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These common untruths prevent us from fully participating in the body of Christ.

After Hurricane Katrina passed through my state in 2005, I was selected to be a research subject for a study conducted by Harvard Medical School. At regular intervals following the storm, researchers called to ask me a set of questions about my mental and emotional health, as well as my social support system. Each time, the caller asked: “How many people in your community would you be comfortable asking to borrow a cup of sugar?” I would answer: “Let’s see, about 100?” That question was always followed by: “How many people in your community would you be comfortable sharing your thoughts and feelings with?” I would answer: “The same.”

My answer to those two questions is an important clue to my identity. The reason I have such a sizable collection of sugar-lending, accessible friends is because I belong to a local church. The truth is, never once—in storm or sunshine—have I been alone in the world, and no Christian ever has, at least not in the deepest sense. Our identities hinge on the precious truth that belonging to Christ means we also belong to everyone else who belongs to him. In Christ, we are not simply individuals; we are joined to what Peter calls a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Pet. 2:9).

In our individualistic culture, to say that my identity is necessarily connected to the people in my church is hardly popular. Our unbelieving friends and neighbors often reject the significance of membership in a local church and minimize it as a “personal choice.” Although those of who profess faith might distance ourselves from this secular, postmodern perspective, nonetheless we, too, sometimes find ourselves vulnerable …

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