One of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is that right after the turkey’s digesting, I watch Christmas movies. On the way home from my parent’s house in Lebanon, PA, we agreed to watch one when we got home. “Nightmare Before Christmas” almost got the nod, but we settled with “The Santa Clause,” a movie starring Tim Allen and his transformation into Santa Claus after he inadvertently agrees to the Santa Clause. And now he’s Santa. Well, as the story goes, everyone ends up believing in Santa Claus. As I was watching, I couldn’t help but wonder about whether or not our faith in Jesus was about as strong as our faith in Santa. I think that’s probably why a lot of us lose our faith in our adulthood, because we only really live in a Santa-deep world, and so once reality is explained better or we’re offered a solution that makes more sense to us, we might just lose our faith. We might get blind to seeing God in the world around us.
Seeing God in our surrounding isn’t not always easy, and sometimes it seems so obvious. I’m sure you had moments this holiday week where you couldn’t see God around you, like I did—when you were arguing politics with your relatives, when the hysteria surrounding Black Friday became too paralyzing, when slaughtering 200 million turkeys seemed like a little much. And there were even times where seeing God was clear—in a delightful conversation with an old friend, in a car ride with your loved ones, in even noting how good it is that at least one day of the year we remark on the things in which we are thankful. Even Facebook did that.
We often find ourselves in an intellectual argument—one that reduces God to personal experiences strictly and another that compartmentalizes and categorizes Him (and the use of the male pronoun there is probably one of those compartmentalizations). God is either the subject of our own experiences, or he is definitively and explicitly in the sacred things that are around us.
My argument, of course, is that life in Christ is one whole cloth—Jesus redeems everything. He is Lord of All and we can see Him in all things. So I’ve repented of separating the sacred and the secular. God is everywhere, most fundamentally, because whether we know it or not, God is in all of us.
It’s not easy to get from here to there. We have both the puritanical self-abuse we burden ourselves with and the increasing pressure to be atomized into irrelevance, not just by our consumer choices, but also but those who attempt to inform us, those us to advertise to us, and those who recruit us. Our politicians need our individual vote, the military need our lives, advertisers and corporations need our money—and our individual choices apparently really mean something. We really want that individual significance, and I think only God can offer it us. Our families, our careers, or our consumption habits don’t.
How do we get to a place we can actually see that God is in us?
The first one is simple, I think. Pray. Ask God to show himself to you. Ask God to show himself in you through what are you are doing. We often pray that God might use us as a tool so that others might know him and see him through us, but maybe we can just pray so that God is made known to us.
I think we need to tell each other stories of how we are seeing God and how God has moved in our lives. We made it a goal this year to collect 100 stories of transformation and we’re a little over halfway there. I’ve wondered why it’s been so difficult for people to share their stories—I don’t think it’s because God isn’t working in their lives; there might be some sense of shame that we won’t portray ourselves well—or a sense of perfect that our story isn’t as good as someone else’s. I think telling our story helps us to be encouraged and it helps others get encouraged too.
Telling stories helps us see God too—you might actually be able to point out how God is shining in someone else’s life just by hearing their story. This is the power of community, in fact. When we do it together, we might very well see God so clearly, we would never question Him in our own lives.
Sometimes though, our self-image is so damaged, that we need to more time to process and talk about it. Having relationships with your spiritual leaders (like your pastor or cell leader) will help you see God in your life. You can ask for that kind of help, in order to restore the image that you were created with. It takes time to work through a lot of the pain and damage done to our identities. Talking to a counselor or a therapist can really help undo all of the images and ideas that we repeatedly tattoo on ourselves.
The process of beginning to love ourselves, in our fullness, in the image we were originally created offers us some practical knowledge that might help us engage in and participate in our community.
For one, it helps connect with a global body of faith. Our experience with God isn’t just an individual experience, but a common one we share with people across the world and history.
When we begin to see God within us, we’ll be addressing probably the hardest thing we face as Christians: knowing that He loves us. When we know that God has found favor in us specifically and we don’t need to run a rate race trying to get him to love us, we’ll be freed up with an abundance of love. The basic idea that holds the church together is there is enough love to go around, and we don’t need to preserve it like it a scarce resource, nor do we need to devalue you because of its abundance.
You matter. God’s in you and he shows up through you. You matter to God, to our mission, and to our community. You aren’t an anonymous observer—we’re something we are experiencing together. Because you are here, we see God more clearly. Jesus was teaching the same lesson in Matthew 6. Here’s some of the encouragement he offered.
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
(This post is a summary of a speech I gave in a series about Circle of Hope’s proverb: Life in Christ is one whole cloth. As we participate in and love “the world,” we bring redemption from the Kingdom of God to our society. Jesus is Lord of all, so we have repented of separating “sacred” and “secular.”)