Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Who Are You?

Do you ever have the feeling that it may be uncomfortable to reveal that you are a Christian? I confess that I have found myself in this position on a few occasions. For pastors like me, this can take the unique form of someone asking me what kind of work I do. When I say that I am a pastor of a church, I know that some people will wonder how to continue on the conversation and it may get quiet for a moment. I sometimes get the sense that the person is now thinking about the things they have just said and wondering how many times they swore or took God’s name in vain in the last ten minutes. They may jokingly say something about only working on Sundays. I would like to avoid such interactions and that is why I might sometime find it hard to tell people that I am a pastor. But I do tell them. I usually transition quickly to asking them what they do for work before slowly bringing the conversation back to the church.
For you it may take the form of people having coffee or lunch together at work and they may be talking about some variation of Christians that they have seen. They may say something like, can you believe those Christians in the United States, how they will support Republican/Democratic Political leaders who are badly flawed? They may of course say this in much stronger words and right-off anyone who is a Christian as just the same as this lot. They will point to persons who are Christians that will refuse services to gay or lesbian couples and suggest that this is not very loving. It can be very difficult to say, “Hey, wait a minute, I am a Christian too; and let me tell you the background on why such issues are important to Christians.”

Christians used to be at the centre of our North American culture. Pastors used to be one of the resources that people looked to. They were a source of wisdom in city planning, they were counselors for marriages and mental health, they were respected members of the community that were invited to significant civic events and they would be asked to pray for community events and meals. If it was known that a person attended church on a regular basis they were viewed as a pillar of the community and their character was immediately trusted; they were hired ahead of those who only attended church at Christmas and Easter. We trusted Christians to lead us in politics and community life.

Certainly, we now find ourselves in a different place; on the edges of society; in the margins. We are no longer at the centre of our culture. Civic leaders no longer come to pastors or Christians for their wisdom or help. Sometimes we find ourselves looked upon with suspicion or as people with an agenda. We find ourselves at odds with the values of our majority culture.

It can leave us with a lack of firm grounding in who we are as a people. It can leave us feeling that we have lost our identity. 1 Peter 2:9-12 says,
But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
“Once you had no identity as a people;
    now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
    now you have received God’s mercy.”

Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

Practically speaking, what does it mean that we are a Royal Priesthood, a Chosen People, a Holy Nation, and God’s Own Possession? It means that we will be strangers and aliens in this world. We are not of this world, “this world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.” When our world wants us all to conform to the ways, thoughts, and values of this world, we will be a holy people of God. When Facebook posts suggest that we like something or someone or some issue, we will be a holy people of God. When the lunch conversation is about something that everyone else is agreeing with, we will be a holy people of God. Will this be easy? No. Will we always know what to say? No. But the holiness and love of God’s people must show through.

The band, Jars of Clay wrote a song which captures the struggle we have with our identity in Christ. The song is called “Trouble Is” and is from the album Who We Are Instead.
Trouble Is 
(Jars of Clay)
My wings don't sail me to the sky
On my own these wings won't fly
Jesus told me so
Still I'm not so sure that I know

Can't find no rest for my soul
Can't find no rest on my own
Jesus told me so
Still I'm not so sure that I know

Man, the trouble is
We don't know who we are instead

I'll keep runnin' the other way
My heart ain't built to stay
My heart ain't built to stay
And the world just ain't that way

Man, the trouble is
We don't know who we are instead

Songwriters: Dan Haseltine, Charlie Lowell, Stephen Daniel Mason, Matt Odmark, and Aaron Sands. Published by Universal Music Publishing Group.

When we know that we are “the chosen people of God, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation,” then we will know who we are and how we will live; and the clear difference in our Christian lives will be evident to the unbelieving world around.


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