Thursday, June 27, 2013

Authentic (part 2 of 4)

Last weekend my family and I went to the largest Waken reunion in recent history.  We had about 85 people reuniting.  The stories, memories and family history flowed freely.  Of the 85 people attending, I had meaningful relationships with only fourteen.  I met a few of the other folks when I was nine years old at a previous reunion, but the majority were strangers to me in every way except we were somehow related.  Leading up to this weekend reunion, I had been asking God to set up spiritual conversations with those who He knew were ready to move forward in their relationship with Jesus.  There was one family member that I sensed was ready for a spiritual conversation and so we engaged the adventure of getting to know each other.

I began by asking my relative to tell me his story because I had never heard it.  His answer told me more than I would have guessed.  His answer began with, "I don't tell anyone my story.  My story isn't important."  This was followed up by him saying, "Why would anyone want to hear my story?  It is boring and dull and not much to tell."  After we opened that door and walked down the path of his life for a while, I then asked my relative how his faith was doing.  After stumbling over his words for a moment, he became honest and said, "I really don't like church.  I worship in my own way.  My family wants me to go to church with them but I find it something other than authentic."  That began another long conversation over two days.

My relative told me that many people he experienced in the church were surface, distant and phony.  From the person handing out the bulletins, to the smile on the preacher's face; all seemed to be put on much of the time.  This man told me he felt like he had to conform in dress, mannerisms and activities when he was at church or with people from the church.  He felt like he couldn't be himself and be accepted so he choose  chose to stay away.

It is true that being authentic, being true to who we are, is difficult almost anywhere in our world.  We must be "PC" (politically correct) at work, at school or just about anywhere we go.  There is even a "PC" way to act at church.  The "PC" rules may shift from church tradition to church tradition, but there are "PC" ways to behave and believe so that one is able to belong.  Being genuine in a world that is disingenuous is challenging.

The irony of our "PC" world and church is that many are craving for authenticity.  People simply want to be accepted for who they are, not for who they are expected to be.  In my last post, I mentioned I had recently returned from another country where I did not speak the language but was presenting organic church information to them through an interpreter.  I asked the Lord to connect me to a couple of people who He knew wanted to be authentic and I found many.  In the public teaching times, I began sharing my personal stories of failures and wounds and losses instead of sharing stories of victory and success.  This served to quickly and supernaturally connect my heart to a large portion of the attenders.  Being authentic exposed me in ways I wasn't prepared to engage.  Being authentic was also a magnet for people.  They are desperate to be honest about their struggles.  When we open the door of authenticity in our lives and are willing to walk together with them, the walls of disingenuousness begin to fall.

Paul gave us an example of being authentic in many places in the New Testament.  We can see Paul being a learner all throughout the book Acts.  Paul, as a learner, begins to paint a picture of his humanity.  Paul changed his strategy often as he learned and adjusted his approach based upon his previous weak points of strategy.  This is how a normal person learns, by trial and error and adjustment, just like Paul did.  Paul also was authentic in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.  In these verses Paul tells the people in the city of Corinth that he wasn't strong and full of confidence but instead he was really fearful from all he had recently experienced.  Paul came to Corinth focusing his comments on Jesus Christ alone because he knew that is what they needed, he didn't rely on his education and intellectual astuteness.  Paul was authentic in order for the people of Corinth to learn that their faith should be centered on the power of God, not of any man or his abilities.  This is a very refreshing portion of Scripture.

As our weekend reunion came to a close, my relative who has shied away from the church began to paint a picture of what he was thirsting after.  He thirsts for real friends who will accept him with his struggles and who also struggle and are honest about it.  He thirsts for friends who have time for each other and who help each other to get up only to fall down at the feet of Jesus and worship.  Why is that so hard to find?

Jesus said He did not come for the righteous but for the sinners (Matt. 9:13), He didn't come for those who are well but for those who know they are sick (Luke 5:31-32).  Jesus came to give authentic life in abundance (John 10:10).

Why do you think many feel that churches are less than authentic?  What can/will you do to help reverse this trend?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Next time we will discuss the benefits and liabilities of being authentic and then we will end with what it takes to live an authentic life and how to break out of a deceptive life.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Authentic (part 1 of 4)

I was recently presenting concepts of organic church to a group of believers in another country.  Whenever I address people through an interpreter, I know it will be difficult to develop meaningful relationships.  Unless a free flow conversation can take place from the heart, meaningful interactions are difficult to achieve.

Connecting deeply to people is hard when language is a barrier, but it is also difficult when our hearts are not engaged authentically. Somewhere along the path of our lives, we have all learned that being authentic is dangerous; it is a risk that is not often worth taking.  All of us have been betrayed or taken advantage of and we are very committed to that happening as least as possible.  When we begin to follow Jesus, we understand that our goal is to be like Him.  We look around and realize rather quickly that many others are getting real close to being like Him, or so they would have us believe.  They pretend to be doing well in their pursuit of Christ when really they are challenged to figure it all out.  They prefer to fit with to the Christian crowd rather than to share the struggles in their soul.

Because Jesus was tempted in every we are tempted yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), many somehow think this is the standard that they should achieve.  When people who have followed Jesus longer than we have rarely share their imperfections, we learn that sharing our own may not be the best choice.  As we listen, sins are most often shared in the past tense and they are usually the 'greater' sins that have been overcome.  All of this serves to mold us into not sharing our spiritual imperfections and also to pretend that our lives are pretty well together, even though they aren't.   This is faith covered with a veneer of fabricated perfection instead of a faith oozing with honest questions about how to live like Jesus.  It becomes a very sophisticated system that values disingenuousness, pretension and deception.  These are certainly not Biblical characteristics.

Disingenuousness, pretension and deception may sound harsh, but when we are not honest about who we are, these words become accurate descriptors.  Which married couple hasn't been fighting all weekend only to come to church and 'pretend' like everything is wonderful?  Who hasn't had some level of anger towards co-workers or even at a friend from church only to keep it a secret or even lie and say you are getting along just fine with everyone?  The examples could continue, but I think you understand.  Somewhere along the way of following Jesus, we have learned to be deceptive in what is really going on in our hearts.  Why do you think that is?

It is true that often, people really don't want to know you that well.  They don't really want to know about your fears, let alone your sins and struggles.  When many of our leaders come off as having almost supernatural self-control and rarely, if ever, confess to any imperfections of any significance, we learn quickly that we should just sweep any 'issues' we have under the rug.  This pretentious way of living soon leads to legalism: the attempt to please God by keeping various rules often invented by others.  When a friend from church comes over, the bottle of wine gets moved from the pantry to the master bedroom closet.  The jokes we tell or even the small bit of colorful language we use at work never gets mixed into the equation with friends from church.

Instead, of trying to live up to someone else's standards, I suggest we should live authentically as fellow strugglers who often get it wrong.  As a fellow struggler, you stand ready to help me get back up and on the right path (Eccl. 4:9-10) instead of judging me for being on the wrong path.  When we are fellow strugglers, we are able to be truthful, authentic and genuine.  Together we can struggle to live the way Jesus lived.

I would love to hear your comments on these thoughts!

Next time, we will discuss a bit further the value of an authentic life and how to break out of a deceptive one.