Leader to Leader, Leadership

Why I Have an Identity Problem and You May Too

September 13, 2017 | Posted by Peter Kelm

Editor’s Note:

On September 11, 2017, Rev. Peter Kelm entered the arms of Jesus after a heroic battle with cancer. Later this week Peter’s family, friends, and parishioners will gather to mourn his death and rejoice in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to everlasting life and a joyful reunion with those we love who have died in the faith.

Peter was a pastor. A missionary. One who loved to share the good news of Jesus with all those in need. In August of 2016, LCEF published a blog post where he shared about his “identity problem” after being diagnosed with cancer. He wrote, “I think I understand grace better now.” How much more Peter knows now. How much more he and all of us will know on the day of the resurrection when all things will be made new.

We thought it fitting to share Peter’s post again today. May the gift of faith, given to Peter in baptism and sustained throughout his earthly life, be likewise living and active in each of us. Nothing can take that away. Not even death. Thanks be to God. He does all things well.

-Rev. Bart Day, LCEF President and CEO

Since being diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, my God has taught me quite a few lessons. But one of those lessons is ongoing and painful. And I’m pretty sure you don’t need a cancer diagnosis to get the point.

The lesson is simply this: I have an identity problem.

You see, when I was healthy, I was productive. Since my diagnosis, I’ve been amazingly unproductive. When I was healthy, I was able to help others. But now I depend constantly on help from others. When I was healthy, I could prove to you my worth by what I did. Now I really don’t do too much.

I have an identity problem.

But the problem isn’t that I’m sick. The problem is that being sick has highlighted how spiritually sick I was before. I’m a baptized child of God. That hasn’t changed. Jesus claimed me as His own. Still the same. My eternity is secure because of what He did on the cross and through the empty tomb. No difference there. Nothing has substantively changed since I had my cancerous gallbladder taken out.

But what has changed is that I can no longer claim some merit-based identity. Oh, I couldn’t before either, but I tried anyway.

“See, God, how much I’m doing for You?”

I think I understand grace better now. And I think I understand my ego better now. Cancer is a nasty blessing, but a blessing nonetheless. My God has reminded me where my identity comes from: Him. Given in Baptism, won at the cross, secured for all eternity. Doesn’t matter how much or how little I do for him. Doesn’t even matter, really, if I beat this cancer or it beats me. My identity is sure.

[Tweet “My God has reminded me where my identity comes from: Him.”]

A hard lesson to learn? Yeah, absolutely. But I’m so glad my Teacher is patient with me.

There is perhaps no greater temptation for leaders in the Church than to find their identity in their ministry accomplishments rather than in Christ. Ask yourself:

  • Have I understood clearly and humbly that ministry success comes from God?
  • Do I evaluate myself and my ministry on the basis of my perceived accomplishments?
  • Do I judge others in ministry based on their success or accomplishments?
  • Have I forgotten that my identity comes from Christ alone?

I still struggle with my identity. It’s a part of the sinfulness that lives in me. But by God’s grace, I know who I am – a baptized, believing child of God. God grant you the peace of knowing that your identity has been given to you – and nothing can take that away!

Peter Kelm
Pastor Peter Kelm passed away on Sept. 11, 2017 where he was an Associate Pastor for First Immanuel Lutheran Church, Cedarburg, Wisconsin. Please keep in your hearts and prayers his wife and children.