This post has been a long time coming. My apologies to those who have noted that my posts have been less frequent of late. There were many things I could have written about, but there’s a difference between picking a topic and having the right one bubble up from within. I knew that there was a post coming, and I needed to wait until it emerged into the light of day. Here’s hoping you find this one worth the wait.
If you read my posts Changes and Sabbatical, you’ll know that Marion and I have been in a season of transition as far as church is concerned. After four good years at City Church, Marion and I have sensed God redirecting us to All Nations Church. It has been a good process, but it hasn’t been an easy one.
Don’t get me wrong. We love our new church. In many ways it has been like coming home. Most churches use the language of family, but few embody the reality. This one does. They genuinely love the Lord and each other, and are committed to exerting a transforming influence on their world in a variety of ways. The values of the Kingdom are understood and practiced here – team leadership, Biblical community, participatory worship, recognition that each member has a ministry, operation of the gifts of the Spirit, relational evangelism, disciple-making, personal intimacy with God and concern for social justice. What more could we ask for?
Still, I have found the transition to be a challenge in ways I had not fully anticipated. I knew this was because God was doing something in my life, and I had been journalling about it, but wasn’t ready to put any of my thoughts into a blog because I knew that they were still too raw and only half-processed.
Marion and I had realized, of course, that we would miss friends from City Church that we had come to treasure. We understood that it would take time to build new relationships. But apart from these normal, unavoidable aspects of being in transition, something else was bothering me as well. Yesterday, after several weeks of waiting, journalling, praying and reflecting, my eyes were opened and I was able to see more clearly.
I find that God gets my attention in a wide variety of ways. Scripture is the grid through which I process and interpret what I take in, but every experience in life has the potential to be revelatory. I had an unexpected opportunity this weekend to spend part of a day at the cottage. Sitting on the deck with my coffee, I spent hours devouring Wally Lamb’s profoundly moving novel The Hour I First Believed. Lamb is a master at portraying human brokenness. His books are deeply insightful, sometimes disturbing, and also at times very funny. Although he does not shy away from probing human pain in its myriad of forms, Lamb’s books are also compassionate and full of hope. Not a Christian writer in the narrow or obvious sense of that word, his characters nonetheless wrestle with profoundly spiritual issues as they journey from brokenness to wholeness, and discover who they really are as they turn to God. As I read Wally Lamb’s book I was helped to understand my own journey more clearly. I saw clearly what up to that point I had only glimpsed dimly – how God has been using this season of transition to expose my heart so that He could mold it and shape it for His purposes.
Part of the reason we felt directed to check out All Nations was because we were hungry to find our fit in a community with values similar to those we had come to treasure — a community in which our experience and gifts would be valued, and we could make a contribution without always having to contend for a vision of church and Kingdom that few around us understood. Yet we realized that we couldn’t just arrive in a new family — unknown, uninvited — and define a role for ourselves. That’s not how it works. No matter how strongly we believe that God has reassigned us, and no matter what roles we may have been prepared for by our past experiences and involvements, in this wonderful new fellowship into which God has placed us we are unknown, untested, untried. We have no role, no job description, no function and no track record. To people who are used to serving in various forms of ministry, this feels very odd. Marion, I think, is finding this easier to accept than I am, but both of us have sensed a restlessness. We want something to do — something to sink our teeth into. Not just anything — the right thing.
But God, as always, knows better than I what is good for me, and what will best serve His purposes. In this process of readjustment I am being reminded of a lesson that I first learned years ago. I am learning once again that God often won’t give me what I am longing for — even if it is a very good thing — until I surrender it to Him. That’s because He has something even better in mind.
Coming into a community with a defined identity and a defined role is easier, no doubt. That way, we are seen as significant right from the get-go. People accept us because they know why we are there. But coming into a community with no identity and no role requires more of us. It requires a willingness to be known not for what we can do, but for who we are. It’s not wrong to be known and valued for what I can do, but true community is only possible when I am willing to be known for who I am – who I really am, without the masks we often like to wear. If you can accept me and value me just as I am, then I know I am truly home.
In the Biblical creation account, we are told that when God first created man and woman, the man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. This speaks of sexual intimacy, of course, but also of emotional and spiritual intimacy. They did not need to cover themselves because they had nothing to hide, nothing to prove, nothing to defend.
The thing is, He already knows me anyway. He knows who I am, where I’ve come from, what I am made for, what I can do and what I can become. The kind of community I really need – the kind of community everyone needs – is a community marked by the freedom that Jesus won for us all on the cross. If his sacrifice means anything, it means that we are free to love one another because we have been loved by Him. The kind of community I really need is one where I have no need to pretend and no need to be ashamed, where I am accepted and forgiven with all my scars because of the blood that was shed for each one of us, where I am known and valued for the image of God in me and for the potential Christ has placed within me to reflect His glory, where my brothers and sisters understand my weaknesses as well as my giftedness and call me forth to become all that I can be, and where I do the same for them.
And so, I have laid down — at least for now — the desire to have a role, to have a place, to have a ministry. These things are all good in their own way, but I’m laying them down for something better. I am realizing that all I really want is to be a Dad. Fathers have nothing to prove because they know who they are. Fathers can reflect the character of the Father because they have known the One who is from the beginning. Fathers who are secure in their identity in Christ provide stability for younger believers so that they can more easily reach their potential. (Moms are important too, of course – but Marion’s a lot better at that than I am). Anything else that God opens up for me will be a bonus.
Lord, thank you that you know better than I do what is good for me, what will bring glory to You, what will represent the character of Jesus, what will bring true freedom to me and those around me. I am deeply grateful — more than words can say — for Your grace, mercy and kindness.