On Saturdays, I’m writing my thoughts that have rambled in my brain since hearing the sermon at my church. Today’s entry was inspired by Andy McQuitty’s sermon given at Irving Bible Church as we’re in week 3 of a 4-week series in Jonah. This sermon is titled “Amazing Grace.”
One of the best things about being a pastor is that you get to be a part of people’s lives.
One of the worst things about being a pastor is that you get to be a part of people’s lives.
I mean, I’ve worked on a large staff and people would say things like, “Man, it must be so great to work with that person. Their life is so together.” The problem was that you knew about the fractures some were having with their spouse or the reality that their child was struggling with something deep & dark that nobody knew about.
Or you’d see the family of the person in church leadership smiling and shaking hands on a Sunday morning with folks and you’d know the pain they were going through because their parents were diagnosed with a disease that would be a long, expensive fight they’d very likely end up losing.
Or you’d see the Mom post a family photo on Facebook. They’d all be dressed alike, usually denim pants and black shirts sitting all Christmas-card perfect and pretty and smiling. What nobody else could know would be the truth that the night before the daughter had run away from home and they’d been up all night trying to find her…and the fight that ensued between the parents on what the next steps would be.
Or the time in your own life that you’d stand up in front of 200 teenagers and teach a Bible study that the kids would tell you meant so much to them and the parent that watched it on-line would tell you how it ministered to them…when you knew that the sins you’d been struggling with and losing that struggle with in big ways were the exact thing you hypocritically hadn’t dealt with.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s certainly a time and place to be truthful. I mean, generally speaking, the pastor and family did indeed have a good relationship and were working through some stuff with the kid that needed to be kept on the down-low as privacy was important to getting through it. You don’t want to break down in tears on a Sunday morning in a hallway. You don’t want to air your dirty laundry on a social media site in which you control the very content. You have to trust that God can speak through His Word regardless of your faithfulness to it.
What I’m getting at is this: All too often we buy into what we see and then compare our lives to it.
It’s not fair, really. Because even if you know a little about someone’s struggle and you happen to be “a little better” in that regard, then it leads to pride. If you compare yourself to someone’s better self and don’t measure up, well, it leads to envy. You can’t win.
And that’s a dangerous game when you measure yourself spiritually, too. Because that measurement is inherently subjective and based on about one gazillion different factors. We try to quantify it, though. Did we “pray” today? Did we spend “time in the Word?” Did we do a service project or go on a mission trip? Were we at the church service? Did we do the midweek small group? Was there some sort of accountability group? Did I avoid a lot of behavioral check-points?
So, when Pastor Andy touched on this mindset, he also touched on an uncomfortable reality:
‘So you gotta be good to get with God.’ It sounds rational. It sounds reasonable. It appeals to us as human beings, to our pride, because if you can ever get your life together enough to where you think you’re better than other people and you’re actually good enough to get into heaven, that’s pretty tough stuff. You feel good about yourself. The problem is, if we’re really honest, we all know that none of us, as good as we may look on the outside, as much as we may seem to have it together on the outside, we all know that there’s stuff going on in our heart & mind that we wouldn’t want other people to know about…but we know in our heart of hearts that if these people could know what I was thinking about right now they wouldn’t let me in this door. We’re broken inside even if we look good on the outside.
I do have a tendency to make you think I have it all together. I’m aware of the power of image…and I’m a pastor. It can be hard to say, “I don’t know.” It is humbling to say, “I’m sorry.” It’s difficult to ask forgiveness. I’ve been walking with Christ for some 40 years and have been to the upper echelons of evangelical training and professional life. I’m supposed to have this figured out, right? Andy touched on it. It sounds rational. It sounds reasonable. It certainly appeals to my pride. Intellectually I know I’m not good enough to get on God’s good side or get into heaven on behavior…but that doesn’t mean I want YOU to be aware of my shortcomings.
But that uncomfortable reality Andy reminds us of is that we’re all broken no matter how good it looks on the outside to others. Again, we get this in our brains. It’s just hard living it out.
Chuck Swindoll had a quote that basically said “when we stop pretending, we expose the pretentiousness of others.” I’d like to be the kind of person who doesn’t pretend. To let you see the joys and peace from a life well-lived as well as the appropriate honesty when my life is going South. When we are authentic in the highs and lows, it frees others to be authentic with their highs and lows. Understanding what Luther meant when he said we all show up equal at the foot of the cross because we “carry His very nails in our pockets” allows us to love and be loved…
…warts and whatever the opposite of warts happens to be…
…which is what we all want, anyway. So let’s strive to be lovingly authentic, so others can be encouraged to live abundantly.