnation, and cannot be separated from the Love of God. Amen.
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