One of the things that has struck me anew as we have journeyed together through our preaching series ‘Basics.’ here at The Oak has been that God is God and that we are His people (Exodus 6:7, Leviticus 26:12, Jeremiah 30:22). Shocking, I know. That a so-called ‘pastor’ should be struck by something so obvious, so biblical, so...basic!
But hear me out.
The world I live in, hopefully the same one you do, continually nudges me to think of myself and put myself first. What I want. What I need. What I am doing with MY life.
However, God blows that way out of the water and surpasses even a hint of its satisfaction, safety and happiness by declaring that we are HIS and that we are a people. God, the redeemer and restorer, has created us to be His rather than someone else's and to be a people rather than roaming individuals.
You see in being HIS PEOPLE we are fundamentally different from anything else.
1. We are HIS
That means I am not my own and nor are you. I am His. I am set apart - out of my own world and it's me-centeredness and into His family. I have brothers and sisters in Him now - you. I am grafted into his family - and so are you by the way. That somehow, through Christ, I have been made His.
It means that I am free from trying to do it on my own, trying to compete with others, trying to tell the world I am somebody anymore - I am now His. The God of the universe speaks over me and says "huh hum, that one there...Chris...he's mine - hands off!"
I don't have to fear anything. I don't have to fear being alone (yes, I struggle with loneliness like many others). I don't have to fear other achievements or successes as if mine might be compared and come up less.
It means I have a refuge in one who is bigger than my situations or the difficulty that hits me in the face on a daily basis.
It means, also, I have to recognise the others in my family - all of them, even if they are unlike me or even if I don't them - and see them as 'In Christ' with me.
2. We are a people
We, the church, are a people set apart and made holy by God for God. A people caught up in a mission not to proselytise in some 'evangelistic campaign' but to display the joy of this 'peopleness' to a world that is hungry for something more than 'I'!
It means that in a growing church where there are more and more people in different situations and circumstances in life than me, different ages, different stages in life - I can find joy in places I never thought I could - particularly in those whose life looks different to mine.
You see I like people like me. There, I said it. To be honest, everyone likes people that are like them, in the same life circumstances as them and into the same things as them. It's easier to connect with people like me. But the church is not me and is not made up of people like me - praise the Lord - so, I have a choice.
a. Choose to focus on the people like me. When there are people like me around me I feel good. When there aren't I feel bad. I choose to live in my world.
b. Choose to focus on the people God has put me around. When there are people like me around, joy. When there are people different to me, joy.
a. is about me. The world is about me so the church and God have to fit around me. When I don't like it, it has to change.
b. is about a God. The world is about God and His people so little 'me' has to fit around what He is doing. When I don't like it, I have to change.
The difference is profound.
Sundays become about God and everyone else. Sundays are really difficult for our family, as they are for many people. But Sundays aren't about my family. They are about God and everyone else in the room. When we come to The Oak on a Sunday morning we are asking each-other and our kids "What is God doing in other people", "how can we partner with God to bless others". The opportunity to tell everyone else by us simply being there that 'HE IS OUR GOD AND WE ARE HIS PEOPLE' - this is more than me!
Work becomes about God and everyone else. My career or my profession, my school, college or studies, my volunteering and the use of my time becomes about showing people how amazing they are and how incredible God is. I am not fighting my own corner, I'm fighting for others. I love Daniels story in the bible of commitment to the job at hand and commitment to God. That through his obedience to God, and the honouring of his colleagues, a nation got changed - he also nearly got eaten alive by Lions - but guess what? He knew he was God's and he knew he was part of God's people. Pharaohs take notice when God's children act in the knowledge that they are His.
Friendships and family get opened up to embrace others. The perceived prizes of partners, best friends, time alone, kids or **insert your biggest wish** get surrendered to God in a way that doesn't deny the desire for them (or sometimes the pain of the offering) but welcomes others into the story of your life - journeying through the highs and lows together. When it feels like there is no-one else in your situation, stage of life or circumstances God doesn't appear to call us out, to separate us, but to call us in, to embrace a bigger, more messy and diverse family.
I don't know about you, but I don't want to be in a world of me's and in a church full of people like me.
I am asking God, in response to this 'Basics.' series, to break my heart again for everyone else. For His power to renew my mind (Romans 12:2) and to catch me up with what He is doing - regardless of who He puts around me.