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Finding who we are: How Jesus’ “I AM” lessons shape our identity

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by Matt Saunders

If you are a NASA, SpaceX, or some other fan (ahem, nerd) of rockets and space, this spring has been quite an exciting time. We have witnessed the launches of several SpaceX Starship prototypes, the landing of Perseverance, a rover on Mars, and most astonishingly, at least to me, the flights of Ingenuity, a robotic helicopter, above the Martian surface in the thin atmosphere. When I was a 6th grader, I was just beginning my own NASA fandom. It was the year of the Challenger accident, but that didn’t squish my 6th-grade imagination of being in the first group of astronauts to explore Mars. Obviously, as a summer camp director, I didn’t quite live out that dream. However, these interests definitely shaped my identity as a young person. 
My middle school years were rough. I awkwardly navigated through friend groups and interests, seeking to discover myself and my strengths. I think I turned out alright — I had some nerdy interests and managed to do fairly well in school. Around girls, I was mostly awkward. But above all, I landed on an identity of being friends with everybody.
Faith played a big role in my teenage years. The phrase, “finding your identity in Christ” was something I heard from many youth pastors and conference speakers. I’m not sure I fully understood the phrase, but it sounded appealing to me. Today, as a Jesus follower, I continue to seek out what this means, as there is increased confusion about being identified as a Christian (culturally) versus the spiritual formational process of being identified in Christ.
Youthfront’s theme for summer camp 2021 is “Who I AM,” and it enters directly into these conversations about identity formation and finding one’s identity in Christ. In the Bible, the book of John captures a series of fascinating statements from Jesus. They all begin with “I AM” and then are followed by some type of an object lesson from Jesus. For example, in one scene, Jesus teaches, “I am the bread of life.” In another, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.”
There are eight of these sayings in total. Jesus uses these object lessons to reveal his identity. They illustrate for his followers his relationship to God and the depth of God’s love and care for humanity. Each of these statements also echo the creation story in Genesis 1:26-27, where God speaks of creating humanity in God’s own image, what we sometimes call the Imago Dei. Simply put, we were created to reflect God.
During our sessions of camp, we’ll take a look at who Jesus says he is from a selection of these “I AM” statements (Bread, Light, Shepherd, Resurrection, and Vine), and then we’ll consider their implications for us as humans created in God’s image. Jesus shows us a way of life that often gets lost, and throughout each session, campers will be given invitations to trust and follow Jesus into this way of life. By the end of the session, we want campers to walk away being able to state “Who I Am” with an awakened sense of God’s love for them and a desire to live fully in the image of God, which includes loving others as Jesus loves them.
You can incorporate some of these ideas around your dinner table this week. Here are a few suggestions of how you can get the discussion started. First, take turns finishing the sentence, “When I grow up, I want to ______.” Parents, this is your opportunity to share your childhood dreams of your future career, and then talk about why you did or did not follow through with them. As your kids share, make sure to validate their dreams and ask why they are interested in their chosen career. Next, talk about the idea of being created in God’s image found in Genesis 1:26-27, that it means we are to reflect God to the world.
Finally, grab a hand mirror and a flashlight. Choose one person to hold the flashlight and another to hold the mirror. Pick a target onto which the flashlight and mirror holders must work together to bounce the light. Don’t make it too easy. After hitting the target, ask the mirror holder to share how they have seen someone reflect God to someone else. Continue until everyone gets a turn with the mirror and flashlight.
As the effects of COVID-19 begin to fade away and as restrictions begin to loosen around our region, we are thrilled to be able to serve thousands of youth again this summer in our overnight and day camps. Our staff and I are excited to share these amazing stories of Jesus’ identity and God’s love with them. We welcome your prayer support as we enter this full summer of ministry exploring who we are through Jesus!

For more information on 2021 Youthfront Camp, please visit the Youthfront website.


Bio:

Saunders-Matt

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders, Director of Youthfront Camp West, has been part of the Youthfront staff since 2012. He is passionate about curating spaces for youth to experience redemptive moments. Prior to joining Youthfront, Matt served as a youth worker for 15 years. His churches were in Idaho, Calgary (Alberta, Canada), and Kansas. He is a curriculum developer, speaker, and published game designer.

Matt received his Master of Liberal Arts degree from Baker University.

He serves as a consultant to the Center for Games and Learning at MidAmerica Nazarene University. With his free time, Matt loves to play board games, coach volleyball, and read fantasy or science fiction novels.

Matt is married to Sheila and they have two teenage children, Kyron and Raylee. 

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