Welcome to all who came for the provocative blog title! Since you’re here… Picture the scene. It’s Sunday morning. You’ve not had the best of weeks. You fell into that sin you said you’d stay away from and you’re feeling the emotional effects of it. Your faith in God is feeling more and more uncertain. Someone comes up and asks you how you are. What do you say? Or let’s try this one. A special guest speaker visits your church. They’re a big time evangelist. They share all the intimate details of their drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll testimony, how God reached in and pulled them out of thick darkness into light and restored them. There’s not a dry eye in the house.
In the Church it has somehow become unacceptable for us to have problems. Getting dressed in your Sunday best must include slapping on the “Sunday Smile” that assures everyone that everything is great and you’re going from glory to glory! Fastening on the “God is good” and the “I’m just trusting God brother”* so that people can’t see us cry inside. We celebrate testimonies about trials and struggles of various kinds but the story cannot be shared until the final battle is fought and won.
I believe this attitude is crippling the Bride of Christ.
To the rest of the Western World, the Church has often been recognised as a beacon of judgementalism, double-standards and hypocrisy and I think this is part of the problem. Somewhere along the line we’ve instilled fear into people that comes from judgement and we’ve forgotten 1John 4:18 which says: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Although we desperately need help when we’re struggling or things aren’t going well, fear keeps us from coming clean. It may be fear of being judged by members of the church, fear of being punished by leaders or fear of losing the appearance of being a Super-Christian. Whatever. Ultimately our actions are being dictated by fear and that is not a healthy way to live.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and of knowledge (Proverbs 9:10; Proverbs 1:7) and it should be foundational to our lives. The deepest awe and respect for the power and authority of God should guide us through life and the decisions we make. I’ve talked with some friends lately about what it means to fear the Lord. Is it just about respect? Is it about being afraid? Although I think there are elements of both in there we found two quotes really helpful:
“The fear of God is the death of every other fear; like a mighty lion it chases all other fears away.”
“The one who is afraid of the Lord stays away. The one who fears the Lord stays close.”
1John 3:20-22 encourages not to allow feelings of fear to keep us away from God but actually to draw us to Him. When we’ve messed up the temptation to run and hide from Him is so strong but it’s also stupid! He is the One who forgives, cleanses and heals us! It’s like getting shot but staying away from the hospital because they will want to remove the bullet and clean and dress the wound! In the Church we often trip each other up in this area because we don’t act like God. We expect perfection from one another and so when someone makes a mistake we can be so quick to judge them or keep them at arm’s length and make them feel like an outcast. When we’re the one who’s made the mistake we can be quick to marginalise ourselves because we don’t feel worthy to be in community and certainly not to be in the presence of God.
I think we’re forgetting the kinds of people Jesus hung out with. I’m not just talking about the “sinners”, look at the disciples! They had issues with anger and problems with greed. They were elitist and argumentative. James and John had homicidal thoughts (Luke 9:54), Peter was always ready with something stupid to say (read any of the gospels!) and Judas was a thief and… well…you know.
There was a level of openness and honesty that Jesus had with the disciples that we need to see more in the Church today. Think about it. Think about how you behave when your church leaders are around. If any of us were hanging around Jesus we’d be on our best behaviour trying so hard not to slip up! There’s something about the presence of Jesus that brings out the best in you – to be celebrated as well as the worst in you – to be corrected. They felt so free to be themselves around him that their faults would be exposed and when they were, in His love, He would either gently point them in the right direction or outright rebuke them and then they could make changes in their lives and carry on. Jesus says that when as little as two or three Christians gather together in His name, His presence is made known (Matt 18:20). We should expect to encounter the same freedom as the disciples when we meet certainly when we meet with God and also when we meet with other believers but for a lot of us, sadly that isn’t the case.
“There’s something about the presence of Jesus that brings out the best in you – to be celebrated as well as the worst in you – to be corrected.”
There’s two sides to this problem. On the one hand I think we can be quite wimpy when it comes to being corrected. This is a particular area of struggle for me. Sometimes I can be so insecure and so immature that when someone challenges me on sinful attitudes and practices I take it personally and distance myself or maybe even rebel against them (Proverbs 9:8). “Who do they think they are telling me that when they do this?!” or “What I do is none of their business!” or “They don’t really understand the situation!” We even sometimes use Scripture to justify ourselves!
On the other hand we suck at rebuking each other in love! We see correction as a duty we must fulfill in order to be right with God. We’re just trying to purge the sin from among us Old Testament style and I think this is a mistake. While the Bible tells us to bring correction into each other’s lives we must remember that it is for our mutual benefit as the Church. As a community. So all of our rebuking has to come from a place of love. That’s how He does it (Rev 3:19). Without love we end up hurting people and causing them to react badly. I had a priceless friend as a teenager who would come to me and say something like “You know I’m for you and not against you right?” I’d then brace myself because I knew some loving correction was soon to follow and I’d take a shot in the pride. I truly knew she loved and valued me and wanted me to grow in God so I was happy to hear what she had to say. I’ve written a longer blog about this which you can find HERE.
I was taught the principle of positive confession growing up, i.e. speaking positively in the midst of negative situations, declaring the promises of God. I think that this is a powerful and important tool when used correctly but it is a spiritual principle that positions our hearts in faith to receive from God, not a magic formula that makes our problems go away. If we’re not careful, we develop a culture of positive confession that actually becomes a culture of fig leaves because we no longer share the truth of what is happening in our lives with God or with each other which cuts us off from intimacy and community. Positive confession should either come from faith (believing what God has already told us) or it should stir faith in us. It is not a substitute for faith.
Isolation is one of the devil’s main weapons against Christians. Whether it’s physically or emotionally the devil wants to get you alone. Secret sin is a massive killer of Christians because it cuts you off from the life-giving love and restoring forgiveness Jesus has instilled in the Church (John 20:23). I believe that something we NEED to see appearing in the Church now is an increase in openness and acceptance amongst believers. I’m NOT saying we all have pity parties where we confess sin to each other and pat each other on the back. NO! Instead what is needed is a greater revelation of our own sin against God and God’s forgiveness for us (which will keep us from trying to judge anyone else) an increase in supernatural love for each other so that our seeds of correction find good soil and a deeper understanding of community that leads to us supporting each other through the tough times that are real until we’re made whole. Finding people who will constantly speak our true identity over us and remind us of who Christ has made us is vital as well as taking up Paul’s charge from 1Thessalonians 5:16-18.
“Let’s celebrate our testimonies all the way through the process, not just at the end!”
Let’s get back to His original intention. Mankind was created to be naked in their relationship with God, vulnerable, honest and without shame. That’s how we’re supposed to be..but definitely with clothes on! If Jesus isn’t ashamed of us, shame has no place in our lives. (Hebrews 2:11)
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments!