Friday, July 26, 2013

Authenticity - Engaging Authentic People - Guest Blogger

Allow me to introduce Monica Hess as a guest blogger.  As Monica read my posts on Authenticity, she began to ponder the other side of the coin; how do we relate to people who choose to be authentic.  As Monica and I talked, I asked her to write an article on this subject and found her insights to be helpful, I hope you find the same help and encouragement.  In a culture where authenticity is waning, both being authentic and receiving those who are authentic can be difficult. I hope the following article will be of some benefit to you as we engage one another in developing deeper connections through being authentic as we pursue Christ.

Galatians 6:2 implores us to “carry” or “bear” one another’s burdens to fulfill the Law of Christ—to love another as He loved us.

Being around people who are in a bad way is difficult, messy and risky.

I walked up to someone in a group recently fully intending to start an easy conversation.  Within three seconds I knew this was not going to be an easy conversation.  She was in a bad way.  Her heart just poured out and I stood there a little freaked out.  I had to make a conscientious decision to either engage or flee.  The Lord knew I wanted to flee.  I really didn’t know this person too well and had already had a difficult day of my own.  But God tickled a certain scripture in my heart, something about being humble, patient and kind and bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:2)

I planted myself at her side and just listened.  As I listened, I knew God wanted me there, to help bear her burden.  And I knew this because what she was speaking was very familiar to me and I knew God could use me.  I’m so glad I chose to listen and receive her authenticity.  God allowed me to come alongside her and be His instrument.  What an honor.  And I’ve received much in return. 

If you are one of those who find it incredibly difficult to be on the receiving end of someone’s anguish I want to encourage you.  I know it’s risky and uncomfortable.  But God is in control.  He will guide you should you choose the mission.  Sometimes, all that is required is a listening ear.  You may have absolutely nothing in common and what’s being expressed is like a foreign language.  But a gentle touch, an encouragement to continue speaking or just standing alongside this vulnerable child of God may be all that is required.

I think maybe something key to all of this is where scripture admonishes us that now that we have been made new in Christ, we are to regard no one from a worldly point of view—that we are now His ambassadors and He is making his appeal THROUGH us.  (2nd Corinthians 5:16-21)  If God is using us, and that person who is so strung out, stressed, saddened, or just plain done with it all calls out for help, sometimes in ways that are seriously messed up, then we can trust and know that God will give us the exact response.  We cannot look at that person through our own eyes, but through the filter of Christ who lives in us. Walking away from someone in that condition, in my opinion, constitutes a neglect of what we’re commanded to do.  And scripture makes it very clear that we were not given a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love in order to walk through the fire with a complete stranger, if necessary. (2nd Timothy 2:7)

Several years ago an acquaintance of mine from work who was the young mother of five children under the age of seven lost one of those children in a horrible, tragic accident.   Her grief was intense and admittedly somewhat overwhelming for those of us who worked with her.   For financial reasons, she could not take the necessary time off from work to heal and recover (if that’s even possible).  Her sadness was palpable and deep and unfathomable.  Being around her was extremely difficult.  I worried about my own kids whenever I looked at her.  My vision was completely inward and selfish.  I didn’t want to catch it—what she had. 

But God had other plans.  I was a new believer and I knew in my heart that God wanted me to come alongside her in a way that I did not have the strength or will to do.  So, calling on His strength I engaged in her pain and became God’s tool to be used freely.  Let me tell you, the next year with her was one of the most difficult, dramatic, heartbreaking years of my life.  She taught me so much.  Her faith in God grew my faith.  I thought I was there to help her.  Well, when all was said and done, I had grown exponentially in my faith walk.  Today, she and I are closer than sisters and she continues to be an important part of my life.  I am so grateful that the Lord used me to answer the call to receive her pain, anguish, tears and devastation…her authentic pain.  Had I not, I would have forfeited such treasure.

And yes, we will get burned, charred beyond recognition at times.  It isn’t always going to be rewarding.  We’ve all had the experience of allowing ourselves to love the unlovable only to be scorned, ridiculed and deeply hurt.  But remember, we’re prompted to consider it pure joy when we face trials because trials test our faith and develop our perseverance so that we may be mature and complete, lacking nothing—but gaining everything! (James 1:2-4) 

Next time you’re given the honor and opportunity to engage in another’s pain, I encourage you to take a leap of faith and see and taste that the Lord is good—all the time, in all circumstances.  Experience the power of His desire to refine and sculpt you.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Authentic (part 4 of 4)

Stepping into the Light of Authenticity

"...if we walk in the Light as he Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another..."  1 John 1:7

Walking in the Light can be both inviting and scary.  Seeing things clearly brings a calming clarity that gives confidence.  Walking in the Light also includes exposure and many have lived too long pretending to be something they are not.  Therefore exposure can be frightening.  The above verse from 1 John teaches us that when we do walk in the Light of Jesus, our relationships with one another will deepen, in part because we are being authentic with Jesus and others.  This also implies that when we are not authentic, our relationship with one another is more surface, shallow and selfish.

My last three posts dealt with the necessity of living authentically, some examples of what living authentically might look like and then I dealt with three rewards and risks of living authentically.  In this post, I want to discuss three suggestions that are needed in order to break free of living disingenuously so you can choose to walk in the Light (1 John 1:7) and be free to both be loved and to love more radically than you may have imagined. 

Suggestion #1 - Be Honest

If we are going to break free from the bondage of living deceptively (disingenuously); that life where you act one way around certain friends but you act differently with others, we must begin with being honest with ourselves and with God.   

"But you desire honesty from the heart, so you can teach me to be wise in my inmost being." (Psalm 51:6 NLT). 

God knows what is going on inside your heart.  He knows the truth about you and He knows the lies you may be living.  He knows how desperate you are to be accepted for you and He wants you to receive that joy?. God desires you to become honest with yourself and with Him so that you can be set free and receive His healing in this area of your life.  Why not stop reading this post right now and get on your knees and begin the journey towards authenticity by pouring out your heart to God telling Him your fears, desires and dreams?

Being honest with God may sound fearful, but I assure you it is perfectly safe and life giving.  The God who created you is not threatened by your authenticity, in fact it is His desire to shape you into a 'holy' person (1 Peter 1:14-16) which requires you to notice that some things need to be adjusted in your life.

Suggestion #2 - Be in Community
Once you choose honesty with yourself and God, I suggest you find at least one other person (other than your spouse) whom you already trust or sense you can develop a trusting relationship.  As a deepening friendship is being forged, choose to share your experience of being honest with God, about who you are, what you feel and where you are pretending to be together.  This will launch an amazing conversation and friendship that has the potential to be helpful in your maturing in Jesus.

As trust is developed, begin revealing your heart and the truth about you; your desires, fears, lies, dreams, habits (good and bad), convictions, prejudices etc.  I would also suggest you begin living honestly and authentically in larger groups of people (5-12 or so) but not with the same intimacy.  In this setting, strive to live authentically by not pretending that your life is all together because, if we are being honest, nobody really “has it all together”.  The key here is to build up your ability to trust at the pace God leads you.  Watch as you choose to obey Jesus in authentic living.  Others will certainly follow your example.

Suggestion #3 - Be Humble
Humility is nothing more than obeying the leadership of Jesus in your life.  Humility is taking honest inventory of who you are in presence of God.  Once we acknowledge our daily need for God and His Lordship in our life, we will desire to "...humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you at the proper time." (1 Peter 5:6).  God wants to raise us up but not until we surrender to His leadership.  Being humble actually causes you to be very powerful in the eyes of others.  There is a deep power that flows out of a humble life.  Humility enhances your authenticity or maybe better stated, authenticity emerges out of your humility.

These three suggestions are pretty simple but not easy.  Being exposed seems very scary and that is understandable.  When we live in a pretend mode or an “I need to be someone else to be accepted” mode, we tend to hide who we really are.  We then become afraid of our weaknesses and may tend to bury them.  These buried weaknesses may not be seen by anyone, but they do have power and that power most often will cripple us from being all God desires us to be and enjoy.  When we choose to unearth our weaknesses and expose them to the Light, we will find forgiveness, acceptance and freedom.  I find in my life when I expose my sins and/or weaknesses to the Light of Jesus in the community of a friend or two, that the power of those sins dissipate and dissolve.  Freedom pours into my life to be who I truly am.  When I live authentically, I find freedom and acceptance and I notice that others are empowered to live in the same manner.  When this happens a sweetness of life emerges.

If you would like a tool that can help guide you to living a more authentic life, check out Life Transformation Groups.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Authentic (part 3 or 4)

Values and Liabilities of Being Authentic

I remember sitting in a Bible College class and hearing the professor talk about the church he was leading.  He spoke of the struggles, joys and privileges of being a 'pastor'.  He then began to talk about the loneliness of the pastorate and leadership in general.  He told stories of his experiences and then made a statement that has never left me.  He said in effect, that as a leader, he could not be close friends with people in the church he lead.  He said not having close friends at church was a necessary price to pay for the honor of leading.  He stated that he could really only share how he felt, and the pain he experienced in church with other 'pastors' who would understand and would not use the information against him.  

This philosophy of leadership is more wide spread than you may expect.  In my 30 years of experience as a leader in the church, I would say that the fear of people using information and struggles shared with others is the driving factor in pastors/leaders being closed off in their most vulnerable areas.  This causes many churches to be weak.

When this philosophy is embraced, it can set a bad tone in the church community.  The tone set says being honest or authentic is dangerous and should be avoided.  For many leaders and church attenders, the risk of exposure or betrayal is too high.  These people choose to be disingenuous at deeper levels, distant and disconnected.  The church suffers much and should not be this way.

Being authentic in vulnerable areas takes brave leaders who are more concerned with the people and their health rather than their own reputation or the pain that they may have to endure.  I have experienced the pain caused by being authentic.  I have been betrayed, bruised and battered by being open with my life.  People have taken advantage of my exposure for their gain and it is difficult.  But more than this, I have experienced the joy and freedom that comes to people who learn the beauty of being authentic and weak.  Being authentic and weak takes humility, yet at the same time, gives strength to those you are pointing to Jesus.

With that backdrop, allow me to briefly share some of the values and liabilities of living a more authentic life.  Being close friends with those in your church community and celebrating your life being transformed by Jesus is powerful and actually much safer than being protective of who you really are.

Values of being authentic

Being authentic lowers the bar of living for Jesus to be reachable for everyone.  Instead of people striving for disingenuous perfection, they can learn to live honestly as they become absorbed in the things of Christ (1 Tim. 4:15).  People learn that when they fall, as we all do, that they can get back up and move forward (Eccl. 4:9-10).  The freshness of authenticity lifts the burden of having to pretend that we don't struggle.  Living with the burden of pretending that one is almost perfect teaches us to live a lie and this is not how Jesus would have us be (Eph. 4:14-16).  Sharing weaknesses actually takes away the power that hiding our sins holds over our hearts.  Sins that are covered up only serve to cause us to live in darkness.  When our sins are exposed to the light, the power of these sins actually dissipates (2 Tim. 2:21-22).

In summary, here are the three points of the above paragraph.  Some of the values of being authentic allows:
  • For everyone to join in because the bar of living for Jesus is lowered (this is not saying that we accept sinful ways of living [cf. Romans 6]).
  • Believers permission to be themselves as they strive to be like Jesus.  This causes health in people instead of unhealth.
  • The burden that living a lie of perfection to be lifted (1 John 1:8-10).

Liabilities of being authentic

When we live with fresh authenticity, we risk being misunderstood.  As we share our struggles, weaknesses and sins (in appropriate circumstances - some sins only need to be exposed to a few, but exposed they need to be), living authentically with our questions and failures carries the risk of betrayal.  Some who pledge their love and keeping your confidence will foolishly or even innocently let slip stories from your life that you would prefer not to escape their lips.  The risk of being hurt is obvious. This risk is also very potent and speaks to your courage and obedience to the principles of living honestly as a fellow struggler in the pursuit of Christ.

In summary, some of the liabilities of being authentic has the following risks:
  • Being misunderstood
  • Being betrayed
  • Being hurt
How then should we live?  Does Jesus call us to live the lie of perfection to protect ourselves or to live the life of risk by being authentic?  Aren't we called to die to ourselves and take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23-24)? Shouldn't we live in ways that honestly struggle towards the upward call of being like Jesus?  Shouldn't we be giving people encouragement to live strong for Jesus as we move forward in our faith as a community? 

I would love hearing your thoughts on this topic.  Living authentically is a new path that the church is severely lacking at this point in history.  The world is dying to know this kind of freshness.  I pray you will choose to give the world the truth of His grace in the midst of your weaknesses.  Let's struggle together towards becoming like Jesus.