If you’ve read any of my posts in my “All Saints Diary” tab then you know that I see life through a particular faith lens. You know that I have a tender heart towards humanity and that I see the Creator of the Universe, aka Abba, as more than just a big genie in the sky but as a personal, relatable, reliable person to whom I have deep fellowship with. And not only me, but I see that I am part of a greater assembly of saints, past, present and future all in unity with Christ as our head. I believe whole heartedly that when one falls, we all fall, and when one is honored, we are all honored. It is through this faith lens, I write to that assembly.
If you’ve read much of the news in the US these days, you’ll find that there is quite a bit of political and civil unrest. All sorts of words are being thrown around; racism and privilege to name a few. They are words I hope to paint a more in-depth picture of in this writing.
First I want to address the concept of identity. Who do you say you are? Who do others say you are?
In his book, Soul, Self, and Society, Rynkiewich suggests that identity is a social construct, set by the greater mass of whatever social construct or family systems that we live in.
For instance, according to my social construct, I am a white, American woman. These three descriptors identify me and each has a certain understanding attached to it. If I meet someone from another country, gender, or ethnicity, those descriptor helps the other person make sense of who I am based on their understanding and vise versa. Until we each affirm or redefine ourselves to one another, those identifiers set the tone for our interaction.
*Identity is not personality, likes, dislikes, communication styles, etc…
For better or for worse, identifiers put us into categories of hierarchy and privilege which organizes how our society functions. Thus, if we are on the top of the identifier mountain, then welding power over others is essential in making sure our identities stay in tact. If we are in the valley of identifiers we may fight to find footing to climb up the mountain. Like it or not, this is just the way the world works.
However, I want to think more about this idea of redefining ourselves to one another, using our new identifiers to set a tone of peace and harmony, advocacy and reconciliation in our interaction. To do so, I ask three questions…
What does it look like for the social construct of the Kingdom of God to define our identity rather than our worldly society? How do we understand who we are as Children of God? What does it look like to function in the tension of being in this world but not of it?
Let’s start with Yeshua and the kingdom come. A long time ago, one afternoon, a large group gathered on a mountain near the Sea of Galilee in Northern Israel. Here, Yeshua laid out what the Kingdom of God or the “Kingdom of Heaven” as some call it, looks like. In doing so, he challenges the social construct of identity and turns everything on its head.
He says things like…
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Through these blessing in Matthew 5, Yeshua paints a picture of what it looks like for His kingdom to define our identity. These are the markers for what that identity looks like on full display. And so, if we who call ourselves believers want to understand what it means to have our identity in this new kingdom, then we have to understand it may go against everything our worldly society or family tells us.
In Romans 8:14-17 we are called God’s children: Paul writes, “…For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship/daughtership. And by him, we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
Ephesians 2:3 we read, that before this transformation or adoption process, we were “by nature objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Thus, it is important to keep a confident but humble posture, understanding that it is by grace and not by works that we have been adopted into the family of God. It is a privilege.
Understanding our new identity as Children of God, we gain perspective on this word “privilege.”
Privilege simply means unearned rights, rights someone else paid for. (Brene’ Brown)
When we are adopted into the Family of God we are given unearned rights, rights that Jesus paid for. Instead of fearing God as judge, we have the great privilege of coming to Him as our Father. We can approach Him with confidence and ask Him what we need. We can ask for His guidance and wisdom and know that nothing will take us from Him. We also rest in His authority and respond to Him with trusting obedience, knowing that obedience is a key part of remaining close to Him.
And, when our identity is defined by God’s rule, found in Christ we have the privilege to be the light of the world and salt of the earth. We are directed to use that privilege to display God’s glory, to set captives free and to bind up the broken-hearted. This identity has no room for prejudice or racism. We can not call ourselves sons and daughters of the King and have a heart of hatred and exclusion for those the King has created.
Even the young fella’s who walked with Yeshua, James and John, didn’t get it at first. These are guys that were known as the Son’s of thunder, meaning they were hot-tempered and quick to act. They walked with Jesus for three years, saw him feed thousand with a few loaves of bread and some fish, they saw him heal people, cast out demons and at one point they are on their way to Jerusalem and Yehshu sends messengers on ahead, into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. So, when the disciples James and John hear this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call-fire down from heaven to destroy them?”
What? Seriously, call down fire! Destroy them? They obviously didn’t get Yeshua’s heart for humanity and he turned and rebuked them, saying, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” D’oh!
Fast forward to when they were together for the last time and they asked, “Master, are you going to restore the kingdom? Is this the time?”
He told them, “You don’t get to know the time. Timing is Abba’s business. What you will get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and… Samaria, even to the ends of the world.”
These were his last words to them as they watched him ascend. However grand that the ascension was, I am struck by his final words to them; knowing how John and James at one time wanted to call-fire down from heaven and destroy a whole people group, I imagine Yeshua looked right at them when he came to this part and slowly spoke the word SA-MARI-A. Interestingly enough it seems John got it, as all of his recorded writings center around the theme of unconditional love and unity in the body. Including the infamous Revelations 7:9 where he records a dream of heaven being filled, not with all of the same kind of people, rather with every tongue, tribe, and nation.
Lastly, with the context of our identity as children of God, being shaped by the social construct of the Kingdom, I want to look at what it means to live in this world but not of it.
In a letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul calls us “ambassadors” for Christ: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us”. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
Generally speaking, an ambassador is a respected official acting as a representative of a nation. Sent to a foreign land, the ambassador’s role is to reflect the official position of the sovereign body that gave him or her authority.
Our new identity as Children of the King, completely changes our relationship with God and our families, just as it changes the way we see the world. As we go through this world, we represent the Kingdom, that is our nation and it is our responsibility to reflect the “official position” of heaven. And, when we walk in the confidence of our identity shaped by the Kingdom of God, then words like “white privilege” or “rich privilege” no longer evokes a feeling of shame or defensiveness but rather, empowers us to use our unearned rights to represent the official position of heaven, which is love.
This is not just an individual perspective, this is our corporate identity. In our cultural context, we tend to read the “you’s” throughout scripture as an individual “you.” However, that is not the correct context. Except for a handful of times, “You” is collective.
We are collectively a part of a heavenly, God-ruled kingdom. That is the social construct that shapes our identity.
I have had the privilege to see Abba turn the story of racial hostility upside down and I want to share this final field story with you. Over the past two months, He has woven us together with kinfolk who understand their identity as Children of God and Ambassadors for the Kingdom. The following is an account of Abba’s Glory seen in and through those who call themselves the body of Christ.
We witnessed and participated with believers in Muskegon MI, Elkhart, IN, St. Louis, MO, and Denver, CO. These were all congregations representing every tongue, tribe, and nation. And, although English was the dominant language in each of these churches, some of them offered translation in Spanish, some in French.
The messages were on:
Matt 5:14 “being the light of the world,”
2 Cor 5:11-22 “the ministry of reconciliation,”
Eph 2:1-8 “being adopted into God’s family.”
1 Peter 2:11-23 “living Godly lives in a warped society.”
We sang African spirituals. We worshiped in Swahili, and in Spanish. In St. Louis we saw 20 Elders stand and pray for a couple they were sending out. Of the 20 elders, three were white! That’s in a city where the Government has called a state of emergency because of racial discord and civil unrest! I actually had to film some of it because I was so inspired by these Saints commitment to each other and to God. (video below)
They preached the gospel and they worshiped with all of their hearts!
Then this week I spoke in Salt Lake City on Eph 2:11-22, with a conclusion that when, the church, views herself in the light of this passage, that it is impossible for her to be conformed to the divisions which exist in society. It is her nature to be the place where divisions are healed. (William Radar)
Let it be so! This is the work of our Abba.