Bulletin :: May 2004

Definitions Matter
By Carol Greenwood

A little card advertising a seminar on discipleship popped out of our mailbox last week. I read it quickly, noted the dates, and started to toss it when I spotted a quote from Larry Crabb that echoed some of the exact thoughts I’ve had lately. “I believe a quiet revolution is underway. As never before in my lifetime, interest in Jesus and how He changes lives is spreading across our country.”

I think Crabb’s right on. There are strong signs that a “quiet revolution” is taking place in the hearts and minds of many. You are probably seeing evidence of this where you live. In Seattle, one of the nation’s least churched cities, we are seeing signs of spiritual stirrings. One church in Seattle has gone, in four years, from a living room attendance of 15 to a warehouse that regularly packs in 1,500 people-mostly in their 20s and 30s. Our own church in the University District has just added a third mid-week service to accommodate the droves of college kids-more than 2,000-who leave their studies at the University of Washington for two hours every Tuesday to attend a late night Bible study with praise and worship.

Big numbers at churches aren’t the only indicators, however. I’m sure you’ve overheard one-on-one conversations about faith taking place in Starbucks, at the dentist’s office, or on the bus. Maybe out of the blue an old friend phones and wants to reconnect-and talk about Jesus. Folks, people around us, are hungering after God.

Some of course, don’t know what they are looking for and their search often takes them on detours. English author and critic G.K. Chesterton perceived this deep heart hunger when he wrote, “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.” TV anchors aren’t likely to pick up on spiritual hunger as “breaking news” either. However, if C.S. Lewis were interviewed today, he’d smile confidently and say, “Aslan’s on the move.”

This brings me to my key question: If renewal and revival really take off, what do we need to do to partner with God in it? The persistent answer I hear is this: We must be equipped to help new believers define who they are according to God’s assessment-and to help them learn to live out of that truth. There’s no way to grow strong and deep in Jesus without knowing with all your heart and mind that you are his Beloved. Let me build my case with some examples.

Three weeks ago we visited a church where the pastor had worked for six months with 12 teenagers on the issue of who they were. Because he was leaving soon for South America, we heard them each give a brief testimony of the time they’d had with him. Each kid started out by saying, “Hi, I’m Joe (or Mary) and I’m a beloved man (or woman) of God.” They stood tall, smiled, looked directly at the congregation, and spoke from their hearts. One by one they defined who they were as children of God and that their purpose was to reflect Jesus to the world. Some of them, boys included, shed a tear-and that was okay, both with them and with those of us listening.

These kids had been helped to pinpoint and reject false identities (such as stupid, victim, failure, loser) they’d accepted from their own feelings, others’ judgments, or Satan’s lies and to accept God’s assessment as the operating truth of their life. They did not define themselves by their denomination, their political party, their social status, their economic level, their achievements, their spiritual insights, their sexual orientation, or their feelings. They didn’t succumb to politically correct slogans or terms that might have provided handy excuses for poor behavior. (In fact, we were told that when they hit snags with their parents, as kids that age can, they all meet together to sort it out and get on the same page with their definitions.) By sticking with God’s evaluation as their plumbline, these young people were open to receive both his peace and love in their hearts-and to convey it to others. They were getting hold of their “belovedness” and choosing to live out that core definition of their existence. We saw them both anchored and empowered by that truth.

At his baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus heard his Father affirm him as “My beloved son.” We see his ministry flourish under the banner of that definition. Out of that love, Jesus always defined himself in relation to a lost world: He called himself the way, the truth, the life, the good shepherd, the door, the bread of life, and living water. He knew who he was and where he was going. Although there were times when he wanted his messiah role under wraps, he also wanted his followers to get hold of who he was. “Who do you say that I am?” he asked, wanting his identity to be very clear so they could stake their lives on him.

Recall one of the tenderest scenes in the Bible where Jesus ministers to his disciples at the Last Supper. “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table; took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself…and began to wash his disciples’ feet” (John 13: 3-5). Confident in his identity, Jesus was not diminished in taking the role of a servant. When we know who we are and live into our belovedness, we are free-and empowered-to serve others with the Father’s unconditional love.

In his little book, Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen says, “We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children and friends loved or wounded us. That’s the truth of our lives.” That belief, when grasped fully in the heart and made real by the Holy Spirit, is the fuel that ignites believers as credible witnesses of our Lord Jesus. Nouwen goes on to say, “Becoming the Beloved means letting the truth of our Belovedness become enfleshed in everything we think, say, or do.” In other words, living all of our life from that core belief.

Maybe you’ve crossed a U.S. border recently and gotten the clear message, as we did not long ago: You better be who you say you are and be clear about your mission. Before 9/11 crossing into Canada consisted of a brief stop with a quick smile and wave-through. It’s now more like checking in at the hospital for an MRI or a DNA blood draw. The custom agent scanned our faces, our passports, and even our lunch for any signs that we might be misrepresenting our identity or our mission. Airport security, of course, is a whole other story of identity checking. Life and death can rest on whether people are who they say they are!

But perhaps all the current security measures can encourage us to do some personal scrutinizing. Even as we address the issue of helping new believers learn early to define themselves in truth, we might treat ourselves to a check-up. Most of us learned early on that we were new creatures in Christ-forgiven and blessed, created for good works, salt and light, precious in the sight of the Lord-and more. But the question is: Do we actually live out of that truth? Have circumstances and old negative messages sidetracked us, causing us to redefine ourselves in terms that keep us deaf to the Father’s voice calling us his Beloved?

Satan thrives on double-mindedness and ambiguity. So the important thing is to know where you are in your self-definition. Ask the Holy Spirit to help pinpoint any lies that have crept in.(Such as: If I fail at my job, I’m no good or I’m too fat to be lovable. Confess the lies and repent of failing to believe God’s assessment of you. Get a prayer counselor or pastor to help you move past the hurts and wounds and any misconceptions of God as a loving Father who cherishes and delights in you. And, then, as the flames of a “quiet revolution” begin to burn even brighter we can all confidently lead new believers into the truth of their belovedness as well.

Carol Greenwood has authored two books and co-authored another. She is a former high school teacher and editor for Women’s Aglow. A frequent teacher for women’s Bible studies and retreats, Carol is also on the Board of Lutheran Renewal.