I met John through the food pantry in Bethany early in my ministry there. He first came to get a basket for Christmas. I would see him at the food pantry waiting in line to shop or I’d run into him in the grocery store or post office.
John was always joking about something. He has a good sense of humor and a good outlook on life. We would often talk about matters of faith when we saw each other. He considered himself a spiritual but not religious person and didn’t attend church, probably because he hadn’t found a church to reconcile with his beliefs.
John had intriguing, somewhat problematic, beliefs. His speech about the last days sounded more like an alien sci-fi movie than anything Biblical. Still, he had a good heart. He expected to have a windfall of cash and often said he would entrust a portion of it to me to help his neighbors because so many people helped him when he was in need.
After having so many conversations about faith that were often well into the category of heresy, John surprised me in my last days in Bethany. John came knocking on my door with a gift. He had framed a statement he printed about the Divine image in each of us. His gift surprised me, but the statement surprised me too. He seemed to have a grasp on what it meant to be made in the image of God, better than I had probably ever heard articulated.
His statement was this: (When I say I AM, it is in all caps reminding me of the Name God gave to Moses – Yahweh – I am who I am.)
“I AM remembering ever more the fullness of who I AM! I AM remembering union, I remember the divinity inside of myself, I AM love, I AM peace, I AM joy, I AM compassion. I AM Light and ask that the Love of God surround us, that the power of God protect us, for the presence of God is watching over us from where we are, God is and all is well. I AM Love, I AM Light, I AM God (as a Child of God) and I Know It! I AM That I AM!”
I know it is a little jarring to hear “I AM God as a Child of God” or I AM all these things that the Bible says God is. It’s hard for us to understand what it means to be made in the image of God, or have the Spirit dwell within us, or to be the light of the world, especially when we all tend to have a self-esteem problem. I don’t want to say that we are not confident in some aspects of our lives. Many of us are confident, strong people. I’m suggesting that our self-esteem problem has to do with our faith. And, that hides our light as if we are covered by a basket.
The problem is we have an inferiority complex. Individually, we get an inferiority complex by comparing ourselves to other Christians. We can think: we’re not good enough, our spiritual gifts aren’t as good as others, we don’t know the Bible as well as others, we don’t pray like others, our faith isn’t as sure as others, or we don’t have as much to give as others. We need to remember that we are justified by faith alone – not how much we believe or pray or know or give or do. Those others we compare ourselves to have seasons of doubt, also. Others struggle to give as much as they want. Our spiritual gifts are the ones the Spirit chose to give us and are not any more or less important than anyone else’s spiritual gifts. Honestly, everyone can know more about the Bible, including me.
A church’s inferiority complex comes from comparing itself to bigger churches or the good ol’ days. We think: we don’t have enough kids, we don’t have enough young people, we don’t have enough money, we don’t have enough people, and we can’t do as much as others. God has a mission for us that is just the right size for us to do and He has expertly gifted to fulfill that mission. We have the right amount of people and money and gifts and energy to fulfill what we are called to do and He will send us more if we need more. Sure, bigger churches do more, but they are called to do more with their resources. We can have the same impact on our world by doing what we are called to do.
We may not have a large active youth group, but we sent 14 youth to camp and 3 adults. We may not have 100s gather on Sunday mornings, but we have a family that loves each other that gathers for exceptional music and the best sermons in Middletown. (laugh) We may not be as big as 5 years ago but God has big things planned for our future.
When we compare ourselves to others, whether we as individuals compare ourselves to other Christians or we as a church compare ourselves to other churches, it is hard to see our worth, our gifts and our potential.
There is a quote I read a number of years ago and I keep it on my desk to remind myself not to think myself so lowly. It is by Marianne Williamson in a book titled “A Return to Love” about what makes us feel inferior and what holds us back.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Humility is not a matter of thinking of ourselves as inadequate. I don’t like the way the dictionary defines humble. The dictionary says humble includes these definitive marks: to have a feeling of insignificance, inferiority, subservience, to be low in rank or status, and to be courteously respectful. Humility for people of faith is to not be proud or arrogant, but we don’t have to feel insignificant or inferior. Humility is to understand that we have great potential because we are God’s children and He has given us gifts to fulfill that potential.
Today, after church, I’m going to be talking to the Board and tomorrow with the Elders about a plan to discern our God-given potential by capturing a vision of who God has gifted and called us to be. I’ll invite you to participate in the process in a couple weeks once the Board and Elders have accepted their role in the process. This will be different than the triad work you did with Pastor Nik. This work we’ll embark on will require us to dream big about what we are capable of becoming and doing. It will require us stop comparing ourselves to bigger churches or the past. It will require us to stop thinking small or seeing barriers. Visioning work is about seeing the future through the eyes of God.
I know there is some fear of what the future may hold. Rightly so. If things continue as they currently are with no changes in membership, money or commitment…well, that’s easy to predict and dwell on. Churches that are thriving and growing today are ones that engage all members giving them opportunities to use their gifts given their abilities and opportunities for others to come and participate with us. We have a choice. We can see the future with the limits of our human eyes or we can see the future through the eyes of God to see we as Christ’s church can be. I choose the latter and I’m inviting you on a journey to see what God sees.