Who are you? It’s a seemingly simple question, but one that all of us must answer and often spend considerable time throughout our lives trying to define. What we often mean by this question is: what makes me valuable? One answer is to look at the possessions we have accumulated, having the newest, biggest, fastest – to define value by what we have. Another way is by evaluating our relationships as parents, children, grandparents, spouses, siblings, friends, coworkers, volunteers; we assign value by how much we are liked. When meeting a stranger, we often first ask about their profession; we see careers as an identity – value based on what we do. We even embrace features of our personality such as being funny, wise, or generous – trying to be worthwhile by what we can provide.
In the search for meaning, people want to know who they are and what purpose they have in this world. So we try on different hats – political affiliations, social groups, opinions, and preferences. We develop a story of self made up of our past experiences, geographical locations, relationships, physical body, education, talents and much more. These are important, but they often fail to express our true value – our complete identity – perhaps because they are answering the wrong question. What if instead of “who are you?”, we asked “whose are you?”
Christians answer this question by turning to scripture and discovering that the Lord has been speaking our names. We are children. We are sheep. We are disciples. We are sinners. We are saints. We are corrupted. We are redeemed. We are strong, and we are weak. We are works in progress, made in the image of God. The gospel tells us that we are no longer our own, for we have been bought with a price – it is Jesus who determines our value! God sent his only son to die and be resurrected to put us into right relationship, freeing us from the bindings of sin. We are first and foremost defined by belonging to Him. When we allow for this truth to be central in our lives – to define who and whose we are, it is then we are able to live as the people we were created to be.
But with all the ways the world tries to tell us who we are, it can be surprisingly difficult to believe that we are cherished and purchased by an infinite, omnipotent God. The evil one does not desire for our identities to be formed in Christ, but to lead us astray. We are tempted to believe the lies that we are not important, not good enough, not full of inherent value. Thus we need to be reminded of our identity regularly, through time with other believers and time with God. As Klyne Snodgrass put it: “church is the place where people go to find their identity and declare their allegiances, and everyone goes to church somewhere.” No one exists independently; we are all connected by our relationships and loyalties, and those connections affect our choices. Plainly put, what we believe in and prioritize will influence all other parts of our being. If we do not stay deeply connected the body of Christ, we will surely drift to a different one.
We will not know who and whose we are until we know the God who created and seeks relation with us. We cannot live differently until we see ourselves differently.
Everyone knows the best part of the Sunday newspaper is the funny pages, the section with all the comics. I grew up reading Peanuts, Dilbert, Far Side, Garfield and many more. But I especially remember Calvin and Hobbes – the little boy who has amazing adventures with his imagination and trusty plush tiger. Calvin and Hobbes would often play “Calvinball”, a game where the rules are constantly being changed and made up. What is the objective? How do you score points? When does the game end? The answer to these questions would depend on what they wanted. While it was funny in the comic, Calvinball would be very frustrating in real life.
In both games and life, it is important to know the rules and how to “win”. People are happiest when they know their objective and have a way of measuring success. In sports, we have a scoreboard. In school, we have a report card. In business, we have a financial report. We know what winning and success look like, both in work and in play. One challenge that churches face today is not understanding what success looks like or how to measure it; It can be tough finding ways to measure spirituality. The most common measurements of success are the “three B’s”: Buildings, Budgets, and Bodies. It’s easy to count how many people attended a service or came to an event. It’s easy to count money. It’s easy to look at the size, number and condition of buildings. We tend to think “If numbers are high, the church is winning but if they are low, the church is losing.”
However, this is not an effective way of measuring success: a big church is not intrinsically more spiritual, or a small church less spiritual. So we end up disagreeing because we aren’t using the same measuring stick – that’s why someone sitting next to you could feel great while you feel terrible. It’s like asking what makes a good car, some would focus on the brand, some on gas performance and others on how stylish it looks. Right measurements matter.
Last month our church participated in a workshop called Veritas, which introduced the language of “vitality” – what a healthy church looks like. ( If you attended the workshop, I encourage you to go back through your notes and refresh yourself on what was discussed. If you were unable to attend, I invite you to stop by the church office to learn a little bit more.) We didn’t evaluate lots of numbers. We didn’t each give our opinion on how we think church should be. We talked about having a fruitful faith, about learning and growing. We talked how we treat each other, and how we get things done. We talked about churches in different stages of health. And maybe most importantly we talked about the marks of a healthy, missional church: biblically based signs that ANY church is carrying out the Lord’s work. These “healthy missional markers” ARE good measuring sticks to help our church succeeed in the right ways!
As a refresher, they are:
- Centrality of the word of God
- A life transforming walk with Jesus
- Intentional evangelism
- Transforming communities through active compassion mercy and justice
- Global perspective and engagement
- A Compelling Christian community
- Heartfelt worship
- Sacrificial and generous living and giving
- A culture of godly leadership
- Fruitful organizational structures
During each month of 2017, we will be taking a closer look at one of these healthy missional markers. My hope is that we will become united in understanding our purpose as a church, having a shared idea of success. It is time for us to stop playing Calvinball; it is time to stop counting the noses and nickels. Let us, instead, passionately pursue Christ’s priorities in the world together.
We sing about Christmas being “the most wonderful time of the year”, as we envision caroling, hot cocoa, gifts around the Christmas tree, and of course Hallmark Holiday specials on TV. And while for many Christmas is purely a time of joy & family, for many others it is a more conflicting season. Since this is the time when families reliably gather, it can make the absence of certain members more painful; whether they are gone because of divorce, distance or death – feelings of pain and resentment can steal our joy. Especially if we feel an expectation to be jolly and bright, this holiday season can bring some of the loneliest days of the year.
So how can the church care for those who grieve, and remember the real reason for the season (hint: it’s not about presents)? This year we are holding a special service to acknowledge the grief and sorrow that can accompany the Christmas Season. On Wednesday, December 21st, we’ll hold a Blue Christmas service at 7:00 p.m. This night, the longest darkness of the year, we’ll provide a place to mourn and experience our sorrows. Even in the darkest times, we believe there is hope – the light of the world is coming in just a few days: the gift of God’s presence with us, Emmanuel.
This will be a service of prayers, music, and reflection. Attendance is not limited to those who have suffered any specific or recent loss, but open to anyone who has a hard time during the holidays and would like a safe space. We remember that in our faith, it is okay to not be okay. We hope you’ll join us, and feel free to invite someone new who might benefit. This year we can sit in the darkness together.