It is our church’s tradition that the Sunday after Christmas be one of testimonies from those who attend. It is an opportunity to share how God has made himself known to individuals. I had spoken at Sharing Sunday 2004, and then Lance (my husband) and I left the church for six years. In 2010 we returned. In 2011 I spoke again at Sharing Sunday. My topic was a musing on what it means to be a Christian. The following is my message from that Sunday:
Seven years ago, I spoke at a sharing Sunday. Pregnant with twins and financially flush, I contemplated Mary’s take on the goodness of God in light of His plan for her son’s death. I recall making a statement of determination to seek first God’s kingdom (without really knowing what that meant) and to discover a contentment that could endure every season.
Since that Sharing Sunday, my family and I have endured a predominantly tragic season. After losing Isabella and Ava, we stepped away from everything in order to be true to what we were feeling, and to allow our quest for truth to be unimpaired by cultural scripts. In our time away, we were given an opportunity to start our faith over again from scratch. We did little more than survive, and grasp for truth, and discover yet another thing that God was not.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve believed in God and Jesus. But it is easy to become disappointed with the lackluster, whiz-fizzle effect of being a Christian in the years after the proclamation of belief—especially in the difficult times. Fatigue had already begun to set in from the fight to stay in the mold of how belief ought to look. And in my moments of true need, none of my mantras held up, so I sought and sought for more.
Tempting as it is to create a sensational testimony to outdo our sensational loss, I’ll simply say my story is this: I am beginning to experience purpose, wholeness and hope. I am becoming empowered to live in fullness and joy regardless of circumstance. I am inclined to be grateful for the goodness of God, which is shown in his provision of peace and fulfillment. And that’s it. But it’s absolutely enough for me.
Today I stand as a woman being restored. However, I am not being restored to the woman I was seven years ago. Instead, I am being restored to the person I was intended to be when God, who loves what he creates, began creating us.
It takes God to want God, and it takes God to know God, so I am thankful for his presence which encouraged me to seek Him, because I’m not the kind of person that can naturally understand and appreciate with my own efforts, what the presence of God actually means for my practical everyday.
This morning, for sharing Sunday, I’d like to share what I’ve learned this year about truth of Christ, and what that means for me in my practical everyday. From my eyes, what He isn’t and who He is can look exactly the same on the surface, but it is as different as life and death. So, today, as I see it, being a Christian means having “Christ In”. It doesn’t mean giving away all my resources; instead, it is surrendering the need for worldly security which would make me want to keep all of my resources in the first place. It isn’t clinging to a calendar full of righteous activities; rather it is releasing the notion that any act on my part could create righteousness in me. It isn’t befriending everyone, but it is forsaking the judgments which serve to divide. It isn’t being a doormat; it’s submitting to a reality where earthly defeat has no power over me. It’s not putting my best foot forward for God’s sake; it’s renouncing my best, for my sake. It’s not living for others; it’s gaining a love others as I live for Christ. It’s crucifying the temptations to elevate myself; and awakening to a life filled with meaning as I elevate Christ. It isn’t becoming valuable through program participation; it’s becoming an invaluable part of God’s design in all that I do. It’s not worshipping a concept, or connecting with an emotion; it’s living in the presence of the God of the universe. Being a Christian is confessing my inability to believe, and being pursued by a loving God anyway.
As I am learning, being a Christian means relinquishing my own designs for finite happiness. It requires the humility to acknowledge that my self-centered ways end in fatigue, worry, anger and fruitlessness. And this would be a terrible religion if that was the end of the story! I surely would have walked away if that was it. Death to the nature of the flesh can be a relief, and it can be agonizing, but as it says in Philippians, “To die is to gain”. So, as I am straining with God’s strength to deny myself the wisdom of this world, and as I am intentionally striving to decrease the “self”, what I gain is a reinstatement to the triumphant life of Christ’s—the life that was originally intended for me. I gain the goodness of God, which is purpose, peace, certainty, joy, compassion, fullness, graciousness, eternal value, and victory over the influence of decaying surroundings. This is true living! It is experienced regardless of circumstance, and it is offered to me as I learn what it means to walk in thekingdomofGodwhich is at hand, right now.
Christianity is not a noble behavior pattern, which for me, resulted in wasted years of fooling myself and fueling the ego. It is not a law that church “ought” to enforce. Jesus does not lie in the completion of all my “shoulds”. I know Jesus to be a love for all of us which fills and sustains and inspires as we allow space for Him. And having Christ in me might just manifest: generosity, hospitality, feeding, transformation, praying, resting, quieting, loving, befriending, creating, illuminating and ministering. If I seek Him, these things are added. But in my opinion, I can’t get the cart before the horse. I’m inclined to wait for the gain of Christ in me before I go out and offer it to others.
I only have a beginner’s understanding of God’s desire for all of humanity, which might be something like this: that we would have true life through death, resurrection and restoration. I only have a small grasp of what His truth means uniquely for me. And I’m considering that the definition of church is simply a group of people who seek the gain of Christ together and live authentically to their truth gained. I do know that God is intentional, creative, and well-informed. He has specific plans for me to hope and prosper in His truth, and I am eager to see what that will look like as I make my business about self-emptying. So I’m compelled in this New Year to gain more of Christ, and learn to live authentically to the truth of Christ in me. And my hope for our church and the church is that we as a body would do the same!