Come as you are

Comeasyouare

Reading through the scriptures today and preparing for the Christmas Eve service has me spinning on an idea that is a familiar stream woven throughout scripture, the idea of coming as you are.  The gravity of the Jesus’ ministry, the incarnation of God coming to people is nothing short of breath taking.  It’s one of those themes that we can quickly gloss over, as we run to the more exhilarating passages of scripture.  It’s one of those themes that should shape our ministries and our communities as we live life.

The commands of Scripture, as we should read it, are almost always plural.  Set to be done by God’s people.  Jesus’ ministry in a sense should always be considered in a communal state.  Jesus, the lamb of God, came down to the earth so that he would reconcile His people to Himself.  The miracles that he performed brought great glory to His Father, opening the eyes and the ears of some of the people around Him.  The interesting part of this is that the people did not do anything to warrant forgiveness nor did they do anything to clean themselves up.  Jesus called them “as they were.”  If we take this theme and apply it to our communities, I think that what we will find is that we require people to act a certain way for us to welcome them in.  We might mask our expectations with calls to the alter or charitable giving, but ultimately within the Church we expect that people will act a certain way.  This way is vastly different among churches, some churches require that you keep your hands down while worshiping and yet others look down on outward worship.  Regardless of the expectation, we as a church frown on and ultimately miss opportunities to engage one another because of our presupposed expectations.   The most evil and dangerous part of these expectations is that they evolve within a community.  As communities grow and become bonded, they develop their own expectations.  When the expectations of the community are not met within the community, there is hostility and often shunning, until the expectations are met.   This is not a hard and fast rule, just a simple observation.

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine recently and I made a statement similar to the one that I just wrote, and it made him angry.  Angry at me and he was rightfully so.  I joined in on the communal expectation, ultimately ostracizing my own because they failed to meet the standard that I had set for them.  Of course, realizing my error, I apologized and repented for failing to see the error in my ways.  The conversation didn’t end there.  We talked and I pondered about what the implementations of my blindness has for the communities that I’m involved in.  How had my worship slipped back into self righteousness?   The question is answered in the beginning of this writing, it’s an indicative/imperative assessment.

I failed, and we fail because we do not allow people to come to us as they are.  We suppose that they will act a certain way, react a certain way or at least pretend to act a certain way.  This creates communities that are not built on trust, but rather behavior.  It’s simply going back to behavior modification on a communal level.  It’s an issue that stems from original sin, we want to be God, and in doing so we throw burdens on people that aren’t theirs to carry.  We want the clean, and yet we are called into the dirty.

My prayer is that our hearts will be broken for the broken.  As broken people we will realize our faults and repent of our sinful ways.  That we will yearn to be in the front lines of ministry, open about our brokenness and always on guard for the sin that is crouching at the door.  That we will be people that look more like Jesus and less like the religious leaders.  That God will move people into our paths, to challenge the norm and to force us to see the log that is in our own eye.  Let us not be a people that misses the point, that gathers around expectation and in doing so, fails to point people to the one that never failed.  His name is Jesus.

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Reconciliation From the Heart

Radical

There comes a time and a place where one must sit down and consider the past.  For many, this comes during the end of a season or the end of a year.  As I sit and think about the past year, I am baffled by all that has happened in my life.  I think that sometimes we live our lives moment to moment, constantly driving towards the next accomplishment and goal.  This rhythm produces a profound effect on our lives and the lives of the people around us.  We become producers of content, from our 140 character tweets to our daily conversations and we become content in our lives of producing.

The good Lord has provided many opportunities to develop relationships, and in doing so, many opportunities to fail at developing relationships.  It’s in that space, when we can quietly reflect on things that we could have done better, times where our worship went astray that we can learn from our mistakes.  Time that we can repent, confess and return to worshiping the Creator.  It amazes me that throughout my life, God continues to bring leaders that are patient enough to walk through the maturation process and loving enough to love, even when my heart is not in the right place.  It amazes me that God was gracious enough to provide a wife for me that loves me regardless of how she feels about me in that moment.  It amazes me that I have the family that I have, knowing that I don’t deserve that gift.  There comes a time when you have to reflect on the gifts given.

The idea of radical reconciliation is so foreign to the world that we live in.  The world that produces content at 140 character tweets and insta-everything.  We take in and we push out more information than ever in the history of the world and in that process we lose part of the commitment that our words have had in the past.  It seems to me that friendships and family are disposable terms in our current culture.  That the words, “I love you” are little short of, “we are friends now, because you are doing what I want.”  This systemic interaction produces the same level of commitment that our 140 words do.  Approximately 7 minutes of life in the twittersphere.  So the question begs, how do we radically reconcile our relationships and bring them to a point where they mean more than the tweet?  It’s a complex problem, as all human interactions are.  There are endless possibilities, more numerous than the sand of the sea.  I don’t think that the solution is as complex.  I think that the solution is rather simple, actually.  The solution is found in our understanding of ourselves and the willingness to accept our condition.

In short, God has given us everything that we have.  Our relationships, our material goods and the life that live.  We manage to only bring destruction to the table.  Our sin nature to put it simply.  If this is true, the order of reconciliation should look something like, I have committed so much destruction and sin in my life that there is no room for me to judge you on any level.  Therefore, because of my condition, I have no right to do anything except forgive and reconcile.  In doing so, I will go out of my way to ensure that our relationship edifies the people around us.

The problem with radical reconciliation is that forces us to move from the field of competition, to the field of reconciliation.  It forces us to put down our pride, our self righteous indignant flesh.  We don’t live in a reconciled world, because we still want to live in the world of “me.”  Unfortunately, the world of me creates destruction.  The world of me wrecks lives and causes discontentment within our communities.  The world of me rips through the relationships in our lives, producing communities that can’t trust and don’t want to live together.  The world of me, disrupts and ruins the world that I live in.

There comes a time and a place that we have to reflect on the past, and my prayer is that as we look at the past, as we gaze into the future.  A future where all things will be made new.  A future that the brokenness of this world will be no more.  In doing so, we gaze at the One who can change our hearts radically, so we might be able to reconcile our relationships.

Wild and Wrecked

I have to admit that last week was rough and this week seemly is rougher, but something is different. Something is different, because I’m different. Last week I was bent on taking on the world. I was going to do something about everything. It was me against the world, and I was going to walk out all the world problems in a fit of rage.

This week someone said something to me, a comment that changed my prospective across the board. It’s not like it’s the first time that this particular person has said something like this to me, in fact I’m pretty sure that it’s the rock that smacked my soul around during sermon prep.

God is God and He loves His people, regardless of what side they are on currently. 

In the midst of war zones in Iraq, St. Louis and Israel, (just to name the headlines)  God loves His people and my job is simply to pray and witness the Good News of the Gospel.  The change that is so invigorating in my life, so undeniably real, that I cannot help but tell someone about it.   And that leaves me humbled in complete submission to the Creator.  

Who am I and where did I go?  That seems to be the question lingering in the air, the question that ultimately falls back into what is my identity in.  Does Christ define me or have I attempted to hijack my identity again?  It all boils down to who I rest under, is it Adam or is it Christ.  If it is Christ, I walk out my prayer in humble submission to the one that paid it all.  I begin to see people differently, and my thoughts and actions are transformed through my interactions with the living God.  If I rest in Adam, my thoughts and my actions reflect the broken nature of my flesh.

Let us not forget our identities as we walk out our faith, minute by minute, day by day.  

Total Depravity and Fellowship

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize just how relient we are on Christ.  It’s so apparent when something doesn’t go right, or life gets stressed beyond where we are comfortable.   This is where we find ourselves in complete depravity, needing everything from the Creator. If we look deeply in the words that Paul wrote to the Corinthians we see that he found great joy in feeling completely in need.

This week in the Basic Series, we talked about fellowship which ultimately comes down to the interpersonal relationship that we have with Jesus.  It seems counterintuitive to think that an ‘internal’ relationship is directly responsible for our external ‘fellowship’, but through the scriptures I think that we can see how it directly plays out.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for  my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Fellowship is about relationship, and relationships are built around trust.  Trust is built off of mutual vulnerability, allowing others to see and feel our depravity.  It’s incredibly scary and it causes us to pull back.  But God.  His power is made perfect in our weakness, as we see above.  He wants us to recognize that it’s not in the fellowship that we as a group are made strong, it’s in Him.  See the relationship with Jesus works different than the relationship or fellowship that you have with your friends or even with the Church.  God himself came down in human form, vulnerable to sin and capable of death.  His resurrection defeated death and sin, so we can rest him him.  There doesn’t have to be mutual vulnerability because like the song, His love never fails.  Fellowship will fail, friendship will fail, but God…. our love fails,

“For  God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not  perish but have eternal life.    For  God did not send his Son into the world  to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because  God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that  God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love,  not that we have loved God  but that he loved us and sent his Son to be  the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and  his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:8-13)

Paul can, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that  the power of Christ may rest upon me.” because he knew that God’s grace and sovereignty never fails.  His love never fails.  If we continue to breakdown how these passages lace back into our vertical relationship with Christ we see that God is love, and

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  For  we know in part and we prophesy in part,  but  when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.  When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.  For  now we see in a mirror dimly, but  then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as  I have been fully known.  So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)

The greatest gift from God is love.  The power of Christ is love.  Without the power of the Holy Spirit we cannot love even one person.  We can’t love ourselves, we can’t love our kids, we can’t love our friends, we cannot love.  You can’t have fellowship, and you definitely can’t have true communion without the power of the Holy Spirit.

The passage in James continues to reenforce this point.

Count it all joy, my brothers,  when you meet trials  of various kinds, for you know that  the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be  perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Count it all joy, my brothers (community), when you meet trials of various kinds (depravity), for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness (love).  And let steadfastness (love) have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  Depravity looks ugly and it is.  We are all capable of murder, but it’s God’s grace and continuing sanctification working through us that provides us with a glimpse of what it’s like to love.  Through that insight we can start and work towards loving each other in community.  True fellowship.  It’s through his gospel that we find love, the words of his scripture and a interpretation of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

So my challenge today is that we focus on our interpersonal relationship with Jesus.  We work towards a greater communion with Him so that we can have a greater communion with His bride.