Belonging and Becoming
Belonging and Becoming
The relentless creativity of God has affected my life in such a consistent manner that I'd like to share with you what I'm learning.
The plane I got on in Houston this morning was already filled. The passengers all knew each other. They had been on a tour, and they were talking and laughing together. For just a moment I stood there thinking, "I don't fit into this group."First, they were all young. (People are so much younger than they used to be, and there are so many more young ones.) Second, all the women were slender. I find that a little discomforting (particularly after a mealsometimes at luncheons they'll have this wonderful food and then a style show where all the models are size 4; why do they have size 4 models when they've just served all that good food?).
As I stood in the plane and realized I was not part of that group, I experienced a feeling of not belonging. It reminded me that many of us go through life feeling we don't belong. We're alienated, disenfranchised. We don't fit. But the relentless, creative energy of God reaches out to us to tell us that believing in him means we belong. I may have thought I belonged once, but I don't belong now. Or there may have been a time when I was productive and a belonger, but I don't belong now. I have found that those who believe in God belong. You belong. You are not alienated. You are a recipient of the friendship of the great God Almighty.
On that plane, I found myself looking to those passengers to tell me I would belong. I tried to get somebody's eye so that person might say, "Oh here, Jeannette, here's a seat for you." Nobody did; they were busy enjoying each other. I realized that many times I look to people to tell me that I belong.What told me that I belonged on that plane was the ticket in my hand. God's statement of fellowship, of relationship, is far more trustworthy than any airline ticket. If you believe in the person of Christ, you belong.
A rocky return to faith
When I accepted Christ as a young child, I was part of a Christian family with a Christian background. I turned my life over to the Lord as I understood it. When I grew up, I stepped away from that current of faith. I questioned myself out of the faith of my fathers, because I didn't look for the right answers. As I wandered away, God was gracious and allowed me to fall apart and to realize I had no way of putting my life together but through him. So, I came back to him. I accepted Jesus Christ as Lord in my adult life as I had accepted him in my childhood.
At that time I was in the theater. There were not a lot of Christians in New York's professional theater at that timethe believers in the business used to meet once a month in a telephone booth and have a wonderful time of fellowship! I was a professing Christian in the midst of a society that did not agree with my faith. Once again, I felt I didn't fit in, didn't belong.
And I also learned that as we accept the privilege of belonging, we will also accept the privilege of behaving. Because we belong to him, we will behave in agreement with the one to whom we belong.
I struggled through those early stages of development in the Christian life, and people would give me phrases that were good but they didn't match what I was experiencing or what I was going through.I remember people telling me to read the Bible until I understood it. One night I read, and I read, and finally I said, "Lord, I have just understood something. I don't understand your book!" Having understood that, I kept reading, and I kept reading. I stayed with it, and through the pages of his Word, God began to impress upon me that I belonged to him and that he was conforming me to the potential behavior pleasing to him.
When you're an unemployed actress, you don't get a lot of new shoes. So I remember being careful of the new shoes I was wearing to an audition. It started pouring down rain. New York City became a lake. In order to get out of the rain, I stepped into a little bookstore to wait. I called my agent to say I was going to be a little late, and he said I could audition the next day just as well. (It turned out that I could have auditioned anytime, because I didn't get the part!) So I stayed in the bookstore until closing.I said to the people there, "It's still raining. Is there any place I could wait until the rain stops?" They said I would be welcome at a meeting they were having upstairs."Oh, thank you so much. What is the meeting?""There's a missionary meeting and a missionary program.""Well, I'll go on and get the bus at the next corner. It doesn't look like it's raining that bad."
As I went out, it was like somebody took the ceiling off New York City and the rain came down. I went back and tapped on the window, but nobody heard me. I stood under the awning until they rolled it up. I kept tapping on the door. Finally somebody from the store opened the door.I said, "About that meeting, could I stay there for just a few moments?" They said I could, and I went up and I sat in the back row. I didn't even sit down in the pew. I perched on the arm of the pew, as I remember. I never put my purse down and didn't take off my coat. I thought I'd only be there a minute just to wait out the storm.
Major lan Thomas was the speaker. Major Thomas always fascinates me because he speaks so well and teaches so deeply. But at that time what fascinated me about him was his accent. You see I always feel that if you surprise the British, they'll talk just like anybody else. So I kept listening to see where this accent would falter. While I listened, I learned about Abraham.
The Abraham principle
I've been told by many people that I should claim the principle of faith and the principle of Abraham. But I didn't understand what the principle of Abraham was and what it had to do with my life until I heard Major Thomas say that for Abraham to obey God and move out, Abraham had to pack. And that interested me, because packing was part of my life.I'm not a very good packer. I took a course on how to pack and didn't have enough room in my suitcase for the bookso I'm not a very good packer. It occurred to me that if the principle of faith that dominated Abraham's life had something to do with packing, it might even work for me.
Have you ever thought how Abraham's wife, Sarah, told her neighbors that they were going to move? Abraham and Sarah were wealthy, prominent people. They didn't just disappear. They moved like we move when we move from one place to the other.
I always imagined that Sarah's neighbor might have dropped by and knocked on the tent flap.Sarah would say, "Well come on in."
The neighbor would find Sarah with all the packing crates, cases, and barrels.The neighbor would say to Sarah, "What are you doing?"Sarah would say, "I'm packing."
"Well, why are you packing?"
" 'Cause we're moving."
"Well, why are you moving?"
"Abraham's been transferred."
"Well, where is he going?"
"Funny you should ask, because I can't answer that."
"Are you happy about going there?"
"Well, I really don't know."
"Is Abraham pleased?"
"Why is he pleased?"
"He thinks it would be a good place to raise the children."
"A good place to do what?"
"To raise the children."
"You don't have any children."
"I-I-I know that. But we're going to."
"You're going to have children? Well that's the funniest thing I ever heard in my life."
"I laughed when I heard it too."
So, of course, they named the child "Laughter," what else?
In all of what Abraham did in obedience to God, he had to pack. And it occurred to me that would let me in on the Abraham principle.In the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, it says that when he was called, Abraham did a wonderful thing. God in his creative energy called him, and Abraham obeyed. That's incredible. I'm sorry to admit it, but many times I try everything but obedience, only to find nothing works but obedience.
When he was called, Abraham obeyed by going out to a place that he was to receive for an inheritance. Abraham went out not knowing where he was going. Now that verse says Abraham didn't trouble his mind about where he was going. He left that to God. That's the reason he could pack.
One of the reasons I have so much trouble packing is I try to decide what is going to happen in the future. Do you ever do that? I can't make a decision today because I'm trying to figure out what will happen if I do this and how I will handle what will happen if I do that. And so I'm not packing very well.Abraham learned that when he left the results with God, he was able to obey in the details and agenda God had given him.In believing in Jesus Christ, we belong. In belonging we behave in obedience.
Behaving in agreement with belonoging
I need to tell you that when I turned my life over to the Lord, I had no idea what was ahead for me. I was very ill at ease because I thought this was going to be a dull life. God has gone out of his way to be sure that my life is not dull, but there were certain things I'd planned never to do.Because I wanted my relationship with God to be pleasant, I let him know what some of those things were.
I didn't want him to ask me to do what I had no intention of doing, so I told him I would never give a public testimony. I figured if he knew I was his, and I knew I was his, what business was it of anybody else's.I told him I would never get mixed up in Bible study because I saw what that did to people.I didn't want him to be in any way disappointed by asking me to go into what was then called religious theater. It looked like that group had found an extra striped bathrobe and said, "Let's do a play about Joseph." It didn't have a whole lot of planning around it. So I said I would never, ever under any circumstances, regardless of the situation, be involved in religious or Christian theater.Now I spend most of my life traveling to give my testimony. I have the great joy of teaching three Bible classes, and I am the fulltime director of a Christian theater company.
I no longer mention to the Lord what I will not dothat might call his attention to it.(However, I have been known to go around saying I will not be a multi-millionaire, just to see if that would flip in my direction, but it hasn't worked.)You know what has happened? I have learned that when I believe in him, I belong to him. And when I behave in agreement with my belonging, I've become what he purposed me to be, by his grace.
I am in that process: becoming. God knows what is best for me because he gave me that by which I live my life. So when I am willing to behave in obedience, I have begun to become. That's celebration ground. And the only reason all of these verbs come together in the relentless, persistent, creative energy of God is because we are belovedinfinitely beloved by God.
We behave and belong because we are beloved.
I don't enjoy flying. I don't understand what keeps those things up. Other people can tell I'm ill at ease in flight, because it's hard to kneel with your seatbelt on. I always get on carefully and cautiously.On a short flight from Tucson to Phoenix, as I got on, I noticed a young woman with her baby. They were both dressed in white pinafores. The mother was smiling, and the little baby was saying "Dada, Dada." And the little baby was darling. She wore a little pink bow where there would probably be hair pretty soon, and it was just darling. And they sat down opposite me. Every time anybody went by, the baby would say "Dada, Dada."
The young mother said they were going home, and Daddy was waiting for them. I think they had been gone overnightit was a long, long time like that!Everybody was so happy, and we all enjoyed the little baby. The mother had a little Thermos with orange juice in it. She kept feeding the baby, a little fruit and then a little juice. It was a rough flight. Every time the baby cried the mother fed her a little bit more orange juice and a little more fruit.
I don't know how to get out of this story without telling you the truth. The flight was very turbulent. (The flight was so rough that the attendants had to stay seated.) All of the fruit that had gone down came up. I think more came up than had gone down; I think there was more up than there was baby, and it was startling; the carpet was not in good condition. It was a mess.Those of us on the opposite side of the aisle were not in good condition at all. We kept trying to tell the young mother it was just fine. We were handing her tissues and things. (Most of us have been babies.) It was a very loving time, but a mess. The baby was crying, and she looked awful. We couldn't cry, but we looked awful. The mother was so sorry about it.
We landed. The minute we landed, baby was fine: "Dada, Dada." The rest of us were just awful. We began to get off the plane, and we all moved very carefully. I had on a suit, and I was trying to decide whether to burn it or just cut off the sleeve. Have you ever tried to get away from something really unpleasant and it was you? Well that's the way we were. It was really bad.
I looked out of the plane, and there waiting was the young man who had to be Daddy: white slacks, white shirt, white flowers, and a little green paper. I thought, I know what's going to happen. He's going to run to that baby who now looks awfulI mean the hair and the pinafore were dreadful. He's going to run to that baby, get one look, and keep on running, saying, "Not my kid!"As he ran to the young mother, I wouldn't say she threw the baby at him, but she did kind of leave quickly to go get cleaned up. He picked up that baby, and I watched him as he hugged that baby and kissed that baby and stroked that baby's hair. He said, "Daddy's baby's come home. Daddy's baby's come home."I watched them all the way to the luggage claim area. He never stopped kissing that baby. He never stopped welcoming that baby back home.
I thought, Where did I ever get the idea that my Father God is less loving than a young daddy in white slacks and white shirt with white flowers and a green paper.You see, you believe in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and you belong. You behave, and you become, because you are beloved.
Preaching Today Issue #93