As a non-believing single white female and concerned for social justice, Christine Garde gave God a 30 day time frame to change her life. She told God that she was going to be all in. All it meant was working with gangs, adopting a daughter and changing long existing institutions in Africa for the better. This is worth a listen!
I sat there waiting for the Executive Pastor to show up. He was twenty-five minutes late. I had been asked to interview for the newly created Campus Pastor position at this well known and highly effective Orange County megachurch.
The lobby was bustling and the waiting easy. There were plenty flat-screens on the walls pumping out the latest worship gigs, a Keurig station offering dark bold Sumatran, free wifi, leather couches and interior decor that coagulated the best of surf hipster, New York chic and rustic farm house. Stunning. Unfortunately, the few people hustling by did not seem to notice.
As I sat there in opulent comfort, my mind flashed back to a church meeting I had attended in Thailand a decade earlier. The coffee was instant, the floor seating hard and the only decor a faded picture of a brown eyed Jesus hanging on the cross. The spirit of peace in that place was tangible. It was as if no one was trying. I mean that in the best of lights.
The executive pastor arrived with lavish apologies for his tardiness. A radio interview had gone long. He was likable, focused and obviously loved Jesus. Under his arm was a copy of Fast Company magazine. He told me to wait another five minutes and that his assistant would come out and collect me for the meeting. I was offered another coffee. For me, the interview had already ended. I knew we were headed to the same destination, but on different paths.
If there is one thing I have learned in twenty-plus years of leading in churches is that you can buy church. Check that. You can buy or create a church experience for your community that will offer them the temptation to think that this church has it all together. It’s also a great growth strategy, as it allows people to check the box of being part of something that is effective and meaningful.
As a pastor of a small local church and having just come out of 10 years ministering in a mega church setting, I feel the pressure to create a “Fast Church”, one with all the modern bells and whistles, singing the latest anthems and offering clean efficient systems to organize people around legitimate spiritual causes.
The problem that I face, is that if I went after that, it would not be long before I was the wizard behind the curtain offering up an illusion of spiritual perfection that would not only be soul killing for me, but also for those I lead.
It’s one thing to talk about messy churches and lives from the pulpit, but it’s quite another to actually allow that messiness to be part of your church staff, volunteer base or even organizational systems.
What I often see are churches that preach and sing about brokenness and authenticity, but then go out and try to create a church image and culture that presents modern ideals of perfectionism. Here is what I mean. Would you allow a seriously obese person to be your door greeters? Can we allow someone to stay on staff who is not reaching their targets and goals for one reason or another believing that sometimes God cares more about your staff as individuals then what they can produce. Can someone be on the worship team that occasionally sings flat and do heads roll if the sound or PowerPoint is not run with Spielberg perfection?
I believe that when we present authenticity and imperfection from the stage but don’t allow that to play itself out in the ebb and flow of our church matrix’s and social systems, we are actually creating a culture that never let’s people truly be free. In fact it heaps unseen heavy burdens on their heads.
No, I am not advocating a sloppy church. Being an A Type control junkie, it pains me to be patient as God grows those I lead. I see every perceived misstep, off note and occasional unedited promotional piece. The thing is that deep down, my desire to present the perfect church has more to do with how I want people to perceive me then trying to offer them a savior who brought a casual perfection, but never demanded it in return.
Last Saturday, Lucy, our three-year-old and I went on a little date day to the park. After about 12,000 pushes on the swing we decided on a game of hide-and-seek. This is one of my favorite games to play with my girls. The problem is that Lucy is horrible at it.
I’m not saying that Lucy does not find great hiding spots. Sometimes I’m not sure if I could find her with three Sherpa’s and a search and rescue team, she is that good. Where Lucy fails in the game is where her sister also struggled as a toddler. Lucy just can’t keep the location of her strategic hiding spot a mystery. Literally within two seconds of me finishing the count to ten, she is either laughing or yelling, “Here I am Daddy.”
Each time Lucy did this I would coach her in the strategy of the game. She was just not getting it. My hopes in her professional hide-and-seek career were fading fast.
After about 15 rounds of hide and seek, God allowed me to see a deep spiritual truth within a child’s game. Lucy wanted to be found. As an adult I had put the emphasis on the hidden element of the game, but Lucy valued being found. Lucy valued the heart of the gospel.
Sometimes I am astounded by how my children lead me in the ways and perspectives of God. Is not the word of God a story of the lost being found? Are we not all in some way wanting to be found and truly known?
Unfortunately, the older we get, the less we want to be found. Like Adam and Eve we have created coverings for ourselves in the form of false personas based on things like power, prestige and body type. We are no longer naked and unashamed. We no longer cry out, “Here I am Daddy. Come find me. Here I am.”
The desire to hide is based in shame. In Genesis we see that Adam and Eve were no longer comfortable in their own skin. This sense of shame was appropriate for Adam and Eve. After disobeying God they were now under the curse and wrath of God. Because of their act of disobedience, everyone who would be born after them would also inherit this character trait, original sin and its corresponding shame.
This proclivity to hide in shame is the primary reason we give up the gifts and gold of our true identities for the putrid rags of false identities based on shifting worldly standards. It is in our nature to do this. The seclusion of our true naked personality is ingrained into our flesh.
This shameful desire to hide is fueled by fear. Once again, Adam and Eve had appropriate reasons to hide from their God. They were now under His judgment. Hiding then, and now its always based in that original fear.
Paradoxically, we as humans create phantom personas to create a sense of security in order to relieve this fear. The only problem with this is the greater the deception of your mask, the greater the fear and shame you experience. Does that make sense? As you increase in the proficiency of your masking it will increase fear and shame. This is due to the fact that the desire to hide was birthed from fear and shame and they cannot be separated. Neither can increase without a parallel movement of its counterpart.
I believe that this paradox is one of the reasons why we are seeing such a rise of anxiety and depression in our culture. The more our society highlights th false personas that we use to seek our identities the more we hide our true selves in their pursuit. As I said earlier, fear and shame, which lead to anxiety and depression, are the automatic fruition of this striving.
Without a strong sense of your God-given personal identity it will be nearly impossible to chart your life’s true course. Instead of living out who you know yourself to be in Christ, you will instead continue to be drawn to false idols to find your security and peace of mind.
Jesus’ death and resurrection has removed this shame and allows us to once again be found naked and unashamed. True freedom comes not only when we know who we truly are, but understand that this image which was created by God is fully accepted by Him. This is the way of the redeemed, the unashamed and the authentic self.
Phil. 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Everyday is a battle for peace. On days when things are going my way, when there is a breakthrough at work or my wife and kids are happy and content, I have peace. On other days, for no apparent reason, I wake up with the world on my shoulders. Peace is nowhere to be found.
This is the kind of peace that is based on control and fear. It is peace based on our own understanding. The problem with this kind of peace is that it is elusive. It comes and goes like the tide. All it takes is one phone call or perhaps a look at your waistline and you are unsettled.
When our wife or partner is upset, we fear that we will lose them and we lose our peace. When we don’t hit our number at work we fear that we will be fired and so we begin a mad dash to get things under control. We strive to make things right in our own power. We continue doing this no matter what the cost until we have regained our temporary peace back.
People’s perceptions of us is one of the most cruel robbers of our peace. I counsel with so many people that seem like a dim phantom of who they are called to be due to fear of what others thinks. This is why some people who are true extroverts become painfully shy, forgoing their true identity because of fear. They have decided they will control other people’s perceptions by blending in, by becoming who they think people want them to be.
I know that I have fallen back into this type of peace when my mind becomes tense and I start reaching for things I can control. My usual plan of attack is to furiously clean the house or organize the bills or garage. The odd thing is that these usually have nothing to do with my loss of ballast, but still, they give me a sense of temporary control.
The peace that Jesus offers us is not based in any kind of control. Instead, Jesus says let me have control and I will give you a peace beyond understanding. This is the kind of peace that is content in all situations and allows others to live freely without the desire to control anything or anyone. I would argue that we are never called in God’s word to control anything other then ourselves. Instead we are to steward faithfully, but never control.
The word of God tells us that we are to derive no peace or satisfaction of mind from the world. Rather, our peace is to be found only in things that are unchangeable and eternal: God Himself. (2 Thess 3:16)
The only way to come to this type of peace is to begin a journey into God’s love. Remember that perfect love cast out all fear (1 John 4:18). We control and lose our peace for only one reason. That reason is fear. Whenever you are stressed, it is based in a fear. If you don’t believe me, the next time you find yourself stressed, stop and ask why. I am sure that you will find it has to do with some-thing you are afraid to lose. This could be another’s love of you or your temporary membership in the club of beautiful and respected people.
When we begin to accept that we are truly loved, and that God works all things together for our good and benefit (Romans 8:28) then we will begin to finally live in true peace. It is this type of peace that weather storms. It is this type of peace that lets you act our your life in love as opposed to fear. Acting out of this center is what finally allows our lives to become authentic.