In 2009, our family moved from the west coast to the mid-west (after a short stint in the south) and our first year felt like a culture shock. Especially in the church. In Southern California, where we lived for seven years and plunged our roots, you expect diversity, struggle, change, and quite honestly, authenticity. It’s like everyone’s messed up, or from a family that’s messed up, so we’d come to expect Christians with baggage and hang-ups. This wasn’t a judgmental stance but instead an understanding of the fallen condition of humanity.
Then we moved to the mid-west and everyone appeared to be a multi-generational Christian, apparently without baggage and hang-ups.
But now that we’ve been here a while, and gotten to know other Christians on a deeper level, I’ve come to realize we’ve all got issues, past sins, regrets. Some of us just hide them better and bury them deeper.
But our past isn’t meant to hold us in bondage or keep us in shame. In fact, it’s a glorious marker of how far we’ve come! It’s an opportunity to demonstrate the transforming grace of God.
When we’re hiding and angsting, clinging to padlocked suitcases, it’s not God who’s holding us back. This one’s all on us. I think we need to drop the self-righteous piety–the Pharacitical tendency to pretend like everything’s a bowl of holy water, and move toward authenticity. When we do that, we free others to do the same and send a message that it’s not about us–what we’ve done or haven’t done, but instead, about Christ and His death on the cross.
This morning as I read through 1 Timothy chapter 1, I thought about Paul’s testimony and what a man like Paul might look like today.
12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
If you’ve read Acts, you know the story. Paul was a murderer who hated Christians with a homicidal rage. He was the Timothy McVeigh and Hitler of his day.
Stop and think about this for a moment. How might you respond if one Sunday morning Timothy McVeigh walked into your sanctuary and sat beside you.
That’d be tough! How could God save men embodying such evil? How could these men in turn live transformed lives?
Only it’s not about them, remember? It’s about a merciful, all-powerful, radically loving God who poured all that He was as a drink offering for you and I, bearing our sin and dying a sinner’s death (though He knew no sin) so that we could be transformed.
He did it with Paul and He longs to do it with us.
But we’ve got to grab hold of it. He’s already done the work. He’s paid our debt, set us free, and washed us clean. Our past is not an inciter of shame, but a reason to rejoice. May who we were serve as a continual reminder of the grace of the God who has made us who we are.
Love this verse:
Philippians 3:13 “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,”
I’ve heard it said, God’s not interested in where you came from so much as where you’re going.
Notice, Paul said he’s straining forward. Healing and growth is rarely easy, but it is possible for all things are possible with God.
What faulty thinking do you need to release, what wounds does God need to heal, what shame do you need God to wipe away, in order to fully embrace the abundant life God has for you?
Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about ways to unpack our suitcases, rejoice in our past, and in the God of our future.
I really enjoyed this post, Jennifer. I live in New York state, and I have seen the same piety you describe among the religious peeps here. I long for the authenticity you describe, and sadly have not found it. Everyone seems to jockey for the upper hand in the churches I’ve attended.
My husband and I have always striven for authenticity. Really, we have little choice, since we have a son with autism. His quirks and peccadilloes don’t allow us to pretend to be what we’re not. Why is it that when people are open and vulnerable it brings out the defense mechanisms of others?
Longing to be accepted in the beloved,
Kathleen, I’m sorry you’ve had what sounds to be a painful experience. Sadly, even the best of churches are filled with sinners, and even the spirit-led Christians act like heathens on occassion. Praise God that His love never wavers and His acceptance never wanes. He who sees into the deepest recesses of our hearts, who knows us intimately, will never turn us away. May God grant you authentic friendships in your current body or bring you to a loving, authentic church. And when we strive to be authentic, may we look not toward the reactions of man, who, sadly, may misjudge us, but instead, to the approval of our Heavenly Father who longs to embrace us in His love.
What a great reminder, Jennifer. Looking at what we WILL be rather than where we’re from – and being authentic. Thanks, dearie.
You hit me right where I’m at! Thanks so much for your beautiful words, and for being a part of re-affirming what God’s been teaching me!
Lizzie, I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Love how God reinforces whatever He wants us to learn/do, so it’s clear. LIke the Bible says, “Whether you turn to the right or the left you will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.;”
Reading that God’s grace covers us and that we can move to a future with confidence is like a breath of fresh air! Love the post!
I’m glad you enjoyed it, Jessica! Thanks for stopping by!