"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." 1 Peter 3:15

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The "Doing Just Fine" Mask

Last week I wrote about the “Mr. Fix it mask” that we so easily can wear.  This week we will deal with mask number two

2.            The “Doing Just Fine” mask

With the “Doing Just Fine” mask, attempting to keep things neat and tidy trumps out true authenticity and honesty.  So we tell others that things are great—couldn’t be better, all is swell…when all the while we are hurting, struggling, and lonely.  Those of us in this place can’t find the cure…so we hide the sickness under a masked smile.

I know this mask too.  I used to hate the word “Pastor”.  To some people a pastor is supposed to be an uber Christian—a notch above the rest.   I used to think that myself.  The trouble was I had become one…and I knew that wasn’t the case with me.  I knew I was arrogant, selfish, lazy, dishonest, and lustful.  And I was also a pastor.  I was struggling with sin and pains I didn’t think a pastor should struggle with.  So I hid my pain, and put on a good face…and it ruined me.  I was spiritually bankrupt, and I felt helpless.  This was one of the desperate and depressing seasons of my life.

The danger in an identity of striving to keep up appearances is that others feel compelled to put on an act as well in order to keep up with ours.  This can happen in churches—everyone hiding behind fake smiles… at the ultimate cost of authentic relationship, love and trust.  It becomes a bunch of actors putting on a cheesy drama together.

Many Christians, rather than authentically being the church…are just playing church.  Those outside of the church can see right through it.  They don’t desire what we claim to have because the spirit of God is not in fake relationships.  Our fake smiles drive away those we are called to reach!

When we openly admit we don’t have it all together, not only is that attractive to those we are called to reach (…who already know we don’t have it all together), we give Jesus something that he can work with.  Pastor and writer Bill Hybels points out how Jesus looked past short comings and straight into people’s potential.  He was able to see who they could become with a surrendered heart.  I love the story of Jesus calling Matthew to be his disciple.

Matthew 9:9-10
9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

Tax collectors were not the most respected of all people.  In fact, they were quite despised.  They gathered money for the Roman government from their fellow Jews…and they’d collect extra to line their own pockets.  Selfish backstabers!

This is the type of man whom Jesus is calling—asking Matthew to leave a lucrative career. Matthew is to fed up to pretend he’s alright.  Striving after money has left him empty and unsatisfied.  He knows Jesus is the answer, so he embraces the grace outstretched to him and immediately follows Jesus!  
10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.

What does Matthew do next?  He invites his friends!  I imagine the conversation going something like this  “Guys, I’ve tried this tax collecting gig…I made a lot of money at the expense of a lot of relationships.  I burned a lot of bridges, and the truth is…I hurt.  But Jesus looked past all of that, and invited me to be his disciple!  You got to come meet this guy!”

Matthew Escaped the “Doing Just fine” mask, and discovered he could be clothed in grace.  His authenticity and acceptance of the gift of grace compelled others to throw down the masks and reach out for grace as well.

To explore this further, check out “The Cure” by TrueFaced.com, and Matt Chandler’s sermon “The diagnostic and the cure”—a sermon on Galatians.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The "Mr. Fix It" mask

I could never understand how no one ever pegged Clark Kent as Superman.  I mean really?  All Clark Kent had to do was remove his thick rimmed glasses, and strip down to his blue and red skivvies, fly around in a cap, and no one could tell the two identities apart?  Though superman didn’t wear a mask of fabric to hide his identity, he still wore a mask.  His mask was an entire persona!  Mighty bullet stopping Superman could don a fedora, put on a reporter’s suit and the glasses, change his posture…and become the mild mannered reporter.  No one expected that guy to be more powerful than a locomotive!

That’s the power of a mask—no latex or fabric is needed to hide our identities—we’ve been doing that on our own since the beginning.

After Adam and Eve sinned they sewed up some fig leaves, and Adam responded to the call of the Father with, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (see Genesis 3:6-10)

                This was the very first case of sin management.  Adam and Eve sinned, and in panic, tried to cover it up.  They tried to fix the brokenness.  And when God—the one who can redeem them—call’s out—they hide.  This is what sin does to us.  Rather than address our nakedness (sinfulness) and take it to the one who can heal us, we attempt to keep up the appearance that all is well—and cover it up.  So we sew up some fig leaves to hide our broken identities… 

What do these fig leaves look like for us?  The book The Cure pegs three types of masks we tend to wear.  I will address all three in the next three weeks.  Here is number one.

1.            “Mr. Fix it” mask

Under this mask, we strive to find whatever it is that is preventing us from experiencing the abundant life others seem to have.

So…maybe we start trying harder.  We muster up all our strength to perform better.  Make strategies of change.  Kick those bad habits, be more kind, more knowledgeable, more wise.

I wore this mask.  I asked Jesus into my life when I was 5 or 6…but growing up, I often wondered if “I was really in the club.”  Did I really belong to Jesus?  I am still screwing up an awful lot.  When I thought about God, I often thought of him as being disappointed in me.  In my mind, I was the son bringing home the test with a D- to my heavenly Father, striking out at bat with my heavenly Father in the bleachers, or sitting in the principal’s office when my heavenly—and disappointed—Father got the call.  You could define it as an “I’ve done all this for you, and this is how you repay me!” understanding of God.   God was disappointed so I had better earn his love.  And so, I tried harder…for years.  But I couldn’t be good enough.  It’s an unreachable ceiling.   It will leave you tired and frustrated. 

Worse, it leaves us focused on our shortcomings rather than the person, work and grace of Jesus Christ.

I realized how serious this had become a few weeks ago when paging through a book in my bible.  I had a lot of the “convicting” verses in my bible underlined—the things I wanted to try to do better—but very few of the verses describing the beautiful grace that Jesus demonstrated in paying for my sin were highlighted on the pages (if any).  As a result, I read Scripture more focused on myself and my shortcomings then on Christ and what he has done for me.

Paul dealt with this mask in the book of Galatians.  Some Judaizers were preaching a message disguised as the gospel that wasn’t the gospel at all.  They had added to it saying that it was necessary to practice certain Jewish customs in order to be a Christian.  This is no different than when we try to earn God’s favor by the things we do—trying to earn what is freely given.  The true gospel is that we are saved by grace alone!

Galatians 3:2-3
2 Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the Law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. 3 How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?

Renowned Pastor of the Village Church, Matt Chandler, gave this brilliant analogy concerning the Law of God…and trying to earn our right standing through it.  Matt had cancer.  He had an MRI which revealed the severity of his illness.  Though the MRI could point out what was wrong…it had no power to make him healthy.  He still needed the cure.  God’s law reveals to us that we are not alright—things are not the way God designed them to be.  The law has no power to make us right.  Only Jesus can bring the cure.

The reality is that Jesus paid it all.  ALL.  We are passive recipients.  Christ does two things for us—he places his righteousness on us so that we are seen as holy in the eyes of the Father, and in turn he takes the Father’s wrath upon himself.  This is the most unfair, yet glorious exchange in the history of the Universe.  If I punch someone in the teeth, they don’t give me 50 dollars.  It’s ludicrous!  That’s why for some the gospel is seen as offensive, and to others it’s seen as foolishness! 

I can try to earn this un-earnable grace by doing my best to change my sinful ways.  I can tip the waitress a little more, say a kind thing to the stranger, and read all the self- help books to deal with my pesky bad habits.  I might look pretty good for a while, but that’s simply behavior modification…and anyone who’s gone on a diet, or workout routine knows that behavior modification doesn’t stick.  It just attunes my heart and mind to focus on my shortcomings.   My behavior isn’t the issue so much as my heart is.  Instead I can focus my energies and attentions on Jesus, the giver of the unbelievably unfair and ultimately stunning exchange of grace—marvel in the beauty of the gift—and in placing my focus on Christ and basking in his grace…I begin to look a lot more like him. 

To explore this further, check out “The Cure” by TrueFaced.com, and Matt Chandler’s sermon “The diagnostic and the cure”—a sermon on Galatians.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Lessons from a Magazine Cover

Super market magazines are annoying with their cover models of fake, unreachable, perfection.  These annoying, deceiving magazines can teach us as Christians something incredibly valuable.  We too can present a fake image, falling into the trap of displaying the airbrushed, and glossed self.   A fake plastic Christmas tree made to look perfect.  The spotless bedroom with all the junk shoved in the closet.  How tempting to hide our dirt under the rug.  We put up firewalls and blockers to hold away eyes that could see the real us.    Satan deceives us into living the fake life, utterly afraid to reveal (or admit we have) our ugly sides.  And here is the depressing irony:  as we try to look as perfect as we can, hiding our faults from those we call brother and sister—we are simply comparing ourselves to their fake perfection!  Like a record gone bad, it’s a rut impossible to escape from on our own.    When we choose to present an air glossed self, we perpetuate a norm of false perfection—a danger zone in which all are fake, and dying—inadvertently choosing to give up life.  This doesn’t just harm us—it harms the ones God has called us to reach!

 How hard it must be to join the church when it is made into a place for demigods—when only those who have reached a certain level of "godliness" are welcome.  But the church is not a theater...it’s more like a hospital.  Many of us have grown accustomed to our masks…we’ve become pretty comfortable with them, and can put on a decent show.  We play the thespian with the church as our stage.  But one danger in living to keep up appearances is that we forget our real purpose.   We might begin to expect the world to come running to us, instead of sending our ambulances out to them, and when a dying person does come crawling to our doors, because we have an image to maintain, we worry and whisper about the blood they are getting on the carpet.

Another danger is this.   John Lynch, author of The Cure, offers this scary insight.  When we wear a mask, no one sees the real us.  Therefore, it’s our masks others learn to love—not us.

I never liked fake Christmas trees. They have no fragrance. Sure, with the real thing, there are some bare spots, and the needles fall, but they are real!

Living as an airbrushed person is a dangerous and empty life to live.  So why do we so easily succumb to the fear of being real? Why do we lie to each other and to God saying that we are ok, or try to make ourselves lovelier then we are? That didn't go well for Ananias and Sapphira (see Acts 5).  I offer these rebukes to myself as much as to anyone.  I love the church, and I especially love my church!   I count it a blessing to be one with the bride of Christ. This is a reminder to us all, to wash off the makeup, remove the corset, stop holding our breath, and just let the belly hang out. No more wigs, no more toupees, just the real deal. We all have our ugly parts. We all have bad haircuts. We all have toe fungus, gray hairs, and strange rashes in strange places, but we are real. If we are brothers and sisters in the beauty of Christ, let’s be real with each other relying on his beauty rather than our airbrushes.  I like this reminder from John Lynch--you are beautiful, because Christ’s grace covers you…not some mask.