We’re gonna find out where you folks really stand.
Are there any queers in the theater tonight?
Get them up against the wall!
There’s one in the spotlight, he don’t look right to me,
Get him up against the wall!
That one looks Jewish!
And that one’s a coon!
Who let all of this riff-raff into the room?
There’s one smoking a joint,
And another with spots!
If I had my way,
I’d have all of you shot!
~Pink Floyd, In the Flesh (II)
Sorry if you find yourself offended at the perfectly apt Pink Floyd lyric above, if so feel free to take away my Brownie Button.
As this writing was gestating in me, that song kept going through my head because I think our churches can be a lot like that and that really bothers me. We spend so much time pointing the finger and rejecting anyone who does not conform to our standards that we can never showcase who God really is, just our own hypocrisy.
You see, recently I was noticing some Christians going about their business. It wasn’t at one of the churches that I serve, it was just somewhere around town. And as I watched them I thought about how they really seemed to have everything together, as a Christian should, I guess. They looked like Christians are supposed to look and smiled and waved and came across as very Christian. Their talk was very nice and very shallow, saying exactly what a Christian is supposed to say and not revealing any “icky-ness” whatsoever.
And it really got under my skin, if I’m being honest. Now, I know that there are people out there that are just naturally bubbly, happy, peaceful, give it a name. And I know that as a Christian, it is the conventional wisdom that you should have all of these qualities literally dripping off of you.
If you are one of those who just naturally (or supernaturally) have the perfect Christian hair, clothes, attitude, speech, past and disposition, that’s really super duper! But if you are assuming the dress, mannerisms and demeanor of someone who is naturally that way, when you really aren’t, then we have a problem.
When we subscribe to this “fake it ‘til you make it” lifestyle that is so prevalent today, we hurt ourselves, we hurt others and ultimately we hurt the church.
We hurt ourselves because even if no one else can see the truth, you know in your heart that you are a fraud. You are in good company however because being a fraud is absolutely expected of you in the American church. From the time that you first become a Christian, you are shown how to act, how to talk, how to dress and how to conduct yourself. And all of these things are taught to you in the most passive-aggressive way possible.
We quickly learn to never show anyone who or what we are inside. Because revealing the truth that does not align with the current groupthink equals rejection and judgment.
And so you soldier on, struggling with feelings of worthlessness and being convinced that there is something really wrong with you. And that something is so bad, if anyone else were to see it, they would have to come to the conclusion that you aren’t really a Christian at all.
This is a form of idolatry. Instead of allowing God to be glorified for what He has actually accomplished in you, you effectively tell God that what He has done is not enough because you do not measure up to other people’s standards.
It hurts others because what has been done to you, you are now doing to them. The same issues that have plagued you, you are causing inside of them. When we place a burden upon someone’s shoulders that we ourselves have not been capable of carrying, we take a place of honor among the Pharisees. Someone remind me again, how did Jesus react to their religious hypocrisy?
They were whitewashed tombs, appearing good on the outside but inside full of dead man’s bones and everything unclean. In fact, this religious fascism was so damaging to the work of God that he called them “Sons of Hell”.
And Jesus was never found around them, choosing to hang out with those who knew that they were sick. Who are we today? Are we those who like to show people that we have it all together and can instruct them on righteous living, or are we those who know that we still need help and offer grace to those who are as ungodly as we are, on our own?
Honestly, where you are now and where you were before is a mighty long way from one another. There have been genuine miracles that have occurred in you as God has worked on you over the years. And those miracles should shine for everyone to see. But your weakness should be seen as well because that is your testimony. That He has done something in you, not what you have managed on your own. And that gives hope to those who are still struggling.
Finally, it hurts the church both because the world is watching and also because our effectiveness is based on our confidence in God’s work.
As the church has been exposed over the last 25 years, the world has taken less and less interest in what we have to say. The fall of prominent ministers has assured them that we are all just frauds. We say what we are and our actions show the truth of it. And this is what the world can’t stand- our hypocrisy.
Catch that, please. The world doesn’t care if we are flawed and God is perfect. The fact that we need a savior does not bother them a lick. Rather, it is our pretending perfection that infuriates them. When I talk to the gay florist or the tattoo artist, the righteousness or holiness of God does not offend them. But if I display my own, they would be rightfully offended. Because no matter how much I may want to be, I am not God. I am a human who needed God’s help in order to be something better than my nature allowed me to be. This they can relate to.
Perhaps if we fostered an attitude that gave as much grace in public as we need in private, more people would pay attention to what we say. All that we can offer them is Him, alone. Truth be told, we are all jacked up on multiple levels and God has done some great things, even if other people don’t appreciate them. So how about we spend our time pointing to Him and less excluding everyone that shows a weakness.
One time I was invited to preach at a big event in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The group set up in a park and had me as the main speaker. Afterwards, as the crowd was dispersing, a young guy came up to me. He said to me, “Pastor, you said that God would accept me exactly as I am right now if I would take the step of calling on Him.” I nodded and told him that I felt exactly that way. He looked at me and said, “But I am gay”. I then spent quite a bit of time explaining my own failings and ongoing issues and that my weakness had never been a restraint to God’s grace, only my unwillingness to come to Him.
He cried for a long time and I put my arms around him and told him that there was enough love in God’s heart to cover any sin, except the sin of rejecting His Son.
Afterwards, the group that held the event came over to me and asked what all that was about. I explained what the young guy had said and what I had said back to him. They were mortified and said to me, “You did tell him that he would have to stop being gay if he was to come to church, right?” True story.
My response now is the same as it was then; if a fault is enough to keep you from attending church, we are all in trouble. Some of you are fat, gluttons really, and that is a sin. Some of you look at porn, lusting constantly and that is a sin. Most of you lie on a daily basis and that is a sin. In fact, whatever does not come from faith is sin. So, we are all equally doomed and damned.
Maybe God should just expose us all for what we are when we are alone, or in our heads. At least then we would freely give grace to others because we would finally need some ourselves from them.
So, here is my point; ‘fess up and be real. Let’s pursue holiness in the fear of God while receiving grace for ourselves and giving it to others on our way. Let’s not forget where we were, or still are and give God the glory that we aren’t there any longer.
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain”. –1 Corinthians 15:10