On Friday and Saturday, May 6-7, a small but committed group of men showed up for the first ECC Men’s Retreat since 2019. We set out for a time of fellowship and learning about what it means to become healthier people, inside and out. No. This was not a retreat about getting exercise. It was about knowing who we are as individuals and living into that reality.
During the retreat we looked at our individual identity, our corporate indentity, how to better recognize our emotions (yikes!), and how to begin to develop some healthy habits. I cannot recap all that we learned, so let me just get us started by talking about the nature of our individual identity, our first session that weekend.
We began on Friday evening with worship that, I kid you not, was so strong and loud that it sounded like there were 50 men in the room, not 20. After that, we began to hear from our guest speaker, Chris Croyts, on the question of identity. So often people talk about “finding themselves”, but from a biblical worldview, Chris reminded us, identity is not merely something we find; it is something we receive from God, regardless of all the other temptations out there we allow to define us.
We receive our identity, of course, from God. Just as Christ heard from the Father God at his baptism, so do we: we are God’s children and before we have done anything worthy of being loved, we are already loved by God. This is where all things begin when it comes to living into our true identity and becoming the healthiest possible version of ourselves.
Chris borrowed from the late Henri Nouwen, who looked at Jesus’ three temptations in the wilderness (Matthew 4.1-11) as expressions of three lies we are all tempted to believe:
- I am what I do (“If you are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread.”)
- I am what others think of me (“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the top of the temple and God will rescue you.”)
- I am what I have (“Worship me and all the kingdoms of the world will be yours.”)
How was Jesus able to resist these temptations? By remembering who he was, his true identity. Just before the temptation narrative in Matthew 4, Jesus is baptized by John. When he comes up out of the water, heaven is opened, the Spirit descends on him like a dove, and a voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Before Jesus did anything, the Father God was pleased with him. This was true of every man at that retreat. It is true of every person reading my words now, and all who will never see these words. Before we have ever done anything we think might “earn” God’s favor, God loves us and is pleased with us.
What would happen if each of us (men, women, youth, and children, alike) truly believed this? What might we do? Even more importantly, who might we become? Who you might you become?
My prayer is that the small beginning we experienced at the men’s retreat will grow like yeast in a batch of dough to other men, to all of us who call ECC home, and well beyond.