Posted by: Ted Mattis | 28/06/2009

Forgive me for being a little ‘slow’ (and long)!

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I am slow, but for those of you who ‘know’ me this is not news to you. But, for now, I am not thinking about ‘common sense’ but about the pace at which I process some of life’s bigger experiences. There are some folks who process experience very quickly, make up their minds, choose their appropriate response and get on with life. Me- I am that typical counselor type, who takes it all in and chews on it for days and days- sometimes even weeks, depending on the power or the weight of the experience. Two weeks ago was one of those experiences for me and, while I still feel somewhat premature in expressing the significant impact, I feel compelled to share.

Coming to terms with the truth is often times too real and brutally difficult. When an addict comes to terms with himself/ herself, ground zero for recovery and healing is only found in honesty- rigorous honesty. When Jesus said to His disciples, “the Truth will set you free,” He wasn’t speaking about simple, objective, doctrinal truth (there is such a thing, you know!). He was ultimately pointing to Himself- Living truth. It would only be a matter of time before He would say, “I am the way the Truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.” He is the great and only spiritual liberator. But in order to truly grasp the truth of Jesus, we must come to terms with the truth about ourselves. It means being honest, rigorously honest, about the inconsistencies in our own lives, taking stock of the choices one has made in life. It means being honest about what has and still continues to direct our paths- what motivates us, and for whom we are really trying to make a name. Both of those issues came to a head in me a week ago in Orlando.

Two statements that won’t leave me alone: The first is this, “Would you rather be ‘liked’ or honest?”  It’s an interesting and convicting question. Will you be a slave to others’ perceptions of you, spending your life carefully crafting and feverishly protecting an image you think best represents what you think you should be, or an image that your culture continues to esteem, promote and value as most desirable that earn you entrance into the exclusive club of inclusion? Maybe it’s the big, self-sufficient, make-things-happen business person. Maybe it is the intellectual, professorial and all-wise persona you fancy. Maybe it is the self-effacing, poor-serving, Christian-proving identity that you hold as the peak of humanity and you assume that all humanity reveres. Whatever our treasure is, there will our heart be. Whatever it is, we put on the ‘suit’ and set out in pursuit of affirmation and inclusion.  And as it always goes with ideals, whatever ideal we aspire to, the reality is that we all never quite achieve it, else they would not be true ideals.  They are beyond our grasp and guarantee our shortcoming.

Herein lies the dilemma of the question: In order to maintain the illusion of ideal, we must ‘fudge’ the truth about us and, inevitably, chart an unintentional path that eventually becomes a full blown ‘double-life’. The sad part is most of us, including me, are often completely unaware of this seduction and refuse to acknowledge it. Some may call it denial while others call it arrogance. Either way it is the incongruence between who we are and who we think others expect us to be that begins to gnaw at us.

I have come to realize just how powerful a grip this has had on me, and how pervasive it is in the church, especially in the leadership.  Leaders are often expected to be and are often revered as ones who ‘have it’ as opposed to the ones that don’t.  Human culture/society demands it.  Society, and yes, the church as well, needs and sets up men to be ‘ideals’ for them to aspire to.  Leaders are those just neurotic enough to accept the offer. The temptation of the appointed ‘have’s’ is to drink the seductive wine of social elevation (money, prestige, etc…), and to adapt who they are to those expectations without ever stopping to assess what is real and true about themselves.  Inconsistent men trying to maintain something they are fundamentally incapable of doing.

I think the word I used to use was, “Poser.”  And posers are easy to spot.  I think the Bible calls them ‘adulterers.’ Prostituting one’s reality for another’s satisfaction. When social perception becomes our god, and God becomes a means to accomplish our narcissitic objective, we soon find ourselves so dis-integrated and deluded internally that we either slide into ‘self-protectionism’ (developing behaviors designed to protect the lie- addictions, blame and bitterness, etc…), shutting ourselves off from the truth or braving the cruel world of truth that so often feels like the far country, we make the long journey back home in humiliation seeking restoration down the road of repentance.

Indeed, for most the path of least resistance is more appealing.  ‘It is safer to be liked than truly known.’  That is until truth comes calling.  And truth always comes calling.  Always. Whatever is hidden will be revealed.  You cannot be full of Christ and full of self at the same time.

Which leads to the second question: “Do we look like His bride?” These words were spoken in a sermon preached the first night of the 37th General Assembly of the PCA by Dr. Paul Kooistra. They sound so routine- so basic- so fundamental and that is the problem.  How easy it is to get lost in the complexity of life that we forget the basics. It is perhaps the most important question any Christian can ask of him or herself daily. It is the ultimate question “The Church” must ask always.

When a Bride and a Bridegroom are engaged, it is a time of heightened anticipation.  Each is looking forward to their life together.  Plans are made to make the day a grand celebration and the ceremony ‘other worldly.’  The Bride pays careful attention to every detail of the day.  The flowers, the music, the attendants, the flower girls and whatever other accoutrements are addressed to accentuate the special occasion.  The trimmings are all good, but if too much, they can be a distraction.  Too much attention on the package distracts from the purpose.

The bride’s energy, however, is mostly upon herself, but not in the disordered, narcissistic sense.  She spends weeks and months researching the perfect wedding dress and weeks and months losing all the weight she can for the wedding day.  The day of the wedding she spends hours on her hair, her make up, her nails, and after all of the preparations, she is ready.  She is steadfastly single-minded on one thing- the bridegroom.  The Bride has made herself ready.

Yet, it is one thing to make her outward appearance ready. It is another thing altogether to make the inward person ready.

In 2004, Scott McKie and Victoria Anderson were married in Manchester, UK.  It lasted 90 minutes. Yes- 90 minutes.  They had all the fanfare, all the right accoutrements, said all the right things, had the right dress and tuxedo- even good looking bridesmaids and handsome groomsmen, but the fact of the matter was that neither had prepared their hearts.  They had been in it for themselves, for the party and the pictures.  They were in it to be noticed- to make a name for themselves.

Revelation 19 tells us that in the grand portrait of redemption and reality, the Bride makes herself ready.  She prepares herself outwardly yes, but more importantly, inwardly.  She prepares herself not to receive her groom but to offer herself to her groom- to abandon herself into his good keeping.  She has clearly sought to remove all that encumbers her- fear, doubt, shame, pride- and adorns the garb of humility, gentleness, faithfulness, submission and love.  She does not stand at the altar and ask her groom, “Do you see all I have done for you?”  Instead, she has readied herself to release her heart and life into the care of her groom. She takes her place with her groom and says, “All I am and all I have is yours… I surrender all.”

It’s an important question for every Christian and every church, “Do we look like His bride?”  It seems so often that the quest of the church is itself. More members, money, more service, more missions- more, more, more.  Competing congregations continually seek to ‘one-up’ or catch up with the next church, each seeking to either to make a name for itself or perpetuate an already achieved name.  It is capitalism at its best- but not Christianity.  Too much attention on the package distracts from the purpose.

Paul says it quite clearly in 1Co 1:26 when he writes, Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” Paul appears to be saying that at the point of our calling, the bridegroom chose us not because of our beauty, not because of our creative marketing prowess, not because of our likelihood to spread the news more successfully, not because of our ‘pedigree’ and certainly not because of our ‘popularity.’  He did so because He loved us.  Because that’s what God does.  He sets the captives free, he binds the wounds of the broken-hearted, he gathers the strangers, he befriends the outcasts.  He loves the losers- the no-names.

Is the quest of your life the pursuit of establishing your name as a vital and formidable force in your world or have you truly grappled with the impotence of ‘your name’ and the majesty of His- that by His name all things have come to be and will come to pass?

Paul writes in Phil 2 that God raised our Jesus up from the dead that every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  In the name of Jesus did Peter and John heal the lame man outside of the gate “Beautiful” in Jerusalem. We are not here to make a name for ourselves.  We are here to make a name for Jesus. To adorn ourselves in the things of this world, to adopt its priorities and even expect the church to serve these priorities, to adopt the desires of this world as our own, is to make a name for ourselves and to abandon not Christ’s cause, but Christ Himself.

The paradox of this all and how it fits together: When we abandon honesty for the pursuit of ‘inclusion’ or ‘approval,’ when we set out on the unstable path of making and keeping a name for ourselves, we end up alone, confused and sometimes desperate. But when we repent and seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, when we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith- we are liberated from the slavery to self and set free to willingly and gladly sacrifice ourselves to Him for the well-being of the other and we are given eternal inclusion in the things of heaven where moth and rust cannot destroy- into His eternal care.  We actually find what we had been seeking all along.  We eagerly wait for His appearing.  We actually look like His bride.

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