Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Come as you are...

The grunge band Nirvana in the early nineties had a hit single called Come as you Are. When I started going to a community of faith that I’ve been trying out I talked to one of the ladies there and basically did a spew over where I thought church was needing to move to, a conviction that we should be able to come as we are, broken messes, that we should be honest with one another about where we are at, and grow in love and acceptance of our brokenness.

I believe that the death bed of religion in being laid as I speak, that religion has created great harm in what should be the most powerful truth ever, that Jesus saves, no matter where we are at, Jesus saves. That Jesus accepts us no matter what crap we have done, and what mess we have got ourselves in. Religion is at its deathbed because it attempts to conform us to a standard, a human standard, rather than allowing us to be transformed by the power of the Holy spirit and the saving act of Jesus Christ.

The group of Christians I am involved in have all been through similar stuff, we are disoriented, disenchanted and messed up. We do not think that Christianity is living up to what God called us to be. Many of us have dealt with that church culture tries to mold us into an image. This image is a visade, an image that we are to fit into. On Sundays we revolved ourselves around this image, we were told if we did things in certain ways, acted in certain ways and lived in certain ways, we would be Christian. We were made to feel that any sense of doubt was wrong, are we were told that if we sinned that we were not part of the “in group.” Others of us have lived as “sold out christians”, we have given our all to church communties, only to be burned by controlling leaders. Others of us have seen the hurt caused to Christians who have not been accepted because they did not fit into a certain mold, they acted in ways deemed unacceptable, they didn’t believe “orthodoxy” (Which really was the theology/ culture that we were used to, and was not what really Jesus taught), and walked the journey by a different rhythm so they were made to feel like they were wrong, we called them heretics, left them out in the rain, to fend for themselves, then wondered why no one wants in.

I don’t believe that this is the way we are to be, that God calls us to look different to be authentic, to be radical communities of faith that show Christ to those around us, in real authentic ways. The story of the gospels shows this mentality, this way of life. Mathew, the tax collector, gets called by Jesus to follow him, and Mathew immediately gets up and follows. How does Mathew act to show that he is a follower, he organizes a party! Who does he invite, the Pharasees, those who seem so sorted out on the outside and follow the letter of the law? No he invites the sinners, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, those who show that they are messed up, those who are seen as unworthy by the religious authorities and not deserving of salvation. They dine with Jesus, the ultimate source of meaning, of love. They get to dine with the one who will provide salvation to everyone, to all those who are lost.

I believe that Jesus wants us to come as we are, come as we are to the foot of the cross, in all our brokenness and he wants us to come to know him.

Philip Yancey in his book What’s so Amazing about Grace argues that Alcoholics Anonymous may provide the best model of the church that we have ever known or seen. The model of AA is simple, you come as you are, a broken person, and are offered the encouragement and help of other people. In the programme there are twelve steps for recovery, the last step is that during your will you will commit to providing help and encouragement for other people in their place of need. The Twelfth step is the most important. It has been found that all those people who commit to the twelfth step end up being the ones who come out of their alcohol addictions and become whole people.

As a Christian, I know that I’m a broken individual, I still suffer from pain at my brokenness, from sin that and addiction that I still live in. But I offer my life to the service of others around me, living to help those, living a life of self-sacrifice. I realise that as a person I still need help, I need community because no man is an Island. I need community to help guide me and I need to be part of something bigger than myself. The church is the only place I know that can provide true community can provide redemption, this is because God is there, because broken people are there who have seen the work of God in their life and they have changed.

Tom Duncan spoke at KBC a couple of weeks back. Tom shared his story of his journey through his life. Tom and his wife Kat work with Urban Vision, a group of Christians committed to serving the poor on their own turf. He shared his story of frustration with the Christian church here in New Zealand when he arrived back in from the Philippines. The Church he saw in New Zealand was not the group of radical Christ followers he expected, but people who lived in comfort, who were not willing to become uncomfortable for the mission of God. He asked why the church was like this to a pastor, who said that the reason was that the church needed to be sensitive to the needs of those within the church. The problem is when he looked at the church, he saw a church that was basically white and middle class, with no diversity. Urban Vision is thoroughly different from traditional church, its mission is to the poor, the outcast. Kat recently told the story of how her and a group of prostitutes went out together and had dinner at the James Cook – in my heart this is what the mission of the church is about – for me this resembles the image of Mathews Party in Luke 5: 27-31, being on the same turf as the lost, the lonely, the poor, both celebrating and commiserating with them. Living out the reality of Christ’s love to all those who need him. Rather than being judgemental in our actions to those around us.

I have a deep feeling that this is important, I do not think that by hiding away and being separate from the world helps us at all. In fact, if we do not challenge ourselves to be Christ-like and reach out to the lost we can become exactly the same as the world, just more judgemental and more prideful. If we do not learn to be in relationship with God and follow Gods calling we are very likely to just fall into the same habits as the world. We become slaves to consumerism, we become selfish, we become angry, we become gossipers (“Oh that person is doing this, how sinful is that” – which is also judgemental! – but of course its done out of love!), We shape people in our own image rather than encouraging them to be shaped in the image of Christ.

At this point in time in my life I am posturing myself differently than I did in the past. I believe that I am called to the community of faith to be a source of hope for those around me. I want to live out a christlike life and I believe that this community will challenge me to do just that. I want to be a salt and light to urban twenty and thirty year olds, being relevant to the culture that I live in, sharing the gospel in a language and posture that those urbanites understand. I believe for this to happen, we have to model authentic community, authentic life together. We have to be willing to get past the shallow, inauthentic community that has been so programmed into us. We have to model Christ in this community and live it out in the deepest possible way. This is the challenge for all of us, no matter where we are.

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