Authenticity at the price of Holiness

I’ve been writing on and off for the past 10 years. Maybe longer. It started out as a way to just document my life and my feelings. I never expected to write in any other capacity. I never thought my personal blog would ever be read by people who were not blood relatives reading out of duty.  I definitely did not expect that I would be writing for a church blog one day (shameless plug: Christ Community is looking for other writers...the bench is not deep, people - in fact, the bench is me).

 

I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed sharing. It’s life giving for me. And I’ve often gotten really great feedback, confirmation, edification - whatever you may call it - concerning my writing. And that’s really nice too. Because who doesn’t love praise?

 

You want to know what I hear most?

 

Thank you for being so honest.

 

Thank you for just being so open.

 

I just really like hearing something that is sooo “real.”

 

I just love your authenticity.

 

And there’s that word…”Authenticity” (I’ve even written about that word).

 

This past week, I’ve come across two different writings that talk about the Church in the postmodern era and specifically how the postmodern view (or even experience) of church has led to a mass exodus of sorts (Bible pun intended).

 

“Ranier Research found that nearly three-quarters of American youths leave church between ages eighteen and twenty-two, while the Barna Group estimates that by age twenty-nine, 80 percent of the churches population will become ‘disengaged’ with church culture. (Jen Hatmaker, For the Love)

 

So what is missing for the postmodern world?

 

“An incredibly reduced explanation of modern thought (which most of us have at least one foot in) would be : I have all the answers and so can you. This drove society for three hundred years. The shift to postmodernism began in our childhoods and absolutely defines the next generation. Their mantra is; I don’t have all the answers and neither do you.” (Jen Hatmaker, For the Love)

 

They desire authenticity.

 

The church I grew up in did have all the answers - or at least said it did. It was very black and white, and I don’t remember much confession of sin among leaders...until they were caught by someone else and forced to step down.

 

Millennials aren’t buying it - they can spot a sham. And while the Church has never been a sham, churches and church leadership don’t tend to be transparent in their struggles.

 

During testimony time when I was a kid the common phrase used to shy away from struggles past or present was, “I don’t want to glorify the sin.”  And we’ve all experienced and employed the  “unspoken” prayer request. It always seemed like the grit of life was swept under the rug. I admit that sometimes this was probably an honest attempt to have congregations focus on Jesus during a sermon instead of speculating on how the speaker or other congregants were handling their respective issues.

 

There was a disconnect.

 

Car fights on the way to church were abandoned in the parking lot for forced smiles and cheerful greetings. The opportunity for true repentance and reconciliation gave way to “keeping up appearances.” Even as a kid, I felt that I could not live up to this perfect, holy calling - even with God’s help. I thought I was too inherently flawed to be capable of pulling off this whole holiness thing. But everyone else seemed to be doing it just fine.

 

As I entered college, there was a switch in Church culture. Younger leaders who mentored me were very open and authentic. They let me know they weren’t perfect and this gave me freedom to be honest with them about my own struggles and imperfections.

 

I still didn’t see a shift in authenticity of pastors until I was well out of college. And I’ve only really seen apparent humility and authenticity in a couple of my own pastors...ever. And to see such vulnerability in church in front of people was humbling. I trusted them. I knew they weren’t perfect and that God was still working in their lives, just like he was in mine.

 

And that’s the beauty of the shared Christian journey. The beauty of authenticity.

 

The authenticity of the churches they led was apparent and people who had been burned by the “perfect churches” were drawn to this strange place where brokenness was admitted - a gathering of broken people wanting to be healed (whether that be spiritually, emotionally, mentally, or physically). We all came as we were - wanting more of Jesus.

 

I think it’s what the early church may have been like...a bunch of sinners that Jesus spoke to...just wanting Jesus to speak over them again and again.

 

This authenticity is good for us.

 

But over the past several years, this talk of authenticity (in my own circles and in the larger Christian culture) has become more common. Spend a week on social media (just looking at the statuses of your peers, friends, and Church folks you follow) and you’ll see a theme.

 

I’m just being honest.

 

Hey, I gotta be me.

 

I’m just keeping it real.

 

Just sayin’.

 

But  these conversation starters are rarely “real.”  They are not authenticators of authenticity, but disclaimers to try to make the unacceptable socially acceptable: hurtful words, grumbling, mumbling, gossip, rebellion, justification of sin...all in the name of being authentic. Instead of true humility, brokenness, and authenticity, it is more of a “letting myself off the hook for not doing the right thing” - for not seeking holiness.

 

And here’s where the authenticity train derails:

 

Authenticity is not holiness.

 

In his article Has Authenticity Trumped Holiness, Brett McCracken explores the Church’s jump onto the Authenticity bandwagon:

 

“...In an attempt to “purge itself of the polished veneer that smacked of hypocrisy. But by focusing on brokenness as proof of our ‘realness’ and ‘authenticity,’ have evangelicals turned “being screwed up” into a badge of honor, its own sort of works righteousness? Has authenticity become a higher calling than, say, holiness?”

 

This goes back to our postmoderns fleeing the church and becoming disengaged as a result of desiring depth and something more honest.

 

We are not allowed to be both a broken people and a holy people. We’ve revoked that right as a way to avoid the air of hypocrisy that has plagued the church for a good many years. But in trying to leave holiness behind, we’re getting it all wrong.

 

Whether it is out of complacency, laziness, outright rebellion, or maybe a true desire to be completely “real” and approachable to those who don’t know Jesus,  somehow we’ve turned authenticity into our identity. As if God calls his people to say, “We are an authentic people!”

 

Does Jesus ask us to be an authentic priesthood or a holy one?

 

I’m not suggesting that we conceal our sins or our struggles. I think we should be real. I think we have to admit our brokenness. It is a way for us to have confession and repentance and accountability - which are all a part of following Jesus and pursuing holiness. But I agree with McCracken when he writes, “We’ve become too comfortable with our sin, to the point that it’s how we identify ourselves and relate to others. But shouldn’t we find connection over Christ, rather than over our depravity?”

 

We can’t hop off the train at “Broken Station” and pitch a tent. We need to move on. There is sweeter ground ahead.

 

If we stay in the brokenness and the sin and focus only on how God’s grace covers, we miss out on something:

 

“Grace covers. And it covers again and again. Thanks be to God” But if we stop there, We are only telling half of the story...Receiving grace for my failures also includes Christ’s help to turn from sin and embrace new obedience.” (Megan Hill, The Very Worst Trend Ever)

 

Sin is a necessary precursor of Redemption. And we are a redeemed people. “We shouldn’t ignore or make light of it (sin). But we also shouldn’t wallow in it or take it lightly, for the sake of earning authenticity points.” (McCracken)

 

We need to move past authenticity and onto holiness. Otherwise where is the hope? The postmodern world (just like in every other era) needs hope. There are authentic psychopaths, folks - authenticity is not what makes Jesus impossible to ignore. Broken people turned into holy people doing holy things for other broken people out of love to give them a glimpse of holiness - that’s how Jesus becomes impossible to ignore.

 

That’s the goal.  Or at least it’s my goal.  Hopefully, it can be our goal.

 

Written by Lydia Wells

Subscribe to Our Blog through Email

No Courage Without Fear

Courage.

 

Matt’s been bringing it home (for a few weeks now) that we need to be courageous and that we can show courage even in the most simplistic and mundane of situations.

 

As a church, we’ve investigated courage as authenticity - becoming vulnerable with your whole heart for the sake of someone else. Simply being who you are for other people - risking exposure - where people can take advantage of you, hurt you. Not trying to play the self-preservation game, all for the sake of other people.

 

We tend to think of courage as the BIG moment stuff: Christians remaining in Syria or the university students in Oregon who still professed their faith in Christ after seeing others gunned down for their own professions.

 

So as we sit in the gathering, does it seem trite that Matt keeps talking about how we can be courageous in the fairly bland tasks of our everyday lives? or just by being “who we were created to be”?

 

My first reaction...Yes.

 

I was listening to the sermon this week and thinking, “But is me doing X really equivalent to someone else’s Y?”

 

And the only answer I could come up with was No...it’s not. The daily boring, faithful, and “brave” acts in raising my girls or writing this blog post are not in any way equivalent to the aforementioned tremendous moments of courage.  Me making dinner is nothing like when Orthodox brothers and sisters in Syria stand up in the face of extreme oppression...real oppression.

 

In the gathering, I was convicted a bit that I live such a comfortable life and that I am not doing something more visible for the Kingdom of God whilst raising my children. I stay at home and hug little people all day. That’s my job. It’s cushy.

 

I had no idea how I was going to once again write about courage and not feel like a fraud.

 

It wasn’t until hearing from a friend concerning a really awful event that something hit me:

 

In the big moments, we do what we know.

 

We go to a default setting of sorts.

 

Matt hasn’t harped on courage for the last several weeks because he thinks that we’re daft or slow to learn….or because he thinks that we are living lives equivalently brave to the persecuted and martyred.

 

No, Matt talks about being brave and courageous in our fairly easy, day-to-day tasks because if we’re courageous in the places we have the opportunity to be, we create a habit of courage. We build up a spiritual muscle memory of being brave, taking heart, making the hard choice, doing the right thing.

 

Ask any musician or athlete. When the adrenaline hits and it’s time to perform - in the do or die moments, if one has put in the practice, the time, and created good habits, the body goes on autopilot and defaults to what it knows best.

 

That’s why footballers still do basic dribbling drills while training. It’s why orchestras tirelessly rehearse before a performance.

 

If our basic default is courage, our spirit will default to it in the really hard moments….like rush hour traffic, game day in Athens, or even when we are facing certain death.

 

And while I could end it by simply saying, “In the hard moments, look to Jesus,” I’m not going to. Because, you’ve heard that before. You’ve heard it since day one. Matt taught about looking to Jesus as the perfecter and founder of our faith. He told us to look to Jesus who was brave for us. The idea itself is not foreign to us.

 

And while I can’t say this with 100% certainty concerning the whole of the readership, my guess would be that we’re not all living courageous lives and that the reason for that is that we think that looking to Jesus is a passive act.

 

But looking to Jesus is NOT a passive act.

 

And that’s why many of us find ourselves riddled with fear, anxiety, control issues, or feeling not like a hero. We have tried to make courage and faith passive, but it requires action.

 

Our bravery has to be honed. It must be sharpened. It must be maintained. That means discipline. It means: I sit with the Word and take strength from it. I have strategies for doing the brave thing in the little moments. I count to ten. I leave a room. I take a thought captive. I push myself out of my comfort zone when I feel led. I have people who keep me accountable and ask the hard questions.

 

I think we read Hebrews and we are so thankful and relieved that salvation IS by grace and faith and not by works.

 

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to work. Faith and Joy: these things require a re-training and a rewiring of our fallen and broken bodies and souls. Yes, salvation brings forth a restoration for our souls; but our minds and bodies default to a broken setting.

 

So, yes. We must be intentional in our faith. In our courage. We must practice it in basic and simple places. I think this is why we continue to explore what courage is.

 

It’s a bit more complicated than we may have originally thought.

 

Courage and bravery and faith and joy are not just a passive washing over of power (or at least it is not that on a daily basis). It is a balance. A tension - of the active and the passive.

 

There is no courage without fear.

 

There is no faith without doubt.

 

There is no joy without sorrow.

 

These things exist in the same space.

 

Which will you default to when you find yourself in a hard moment - when your spirit defaults to what it knows best?

 

Author: Lydia Wells

Subscribe to Our Blog through Email

Repentance

This past Sunday I served our kids in the Grove. I was with the Sprouts class teaching about how Jesus fed the 5,000: the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. This means that I didn’t have the pleasure of hearing Matt preach firsthand. Normally, I would listen to the sermon on Monday and let it marinate in my heart for a few days and then write something for the blog on Wednesday - now you all know my process.

 

But that didn’t happen this week.

 

This past Saturday my husband’s grandfather died. He walked this earth for 99 years, 10 months, and 3 days. So Sunday after the gathering, my family and I headed back home to spend time, reflect, remember, honor, and celebrate a man that words often come short of describing. Possibly, because Grandpa was a man of few words - but also a man of a most sincere faith and faithful service.

 

I listened to the sermon Thursday morning in a bit of a “Hail Mary” to get something on the blog Thursday afternoon. Matt’s teaching centered on several passages in Acts (2:12-41) that describe the early church and how it came to be and function. Matt ended up zeroing in on ONE point: Repentance.

 

If you listened to the sermon, Matt explains a lot about repentance. What it is. What it means. What it looks like.

 

I find it incredibly difficult at times to write or even talk about repentance in such a way that actually captures the hearts of new believers, old believers, or folks who haven’t met Jesus. We’ve heard the word “repentance” thrown around in church for years (or at least I have) and in many ways we can’t help but file it away in the “hell fire and brimstone” category of church or just ignore it and isolate it from our everyday-walked-out faith.

 

Repentance and the humility that must accompany it goes against the grain of our culture. Our culture tells us:  “Don’t apologize for your opinions. Don’t back down. Don’t show weakness or uncertainty. Don’t own your faults or failings.  Exude an air of perfection.”

 

I don’t know how it entered our culture. But it’s there: an egotistical pride and entitlement which makes repentance unpalatable. The belief that  if we admit one wrong or weakness, the the whole of our being will be marked as flawed - which would, of course, make us undeserving.

 

Well. As Christians, we should come to the table knowing and embracing the fact that we are indeed undeserving. Repentance shouldn’t be something that’s foreign to the Church, but it is something that so many churches and so many of us find foreign. And it is because we were raised in a culture that’s doesn’t like to admit it’s wrong.

 

The first time that I met my husband’s grandpa was Sunday lunch at his house; I was terrified. Matt (my husband, not the pastor) talked about his grandpa with such reverence and respect. I knew one word from Grandpa and I would be out the door - my future in the family hinged on his approval.

 

When we arrived for lunch, I walked into an old Southern home on a country road and was smacked with the smell of country fried venison. There may have been a fire in the fireplace, as Grandpa was known to have a fire on even a slightly chilly day. My memory on that is a bit unclear. I do remember that he gave me a surprisingly strong hug for an 88-year-old. He told me about some of his favorite trophies and hunts - like that time he traveled to British Columbia and had to pack out the moose whose head was now mounted above his television. The moose head takes up an entire wall in his house.

 

In his family and community, this man was a living legend. He enlisted in the Army Air Force shortly after Pearl Harbor and served in the South Pacific for the duration of the war. He returned home to his wife and they built a house across from the family home which had been standing since the Civil War. He started a business and was well-known in the community. He was a patriot, an outdoorsman, a good man, and a faithful attendee of the same church his ENTIRE life - all 99 years (excepting those during the war).

 

Lunch was always served promptly at Noon. Grandpa made his way into the kitchen at twelve o’clock on the dot without fail. The family would circle around and grace was said. Grandpa said grace….and it was in all honesty a grace that was by no means out of the ordinary. But his closing of the prayer was unforgettable to me.

 

“And Lord, forgive us our many sins.”

 

I had never heard anyone end a prayer in such a way. I was awed at the fact that the patriarch of a family would admit that HE had sin and that he would ask forgiveness on behalf of all those gathered around his table.

 

I would come to find that  this phrase of repentance was how Grandpa chose to close all of his prayers.

 

I don’t consider my childhood or my being raised in the church as anything but normal. I think my parents and those around me did a good job of showing me Jesus. But I confess that repentance was not an emphasis or even a focus in my everyday life. My little mind thought, “Of course, Jesus died for me. My parents love me to pieces, why wouldn’t Jesus give His life for me?”

 

For real y’all. This was the thought in my head for YEARS.

 

So when Grandpa prayed, it was a defining moment. It was a moment when I realized that every prayer this man prayed ended with a true repentance of sin. He felt the weight of his sin personally. And it cut him to the heart.

 

This is a man that unquestionably in our culture would be seen as a shining example. And in our current culture he would have nothing to apologize for or repent of.

 

And yet, repentance was his daily posture.

 

Repentance should be our daily posture. Honesty should be our daily posture.

 

it keeps us authentic and approachable. Have you every walked into a room filled with people who have their stuff together? It’s unnerving being the only train wreck in the room. Beyond that, repentance keeps us accountable.


 

Last night, I read an article about a pastor and seminary professor who committed suicide as a result of the Ashley Madison hack. The weight of his sin crushed him and in his darkest moment, he doubted the love and forgiveness of his family, his church, his community, and maybe even his God. How tragic.

 

Matt summed it up in his sermon - “The dysfunction - in every relationship, in your family, in your personal life, in our collective life as a church - you can trace a line back (one-to-one correlation) with a failure to be honest, with a failure to be vulnerable about what I have done or how I feel about what you have done.”

 

Confession and repentance introduces LIGHT into the darkness.

 

Repentance is the beginning of healing.

 

Repentance is a safe place. It shouldn’t be a scary place. It should not be lonely. Namely, because we are all broken people - each and every one of us has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and should find ourselves in a place of repentance everyday.

 

We are all sinners. From the greatest to the least.

 

A few weeks ago I wrote about how the lost don’t need perfect people, they need honest people who will walk with them in the brokenness of life.

 

So, let's admit that we aren’t perfect. Let's talk about our struggles. Let' admit our brokenness.  Let's REPENT of our sins against God and against others. And together let's ask God to forgive us our many sins….with every prayer.

 

Author: Lydia Wells

Subscribe to Our Blog through Email