What a mess!

stand-by-me

My heart is absolutely broken.  My wife Kris and I drove down to Brownsville, OR to see where the movie “Stand by Me” was shot.  We had a wonderful time playing in the treehouse where the boys played cards, ran down the gun-shot ridden back alley, and took a Kodak moment picture on the famous bridge where they entered the little town.  It was a surreal time, especially for my precious girl.  But it was on the drive home where I saw it…

“STOP SINNING.  COME TO JESUS.”

Yes, a glaringly obvious sign on the side of a church building.  It could have easily read, “Clean up your act, then you’ll be good enough to approach God.”  How sad is that!  And I’m sure the pastor and the church meant well by this exhortation.  I do not for a minute doubt their sincerity.  But there is something fatally flawed with that statement.

It’s kind of like saying…

  • Fix your car, then take it to the mechanic…
  • Turn on the light, then put a lightbulb in the socket…
  • Watch TV, and then turn it on…

Does that make any sense?  These are impossibilities.  You never fix your car and then take it to a mechanic.  Why?  Because a mechanic is only necessary when the car needs fixing.  And that’s where we come into play.  We (yes, you and me) are in need of a mechanic.  We are all very broken people with very real problems.  And yes, we need a mechanic, the Great Mechanic!

I’ve been attending Sandals Church for about 5 years now.  Their vision?  “Real with ourselves, God and others.”  It’s the vision of authenticity.  It’s about reaching out to real people struggling with a real life problems.  I think if Sandals Church was to put a sign up similar to the one above, it might read…

“STILL SINNING?  COME TO JESUS.”

Yes!  Because we are all still sinning.  We are all struggling with tragedies, let downs, anger, un-forgiveness, sin and a slew of other things that most people wear a mask for in order to avoid being outed.  And so, that mask is proudly displayed by the many parishioners that attend churches like the one I saw in Brownsville.  Unfortunately that only leads to fake Christianity.  I’m not about being fake, I’m about being real.

The fact of the matter is that no church in America, or the world for the matter, should ever put conditions on coming to Jesus.  Jesus never required anything but love from His followers.  They flocked to Him in droves!

I’ve sat and pondered the reason why so many people, in the tens of thousands, followed so closely to Jesus as he walked the streets of Jerusalem or traversed the shores of Galilee.  It’s so simple, He loved them just the way they are.  He never put conditions on his love.  The only people he challenged were the fake religious leaders that put conditions on people.  Here’s a modern day look at what the Pharisees did to people (Matthew 23)…

  • They walked around with a big bible in hand telling others how to live, but in secret spent little time living out what they preach.
  • Like modern day televangelists, they guilt you into giving sacrificially while they jet-set to their third house in Miami Beach.
  • They love to show everyone how much money they give to the church, yet they won’t life a finger to help someone in need.
  • They go around showing everyone how holy they are, but in private, their lives are riddled with all kinds of sinful behavior.

And that’s what I saw yesterday; conditions on approaching Jesus.

Maybe you’ve thought about Christianity and wondered what all the fuss is about.  If I could sum it all up in one word it would be FREEDOM.  Jesus came to give you and I freedom.

  • Freedom from religion
  • Freedom from a world that is constantly tearing at our soul, and…
  • Freedom from the plight of sin.

Here’s the truth, sin is something we all struggle with and Jesus is the answer.  Jesus is the freedom.  But His freedom looks very different from what many churches suggest.

Freedom in Jesus is when he said to the people following him, “Come to me all you who are tired, struggling, hurt, angry, frustrated and in a lot of pain, and I will give you a rest you could never imagine.”  This is my version of Matthew 11:28.  And my guess is that many of you could use some much needed rest.

Is that where you’re at today?  Do you need some rest?  May I suggest you find a church that allows you to be a complete mess.  Jesus would say to you today, “Just come to me how you are.  I will take you, mess and all!”  And if you do just that, you will find rest like you’ve never found before.

Please remember, Jesus is about restoring you, not slamming you for your faults.  He knows everything about you.  And you know what?  He loves you right where you’re at.

Faith isn’t always what is seems…

faith-leap

As many of you know, for me this past couple of weeks has been nothing short of grimm.  It’s been difficult, but it’s also been wonderful.  This morning I spent some time milling over something incredible that I believe God has shown me about my faith.

Just to recap my week, it started off with feeling so sick that I literally passed out.  It then moved to a family situation that struck me to my core as I realized how much I’ve failed as a father and husband.  My week then moved forward into a situation completely out of my control that cost me quite a bit financially.  And to cap it off, I found myself dealing with these crises by indulging in food and looking at things I shouldn’t have on my computer.  Yes, it’s been a very hard week.  But God was always there.  His faith demanded faith on my part.

Sandals Church had an annual staff retreat that allowed me to refocus my life and begin a new chapter of faith.  But faith has begun to change for me.  I’ve always defined faith to look something like this.

  • If I believe strong enough, God will come through…
  • If I stop doubting, God will begin to work in my situation…
  • If I have faith the size of a mustard seed, God will then move in a way that otherwise He wouldn’t have.

I’ve always viewed faith as something that is tied to the fact that if I believe hard enough, strong enough or just plain old enough, THEN God would decide to move on my behalf.  Have I ever been so wrong!  And maybe you’ve believed something similar.

As I prayed this morning, I was taken to a passage of scripture that most of us are probably familiar with.  And if you aren’t familiar with it, you may look at it and say, “See, we have to have faith in order for God to move.”  But there’s a flaw in that argument because God is continually moving in our lives.  He never stops.  He doesn’t sleep.  He is always working on our behalf because He loves us.

“But Jon, does that mean I don’t have to have faith in order for things to happen?”  NO!  It means that faith might have a radically different meaning than you and I might think.  Here is the verse that God brought me to.

James 1:6-8 “But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”

What an encouraging set of verses!  But something stuck out so hidden yet so obvious to me.  It’s found in the very last verse, “Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.” Faith isn’t simply about what God will do for us, faith is about what we will do in our situation.  And I’ll repeat it again, God is always at work, even when our faith is weak or non-existent.

Please know that I’m not saying we all just need to pull up our bootstraps and work really hard in order for God to work.  HE IS ALREADY WORKING.  What I am saying is that our unbelief drives our faith and our actions.  If I lack faith, it will drive everything I do.

I have a very close friend who is in a situation that he believes will never change.  I have told him time and time again that nothing is impossible with God and that his lack of faith is impacting his walk with God.  But, I continue to hear excuse after excuse…

  • The reason things won’t change is because…
  • I can’t see how this will work out because…
  • We really won’t be able to do this because…

Over and over I hear excuse after excuse why God won’t be able to work in his circumstances.  The truth of the matter is that his lack of faith has rendered him sterile and not the God he serves.

Friends, a lack in faith doesn’t put God on the back-burner.  A lack of faith doesn’t cause God to say, “Oh well, if you believed enough I’d be there for you.”  No, a lack of faith causes you and me to give up on our situation.  We actually begin to believe that things will never change or that we aren’t spiritual enough for God to work, causing us to halt our own walk in faith.

Want the real truth?  Not one of us has enough faith to make God move because He is already moving.  However, all of us can move with God in our circumstances.  The key here friend is that we move; and it always begins with where our minds are at.  If we don’t believe, if we don’t have faith, then we will be like a ship tossed around on the ocean.  If we wait around for God to do something, then we’ll be waiting for a really long time.  God is waiting for you and I to begin believing that He is already at work.  He is patiently asking us to begin putting one foot in front of the other and walk out our faith.

  • Are you ready to start walking out your faith?
  • Do you believe that God is already working in your circumstances?
  • Are you willing to look at faith as action on your part and not solely action on God’s part?

If you answered yes to these three simple questions, I believe you have the faith it takes to move mountains.  God is in the business of restoration, healing and changing circumstances for the better.  I think He might just be waiting for you to take the first step of faith.