We live in the city, up on the 20th floor of an apartment building. We come and go via fobs and elevators and a parking garage where you stand in line for someone to fetch your car. If you go for a walk, it takes five minutes to get outside, and your stroll is in company with others. Many others during the summer. On the flip side, someone else mows the grass, shovels the snow, and repairs whatever breaks.
We previously lived on wooded acreage. We decided what trees to prune (or fell), where to mow, which areas to leave wild. We planted bushes, built a barn, made a tree fort, and ran a zip line. We even changed our official address from the front gate (a hundred yards away) to the side gate (where you could fetch the winter mail without a coat if you ran fast enough). We buried our dog on that property, and I guarantee no one will ever find him.
Which “home” were we in, and which were we of?
This is a matter of which situations we own vs. experience as guests. If I can build a fence around the property, I’m an owner. If I’m fined for making noise after hours, I’m a guest. The implications of this are endless, but these three are especially important:
1. I am in the world.
2. I am of God’s kingdom.
3. I get to choose how each informs my life.
It’s crucial to get this right. Am I in my neighborhood or of it? That depends. If the neighbors are known for violence and injustice, I’m in, not of. Yet, if they’re experiencing crisis, I’m of, right there helping, sharing their experience.
What about my kitchen vs. the neighborhood grocery store? Which one am I in and which am I of? If I behave of my grocery store, I’ll soon be in custody.
Ins and ofs matter. Am I of my work? No, and yes. It’s not mine, and it’s not a family, and I’m only granted access in exchange for my time and talent. If someone in authority takes umbrage at something I do, I can be fired. In that sense I’m in, not of. Not like the owner is of. Yet, my time and talent are acquired at a price for a purpose. I have agency there to make good things happen, and if I’m of doing that, everyone wins.
What about schoolteachers? The students and school building belong to someone else. A teacher can’t sell her desk on Facebook Marketplace or use her classroom budget to buy a motorcycle. Yet, she can love and invest all her time and energy into equipping her students to thrive at life.
What about church? Should I be in or of? I should certainly be more “of” my church than my grocery store. Yet, it depends on how I approach it. If it’s a weekly program in a public building, I’m in the experience, following protocol. If it’s a gathering of spiritual siblings, we’re actually of one another, even if we don’t realize it or know what to do about it.
Choosing our ins and ofs matters, because they either limit or require more or less of us than we’d hoped to invest. Being in a society or community requires both boundaries and sacrifices. God cautions me not to be of the world. When cultural norms contradict His nature, I’ll face choices in both directions. To love and serve and bless, while also setting boundaries and being different. I may shine as a bright light, while also being shamed, shunned, banished, or worse. That’s part of choosing in, not of. And ultimately, we all must choose. The key is to understand what’s real. What we’ll still be experiencing a thousand years from now — the culture, relationships, and opportunities of a life that’s actually eternal, not simply in the moment. Choosing to be of the eternal Kingdom of Jesus, who is God, means giving our best to whatever places or situations we’re in while never forgetting Whose reality we are of.