Toward A Real Faith - Be The Real You

I want to take you back to a few weeks ago. I was sitting in the nice summer air, hearing the ocean, at a Q&A session with the Avett Brothers, and they talked about how being real and authentic in their songs has only proven good.

I sat there a little jealous, because I felt that as a pastor, if I got more real, it may cost me my job – or at least many unpleasant conversations - rather than the adoring worship of fans who connect with the Avetts songs like it did for them. Not that I’m looking for fans, I just want changed lives all around me, including my own. But the dilemma is that being real is dangerous. And not just for me, but in your life too. Even with that said, I hope to encourage all of us to be more real. The world needs that.

I remember another moment on my trip, watching one of the opening acts on one of the nights. They sang a lot of songs about drinking a lot of whiskey. And they seemed so lonely, full of anger and sadness. And it got me thinking about most churches.

Could we even reach people like those people playing their hearts out for me? They have struggles. The lead singer said that this was the most difficult tour he has ever been on, and I don’t know what is going on. But then I imagined that church is just too inauthentic to reach them. And it’s not just these people. Our community is filled with people like this too. People who are dependent upon us living out vibrant, real faiths to actually encounter Jesus.

I think most people who have been turned off to Christianity have not been turned off because of the beauty of the Gospel and the challenges that it makes on people’s lives. Instead, they have been turned off because people are showing them a fake faith rather than a real faith.

They’ve encountered Christians who pretend like they have it all figured out rather than followers of Jesus who understand that they have faults, struggles, doubts, and yet still pursue Jesus with their whole heart.

Now, this isn’t to say that everyone will respond to the Gospel positively if we just live it out. But I can nearly guarantee that people won’t respond positively if we fakely live it out.

Because who wants something fake? Fake cheese. Fake bacon bits. Fake Twinkies. Nobody wants fake.

We are called to live out a real faith.  Not a faith that pretends bad things doesn’t happen. A real faith that is strong enough to actually carry us through bad things happening.

A genuine faith. A sincere faith. One that can withstand being tested.

The origin of our word sincere is interesting.

We see it often as the conclusion of a letter: “Sincerely.” But our word comes from “old Roman [construction workers] who used defective slabs of marble in building residences to sell at reduced rates. They would cover up the defects with a cement of which white wax was the chief ingredient. This deception was discovered when an exceptionally hot sun would melt the wax and revealed the fraud. Hence a perfect building was said to be sine cerâ, meaning “without wax”; and a friendship perfected by the trials of adversity was said to be “without wax.” The signature sine cerâ, as a symbol of general affection and [honestly], has been used ever since. (from page 13 of Sealing-Waxes, Wafers, & Other Adhesives. Cited from on February 22, 2017.)

So this idea of sincere is something being completely genuine – totally real and not pretend. And that is the way our faith is to be.

When missionary John Paton was translating the Scripture for the South Sea islanders, he was unable to find a word in their vocabulary for the concept of believing, trusting, or having faith. [They just didn’t have a word that captured the concept and could translate the word we translate as faith and belief.] He had no idea how he would convey that to them. One day while he was in his hut translating, a native came running up the stairs into Paton's study and flopped in a chair, exhausted. He said to Paton, It's so good to rest my whole weight in this chair.
John Paton had his word: Faith is resting your whole weight on God. That word went into the translation of their New Testament and helped bring that civilization of natives to Christ. (cited from on February 22, 2017.)

So for them, faith is the idea of something that we can put our whole weight on. It’s even more than that in a way. It’s the ideas that we are going to live our life based around. We all have ideas like that. And in the Christian view, this is placed in God.

So we must have a sincere faith. A real faith.

Paul explains it that these three things – a sincere faith, a good conscience, and a pure heart – are necessary for us to love the way that God made us to love (1 Timothy 1:5-7).  But in that section, he also warns us about things getting in the way.

I don’t want to spend too much time on the opposite of these things that lead to love. But Paul mentions that those who do not have a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith are focused on vain discussion.

Have you ever noticed that? Those who don’t want to be loving to others usually have some truth that they hide behind in order to not be loving. They justify living wrongly through some lie. For these people it was vain discussion focused on the law. I like the way the King James translates the phrase that we have here as vain discussion: “Vain jangling.” Jangling. A distraction. Something that keeps us from our true as Christians – love.

And we will find ourselves at times being distracted by vain jangling and miss out on the life of love that God wants us to live.

But we must always go back to God.

God forgives us. And he made us holy. The dilemma we face is this: Our reality doesn’t always line up to that. I sin and do things that show I’m still a work in progress. The perfected holiness that he gives me is not yet fully realized in my tainted flesh. The wonderful forgiveness he provides me is scorned at times by my desire to not forgive others or because I just want to wallow in self-pity.

But living out a genuine faith in his perfect reality isn’t something that we just throw our hands up in the air and give up on. We don’t claim it’s impossible and then not strive toward it. Just the opposite. We’re Christians in the vein of Paul who was called crazy at his trial (Acts 26:24). We’re going to continue to strive for the impossible despite the facts around us. We need a little more crazy in our faith. For with God, what is impossible is possible.

It’s also not something that we lie about. To have a real faith, we must recognize the flawed status of our current state and all the struggles that this brings, not just in us but in those around us. We live in a fallen world mired by sin, and the path of it being perfected has been accomplished by Jesus, but we are living in between the conception and the birth of this perfected reality. His perfection is something we have to strive for and work toward. It breaks through at times and is so glorious, but we don’t walk around pretending that we have spiritually arrived and are the perfected example of holiness in the here and now. But we know that will be our future reality and, at times, is our present reality, so we strive toward that reality rather than wallow in the fallen one we often find ourselves in.

And I may have just lost you in a bunch of theology. But the gist is this. You are flawed yet holy. You are still sinful yet forgiven. And you are called to live in that holy and forgiven reality while understanding that you are still not perfect.

This little beauty came across my Facebook feed. One thing that seems to happen a lot as a pastor is that people start being fake around me. And I hate it. As a person who admires vulgar authenticity way more than fake piety, who values real relationships, this is the dilemma of this job. While we were on vacation, I didn’t want to tell people we met my job out of fear that that my job would be a conversation stopper. I did though. What a dilemma. In order for people to be real with me I have to be fake with them, and if I am real with them, they often start being fake with me. I just choose to be real. And the same dilemma is there for you at times as a Christian.

Being real isn’t easy. But it is something we must work on.

Rich Mullins said this about church:

I never understood why going to church made you a hypocrite either, because nobody goes to church because they're perfect. If you've got it all together, you don't need to go. You can go jogging with all the other perfect people on Sunday morning

Every time you go to church, you're confessing again to yourself, to your family, to the people you pass on the way there, to the people who will greet you there, that you don't have it all together. And that you need their support. You need their direction. You need some accountability, you need some help.

And if you feel that you have to fake it around me because I’m a pastor or that you have to be fake when you come to church, you are hurting yourself and our church.

The fake person that you are pretending to be cannot grow spiritually. It’s a façade. Fakeness can’t grow. But once you take off that mask, you can start growing. Another you is waiting for you to discard the fake you. Once you go to God and others as your real, flawed self, you can change. You can grow.

So we must always remember that church needs to be a place where you can doubt and not be judged. A place where you can question and not be condemned. A place where you can ask why and not be ostracized. And the reason that doesn’t happen like it should is sometimes the fault of the person who wants to be fake. Other times, it is the fault of the church that has been too judgmental in the past. So we must all change.

For it is only in dealing with our real doubts and questions, that our faith can be real and not fake. And it is in dealing with our own doubts and questions that we will then be able to have a sincere faith. And then we will also be sympathetic and loving toward others when they struggle.

Because let’s be honest, the world makes it easy to doubt at times.

When I hear a terrible story like this one that floated around the Internet the other week. Man put nails along a running path in a park. Horrible. And why didn’t God stop it?

And that is just an easy one actually. We can talk about a kid being molested and then going on to kill themselves. Or a kid starving to death. Our world has a lot of heartbreaking stories. And if we are honest with ourselves, we wonder why God allows that.

I had an acquaintance post this on Facebook this week:

I have long thought of suicide. Like, you know, since I was 10, when I first learned it was possible to just stop the pain by killing oneself. What has stopped me is the uncertainty.
Not the uncertainty of the afterlife - I don’t believe in Santa, or the Boogey Man, or God - not really. I don’t believe in a loving god, because I love my children, more than anything else in the world. I would never allow my kids to befall an illness or hurt I could prevent - and if there was a Christian God who loved us, he would protect us the way we would protect our children. So, if there is a god, he is a cruel and uncaring god. Or, so I cipher.

And I don’t have an easy answer. I’ve sat with kids whose dad has died from pneumonia unexpectedly. I’ve sat with parents whose daughter died from texting and driving. I’ve been with families after loved ones have struggled for years with cancer and experienced the sudden death of a loved one from a heart attack. I’ve delivered a eulogy for someone who gave up on life and committed suicide. And those are the most dire cases. Struggling to financially make ends meet. Rebellious children. Parents losing their minds. On and on, the common struggles of life go.

And there are no easy answers. I just come back to Jesus’ reaction after the death of Lazarus. In the shortest verse of the Bible, it just says, “Jesus wept.”

And that is a real faith. One that joins in on the sorrows of others and doesn’t just echo the empty platitudes that God needed them more or it must have been God’s will – two of my least favorite bad theology lines uttered when someone dies.

Real faith.

No easy answers to tough questions.

No throwing out that we will avoid suffering.

The struggle is real.

As Eugene Peterson said on Twitter the other day:
There are no experts in the company of Jesus. We are all beginners. – Eugene Peterson on Twitter, February 20, 2017

Real faith is the only thing that can unlock real community and a real relationship with Jesus. And that is what we are called to experience. Jesus established the church for a reason. And it is through the church that Jesus becomes real in our world. Jesus didn't have a time machine. We are his time machine. That's why we do church. Our work has more power when we do it together. That's why we have church. God’s spirit dwells in us together.

Maybe we need to just change the way that we look at our own flaws. Instead of them being shame and mistakes, which they honestly may be, they are also part of what makes us who we are. Maybe we need to view our pain and our sorrow sort of the way the Japanese practice kintsugi.

It's the art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer resin dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. As a philosophy it speaks to breakage and repair becoming part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.

It is the embracing of the flawed or imperfect. We may just discard things when they are flawed, but Japanese culture values marks of wear by the use of an object over time. This can be seen both as a rationale for keeping an object around even after it has broken, and as a justification of kintsugi itself, highlighting the cracks and repairs as simply an event in the life of an object rather than allowing its service to end at the time of its damage or breakage. (from on February 22, 2017)

As we age, we inevitably will develop breaks and flaws. Some from our own sin. Some from the sin of others. Heartbreaks of life happen. Disappointments happen. But God still loves you no matter what.

Your brokenness makes you uniquely you. Despite the flaws being things that we may wish had never happened or are marks we received from being completely outside of God's will, they are what makes us who we are. God is a lot like the Japanese mindset that values an object that is broken and fixed. He loves us despite us being broken. And He fixes us. His grace can be the shining lacquer resin that fixes our flaws.

And a real community loves each other no matter what – flaws and all.

So you can be real here. We will love the real you. Be the real you.

The Day After

The Day After.

Yesterday was Easter. Jesus rose. Victory was felt. God’s presence was felt and He was prompting change.

And then today comes. Today. The day after. A place where all the problems still seem the same. The darkness that was on Friday – the darkness that Sunday blasted away – that darkness wants to creep back in. Yesterday seems so far away.

It’s Monday and Sunday is a memory.

And we wish it wasn't so. We want to be experiencing God now. We don’t want God to just be a memory but to be our current reality. He’s the Kingdom bringer, and we want to see his kingdom come into our daily lives. We want relationships restored. We want love shared. We want illnesses healed. We want the broken mended. We want lives changed. We want to live in victory. We want what He wants. We want to experience Him breaking through.

Or at least that is what we said yesterday.

But the brokenness of our reality seems overwhelming. Issues seems unfixable. That mountain seems immovable. That darkness, impenetrable. And so we have the potential today to give up or to push in toward God.

The place of God is the place where we need to be. So we spend time in prayer pursuing Him. We spend time reading the Bible to encounter Him. Little things that are much more like eating meals to our soul. Without them we starve.

We keep our eyes open throughout the day to find ways to love Him by loving others. And we focus on being part of the community of believers he has called us to be to provide an example of what God’s plan for life together here on earth looks like.

It’s Monday and Sunday was only the beginning.

A Bad Friday Made Good

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46 (ESV)

I think if we are honest with ourselves, we’ve all had these moments. Oh, not hanging on a cross with nails in our hands struggling to breathe. More of I don’t know why I have to go through this disease. I don’t know how I am going to get through this situation.

And some, who either have much more faith than me or are just good at faking it, will never doubt. They make me feel like a spiritual weakling. But I find myself to be much more like Jesus in his weak moment than those powerhouses of the faith. And I wonder where is God in this or that.

That’s what we remember here on the Friday that we call “good” in hindsight. Cause on that first Good Friday, it didn’t seem good for anyone. Jesus was hanging on the cross wondering why God had forsaken him. Mary was crying at the foot of the cross, seeing her son executed. The apostles were feeling betrayed by the Messiah, and they would turn around and betray him. It was what would seem to be, on all accounts, a very bad Friday.

It’s only good because of what happened on Sunday that we call it good. God has this great knack of turning that which seems bad into something good. Jesus died on Friday, but He rose from the dead on Sunday. He brought light into the darkest of places. Where there was only defeat on Friday, he brought victory on Sunday. Where there was suffering on Friday, he brought rejoicing on Sunday. Where there was despair on Friday, he brought hope on Sunday.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Fridays happen. We still face our Friday moments. Maybe we struggle financially. Maybe we have a disease. Maybe a loved one is dying or dead. Maybe there doesn’t seem to be any hope in our situation. And at those times, we can relate to Jesus when He said, “My God, My God, why have forsaken you me.” Maybe you're in that spot right now. My God, My God why have you forsaken me. You can’t see the hope. You can’t hear the victory. You can’t find that moment of rejoicing. The good eludes you.

The Psalm – Psalm 22 - that Jesus was alluding to here goes on: “Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”

When we look back on God working in our history, may we be able to see that he turns the bad into good. When we experience victory in the present, may we declare that He has done it. And when darkness is all around us, may our faith shine through.

He has done it. He’s brought victory. He’s brought hope.

As I’ve heard from other preachers, “It’s Friday” – and it may feel that way in your soul right now. "It’s Friday" – My God. My God why have you forsaken me. “It’s Firday but Sunday is coming.”