Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been Lives in a dream Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door Who is it for?
All the lonely people Where do they all come from? All the lonely people Where do they all belong?”
[‘Eleanor Rigby’ Beatles]
“All that I am, all that I have, I lay them down before You, O Lord. All my regrets, all my acclaim, The joy and the pain, I’m making them Yours.
Lord, I offer my life to You. Everything I’ve been through, use it for Your Glory. Lord, I offer my days to You, Lifting my praise to You, as a pleasing sacrifice Lord, I offer You my life.
Things in the past, things yet unseen, Wishes and dreams that are yet to come true, All of my hopes, all of my plans, My heart and my hands are lifted to You.”
[‘I Offer My Life’ Words and Music by Unverified]
It’s been a long time since I have had the privilege of leading a cell group. Recently I had the opportunity to do so again. As I think of the individuals that make up our CG, I see a microcosm of the church.
There are middle aged professionals, young professionals, home makers, and university students. We have a graphic designer, a baby not yet one, a young doctor, his fianc?e, and hey, even a senior pastor, just to name a few of the people that make up the group.
I can’t wait to know each of them better though with the growing size of the group, I wonder if I will ever catch up! I am hoping that the group learns to value each individual member. For Christianity takes individuals seriously.
At the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans, he lists a long list of individuals that he greets. M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock summarizes well the significance of these personal greetings:
“The chapter [Romans Chapter 16] is mostly composed of greetings to Paul’s friends and coworkers now in Rome. Twenty-six individuals are named, plus their associates, with greetings from eight individuals with Paul in Corinth as he writes… Including Paul and Phoebe, this total of thirty-six named individuals indicates something of the intensely personal character of the faith as documented in the New Testament (which names a total of 423 different individuals).”
God is not into cloning. He creates individuals. We are all unique and different. And God knows each one of us. Hey, he even knows each specific dandruff ridden hair on our heads (Matthew 10:30)! He knows us one by one.
God sees us as individuals. There are clues all over the place. He gives the first humans, names – Adam and Eve. There are genealogies all over the bible. He calls Lazarus from the dead by name (John 11:43). When Peter gets curious about the fate of John, Jesus calls him back to his own story (John 21:20-22). God knows us individually. And He is writing out the plot of our lives, life by life.
Christians are often worried about the dangers of unhealthy self love. Narcissism is death of sorts because it flows inwards. But there is a difference between thinking “How great I am. The universe revolves around me ” and,”I must me of value. A great God deems me worthy enough to create and to die for.”
While we must always be vigilant against selfish narcissism, we also need to help each one understand their unique worth and value. We want to help each one discover and celebrate their true self. As David G. Benner puts it:
“But God does not only create us in uniqueness…God meets us in individuality because God wants to fulfill that individuality. God wants us to follow and serve in and through that individuality. God doesn’t seek to annihilate our uniqueness as we follow Christ. Rather, Christ-following leads us to our truest self.”
Do you know your true self? It seems nobody seems to care about our true selves. At work all they care about is my performance. The world values money, power, status, and physical attractiveness. I have no worth beyond that. Radical groups don’t care about my individuality. They just care that I am willing to die for the cause and kill others along with me.
Society and often even churches see me as part of some demographic group. I am a boomer/Gen X/Senior citizen etc. Well I may share some characteristics with others like me but I am more than just a demographic designation. I am Adam, Eve, Lazarus, Peter, John, Mary, Martha.
I have a unique combination of strengths. My personality is part of the mix that is me. My history is unique. I have my own complement of failures and wounds. I have my unique combination of joys and hopes. And I have my own unique contribution to make to the cause of the Kingdom.
But nobody seems to care about who I really am. And if I have gone through life with deep rejections from family and significant others, I really have a hard time believing I am somebody of worth.
God’s church should be the place that people discover that God knows and loves them as individuals. Unfortunately, much of contemporary Christianity is of a “wham bam thank you mam” variety. We get shuttled from programme to programme. We are encouraged to contribute time, money and labour. But the church can be as impersonal as any other institution in this fallen world.
I don’t know how it is going to be done. Maybe we need to sit down and think seriously, again, as to the optimum size of our churches. Maybe we need to rethink how our churches should be best structured so that individuals can be known, healed, and activated for the kingdom. I am starting where I am.
In my cell group I hope to get to know the members as well as I can. And I resolve to be as transparent as I can be so that people may get a chance to know the real me. I try not to hide behind some ecclesiastical mask. I want to be known as a friend and a brother. OK this is a clich?, but I really want to be real.
We all want to go to a place where everybody knows our name and they are always glad we came but frankly I am not sure the alcohol fueled atmosphere of a pub is a place to find true fellowship. And I am not sure I could take too much of the cigarette smoke and the loud music. No, the church remains God’s main instrument to show the world agape love. Scary isn’t it?
God’s eyes sees us as individuals. God’s ears wants to hear our unique stories. God’s heart loves us and values us for who we are. God’s mind has a vocation planned for each one of us. May the church truly be the Body of Christ.
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan