Thursday, October 23, 2008

Not to Us

This past Sunday in church we had the opportunity to honor an 18-year-old member who just completed Marine boot camp at Fort Pendleton. His family has been at New Life since it started 12 years ago; his mom is on staff. Josh talked about his grueling training and how he learned about the value of teamwork and that your team is only as strong as its weakest link. He told of soldiers struggling to make it through the 54-mile final hike and said that if a fellow soldier went down, those around him picked up his 80-pound pack and added it to his own load while others helped the fallen one get up and keep going. The motto is "we're all in this together" that sappy High School Musical song says. Trite, but true.

But what struck me most in what Josh said was his comment that going to church on base was the thing that connected him most to home. Worshipping with 1,000 young men and women in a military auditorium would be quite a different experience from his home church, yet it gave him comfort. It gave him strength.

All I could think of, though, was what a self-centered attitude I had at his age. A lifelong church kid like Josh, when I left home for the first time to go to college, I purposely refused to find a church in my new home town because "It just wouldn't be the same." And again, a few years later when my husband and I were married and living in the western suburbs, we returned on rare occasions to our "home" church but didn't bother to find a new church up where we lived because we "knew" it wouldn't be like the one we grew up in. Holy cow! I'm just so thankful that God is patient and merciful and forgiving because I see so clearly now how I needed a major attitude adjustment. Going to church was not about God, it was mainly about me.

Yet "In his heart, a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps" (Proverbs 16:9). Fortunately, God led us back to our home church, first as volunteers with the junior high youth, which led me to become the Director of Christian Education for 5 years. And, what I've come to understand over the past twenty years, is that going to church is most definitely not about me. It's about God and about coming together with the family of God (the good, the bad and the ugly) to worship Him and give thanks for our blessings, to ask forgiveness for our wrongs, to seek mercy and justice for the persecuted and strength and healing for the weak. And, it's most definitely NOT about what songs we'll be singing or what the sermon topic is that week or who we'll chat with or what petty little human dramas are playing out under the surface. The coolest thing, though, is that it doesn't matter where you go to church. God is the same God here in Chicago as He is in California as He is in Afghanistan or Ethiopia or India or Germany or Peru. The Christian church is God's home and He is present when God's people choose to glorify Him, no matter which house you enter.

Chris Tomlin captures this wisdom beautifully in his song Not to Us when he says, "The cross before me, the world behind / No turning back, raise the banner high / It's not for us, it's all for you. / Not to us, but to your name be the glory."

Not to us, God, but to your name be the glory. Amen. And thank you, God, for Josh.

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