In the Path of the Storm

We enjoyed some much needed vacation last week, and arrived home from paradise on Tuesday. Then we watched live on social media and television the next day while another piece of paradise just down the road from us was pulverized by Hurricane Michael.

This was a hurricane that was hardly on anyone’s agenda only a few days before it formed as a tropical depression in the Gulf of Mexico. It escalated quickly into a monster storm, leaving little time for thousands of people in that area to make the decision to evacuate north. The storm continued to increase in intensity all the way up until the time it made landfall on Wednesday afternoon as the strongest hurricane on record ever to hit the Florida panhandle.

As I write this, we are just now getting a glimpse of the levels of destruction, from familiar vacation sites in Panama City Beach down the highway some toward lesser known Port St. Joe and Apalachicola. And of course, southeast Alabama and southwest Georgia were hammered pretty good, and now South and North Carolina are getting hit with more rain, even as they continue to try to recover from the flooding from Hurricane Florence a few weeks earlier.

For me, it’s not hard to put myself in their place, seeing that I was on the beach myself the day before this hurricane came ashore (even if it was more than 1,800 miles away). We had a couple of hurricanes in the vicinity where we were, but they stayed to the west of us and, other than some particularly high tides that were fun to plan in, we never really saw any effects of those storms. I guess we dodged a bullet, or two.

In these parts, we have plenty of experience with dodging bullets, especially as it comes to tornadoes, which are obviously more arbitrary and usually arrive with much less warning than a hurricane. Often, one house is left standing and another completely destroyed; one family escapes unscathed while another faces loss of property and even loss of life. And every time, it makes you wonder why some are in the path of the storm, while others are missed.

Jesus once told the story–in rather abrupt terms–about a similarly tragic event that had taken place in Jerusalem. That story, recorded in Luke’s gospel (13:4-5), mentioned that eighteen people had died when the tower of Siloam had fallen on them. Jesus asked, “Do you think those people were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?”  (He answered His own question with an emphatic “No!”)

His point was, it could happen to anyone. You may have survived Michael, or Florence, or a tornado that came near your neighborhood, but there’s no guarantee you will the next one. As Jesus stated elsewhere, the rain (and towers…and, even hurricanes) fall on the just and the unjust. His bigger application was summed up when He concluded: “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

In other words, since we’ll never know the exact forecast about when or where the storms–or falling towers–will come, then we had better be ready and right with God if and when that time comes.

I am praying for those in Michael’s path who are trying to piece their lives back together this weekend. Perhaps we can get a group together in the coming weeks to go down and spend a few days helping out.

I’m praying for you also, that you will take advantage of the gift of life God has given you today and live for Him.

On Woodchucks, Hercules and Condominiums

I came across an old email recently that was one of those comical Top Ten lists…with a point. It’s not intended as this week’s obligatory guilt-trip, I promise, but it could be a helpful reminder that you may be missing something. Enjoy.

Top 10 Signs You May Not Be Reading Your Bible Enough

10) You think Abraham, Isaac & Jacob may have had a few hit songs during the ’60’s.
9) You open to the Gospel of Luke and a World War II Savings Bond falls out.
8) You thought French Peas really did guard the walls of Jericho.
7) Your favorite Old Testament patriarch is Hercules.
6) A small family of woodchucks has taken up residence in the Psalms.
5) You become frustrated because Charlton Heston isn’t listed in the concordance.
4) Catching the kids reading the Song of Solomon, you demand, “Who gave you this stuff?”
3) You think the minor prophets worked in the quarries.
2) You keep falling for it every time when pastor tells you to turn to First Condominiums.

And the No. 1 sign you may not be reading your Bible enough:
1) The kids keep asking too many questions about your usual bedtime story, “Jonah the Shepherd Boy and His Ark of Many Colors.” 

So, why don’t you move the woodchucks out of the way and commit to spending consistent time in God’s word this week. All joking aside, God’s word is God’s way to reveal God’s will in your life. And you just won’t ever get it, spiritually speaking, until you regularly spend time reading and meditating on Scripture.

Bring along your Bible and come join us this Sunday as we explore God’s word together.  But be careful…He just might change your life!

Reminders as We Relaunch Our Groups

Last year about this time as we ended ReGroup, I wrote some challenges in this space for each of us as we headed into another year of Small Group ministry. I read it again this week and decided it would be appropriate to share it again, as a reminder of what each of us need to do to be about our Father’s business in our groups.

Whether you are in an existing group that relaunched this week, or you are a part of a new group, I hope you will prayerfully consider each of these five requests and challenges:

1) Embrace change. Some things may be different, and though that may make you a little uncomfortable, it’s not a bad thing. Sometimes we need to be pushed out of our comfort zones, especially if we want to grow. Ask the Lord what changes He wants to bring to your life that will move you to a new place of growth with Him.

2) Commit yourself to a group. And when I say commit, I don’t mean commit, if nothing else comes up. This is especially relevant when it comes to your family life, where there are so many distractions and activities competing for your time. Your children need to see your priorities lived out, without compromise. (For that matter, they already do; just make sure you are living the priorities your profess.) Commitment is vital to your spiritual growth.

3) Seek to serve, not be served.  We live in a consumer society that always expects others to meet our needs. And most of the time, we come away disappointed. Go into your new group looking for needs to meet and people to encourage–and watch God meet your needs through that process. “Ask not what your group can do for you, but what you can do for your group.”

4) Invite your friends. One of the main purposes of our groups is outreach, and yet this is a constant struggle for most of our groups. When we don’t reach out and invite friends, our groups get inwardly focused and lose their sense of mission. Look around your neighborhood, the ball park or dance class, and extend an invitation to your unchurched friends to come try out your group. For that matter, look around you in worship on Sunday morning at Shelby Crossings and invite those folks to your group. You may just be surprised at who is waiting on an invitation.

5) Pray. Make no mistake, this is a spiritual endeavor, not just a feel-good, self-help gathering of friends. Ask the Lord to work, in your group and in your life. Ask Him to send the right people, and send you to the right people to invite. Ask Him to use your group to impact your community for the gospel. And then watch Him answer your prayers. I can’t wait to see what the Lord has in store for us as we gather together as His body around our community in small groups.

Watch What You’re Doing

Someone once called the late great Christian rocker and contemporary Christian music pioneer Larry Norman the “original Christian hippie.” He was a pretty radical guy and was a part of the counter-cultural revival of the 1960’s and ’70’s often referred to as the “Jesus Movement.” I was a big fan of his back in the day, and even had a few 8-track tapes of his music.

In 1977 he recorded a song called “Watch What You’re Doing.” It was about the choices we make, and the consequences of those choices. It wasn’t your average Christian song, to say the least. The opening lyrics of the song went like this:

Mama killed a chicken, thought it was a duck,
Put him on the table with his legs sticking up.
Papa broke his glasses when he fell down drunk,
Tried to drown the kitty cat, turned out to be a skunk.
You gotta watch what you’re doing, didn’t you know,
You gotta watch where you’re going, didn’t you know.

I thought of that song this week when I heard the news report out of Connecticut about a woman who mistakenly lit a stick of dynamite during a power outage, thinking it was a candle. At first I assumed this was some sort of click-bait fake news story because it was a little too unbelievable to be true, but a few clicks revealed that it really happened.

After thunderstorms knocked out the power in her Bridgeport, Connecticut home last Thursday, the 30-year old mother of two went to Home Depot to try to buy emergency lighting. The store was closed, so when she got back home, she went into her basement and grabbed what she believed were candles. Instead, they were quarter sticks of dynamite left behind by former residents of the house. When she lit the dynamite, there was an explosion and she suffered serious injuries to her hands and face. She was taken to a nearby hospital, and the last reports suggested that she may lose her fingers. Fortunately, her children were not hurt.

It’s easy to laugh at such a dumb thing, especially from a distance, but I don’t want to make light of someone’s tragedy. It does seem like it would have fit into one of the silly illustrations that Larry Norman included in his song. And the message of that song is all the more applicable: you better watch what you’re doing…even if you’re in the dark!

All of us will make choices this week. Some will be about as dumb as lighting a stick of dynamite for lighting, or trying to drown a skunk. Be assured, “your sins will find you out,” and “you will reap what you sow.” Or, perhaps we can make smart choices and wise decisions based on God’s word that will keep us from facing harmful consequences, and keep things from blowing up in our face.

For instance, you can allow lust to have its way in your life, or you can choose moral purity, and the blessings that go with it. You can choose the worldly pull toward greed and materialism, and live a discontented life, or decide to be a giver, and watch God pour out His provision on your life.You can escalate an argument, and do harm to meaningful relationships, or you can practice self control, offer grace and choose to build up instead of tear down. You can hold grudges–and feel justified in doing so–or you can make the decision to forgive, like Jesus did, and release both the offender and yourself from the bondage of bitterness. And on and on the decisions go.

By God’s grace, you and I have many choices before us this week. To borrow from the words of the knight at the end of the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, let me encourage you to “choose wisely.” And along the way, be careful to “watch what you’re doing,” and stay away from skunks and dynamite.

I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

Why I Believe in Small Groups

We had our first week of ReGroup this past Wednesday, and though I hated to miss it (for the birth of my newest grandson), I heard it was a great time. More than anything, I hope that you caught a vision for what our small groups can be in the year ahead, and that you were challenged and encouraged to be about our Father’s business in the co-mission the Lord has given us at Shelby Crossings.

We will have another week of ReGroup this coming Wednesday, and I sure hope you can be there. (See below for details.) This is such a crucial time for us, as we take a step back from our regular routine and regroup–to “sharpen the saw” so that we can be better at doing small group ministry in the year ahead. It’s also a time for re-grouping our existing groups, as we reshuffle the cards a bit for our existing groups and launch a few new groups along the way. That is always an exciting time for us as a church.

Let me say it as plainly as I can:  I believe that small groups are the most important ministry in the church. We often say that groups are where church happens at Shelby Crossings, and I believe that is true. I’d like to give you a few reasons why I believe so much in small groups.

First, they are biblical. The New Testament blueprint of church structure was much more in line with small groups than the large group congregational gathering that defines much of the modern church. Over and over in the Book of Acts (which describes the early church in its embryonic period) the operative term for where the church gathered was “house to house.” That is, the church thrived in homes more than in sanctuaries; if you know church history, you know that it was the 4th century before there was any such thing as a church building. As someone has said, the church was from its beginning a “living room religion,” and I think it still functions best in that setting.

Additionally, I think small groups are the most effective and efficient means to do what every church is supposed to do: make disciples. Christian discipleship happens best in the context of interpersonal relationships, not auditoriums filled with audiences. Sitting in a circle with friends, learning God’s word together, is much more interactive than sitting in rows looking at the back of someone’s head, listening to someone on a stage. When fellow followers of Christ are there to pray for you, encourage you, support you, and hold you accountable, you are much more likely to grow in your walk with the Lord. Plus, a small groups of caring friends who share a common bond in Christ–where you can get real with one another–is the environment where genuine community is best experienced. 

And speaking of community, another reason I like small groups is their location and purpose: they are in the community, and for the community. That is, they are not building centered, but community centered. Our Lord’s Great Commission called us to go into all the world and make disciples. But many have reversed that commission from a “go and tell” to an invitation to “come and hear” at the church building. When we meet in homes in our neighborhoods, we are better positioned to reach out to our neighbors where they are. As the old saying goes, if you want to catch fish, you need to go where the fish are. And we who have been called to be “fishers of men” need to begin our mission in our communities where the fish are hungry, and the fields are white unto harvest.

Now none of that is to say that I don’t believe in our church gatherings on Sunday to worship together and hear from God’s word. I do, and I can’t wait to see you all on Sunday as we come together as His people to honor Him. But one without the other is an incomplete church, and leads to an incomplete and immature church body.

Some have pointed out that in Acts 20:20 the church met “publicly and from house to house.” That “20/20 Vision” of church life reveals a both/and of public congregational worship and small groups in the home. I remember hearing someone refer to it as the two wings of church. Both wings are necessary, and if you try to fly with just wing, you will have a hard time getting off the ground, and you will be destined to crash.

I can’t wait to see what the Lord has in store for us in the year ahead as our small groups continue to make disciples, care for our members, and reach out to our community. I do hope to see you at ReGroup this coming Wednesday, and I look forward to seeing you as we gather together for worship on Sunday.

Following the Crowd

A year ago at this time I was coming home from a wonderful week of ministry in Brazil with our missionary partners Believer’s Bridge. I am so glad to be a part of a mission-sending church, and was reminded of that again this past Sunday during our Missions Moment in the worship service.

I was reminded of that when a photo popped up on my Facebook feed this week of a “memory” from last year, when I was preaching at a church in Belem, Brazil. There beside me in the photo was an interpreter to translate what I was saying into Portuguese, the language which most of the members spoke. I remember hoping while I was preaching that the interpreter was doing a better job communicating in Portuguese than I was in English. And that reminded me of a story I heard of another missionary who struggled with the language barrier when he was new on the field.

The new missionary was in Venezuela for the first time, and it’s time for him to visit one of the local churches, so he sits in the front row. So as not to make a fool of himself, he decides to pick someone out of the crowd to imitate, and chooses the man sitting next to him in the front pew. As they sing, the man claps his hands, so the missionary recruit claps too. When the man stands up to pray, the missionary recruit stands up too. When the man sits down, the missionary sits down.
Later in the service, the man next to him stands up again, so the missionary stands up too. Suddenly a hush falls over the entire congregation. A few people gasp. The missionary looks around and sees that no one else is standing. So he sits down.
After the service ends, the missionary recruit greets the pastor. “I take it you don’t speak Spanish,” the preacher says. The missionary replies, “No, not very good yet. Is it that obvious?”
“Well, yes,” the preacher says. “I announced that the Acosta family had a newborn baby boy, and I asked the proud father to please stand up.” Oops!
We all get into trouble like that every now and then when we find ourselves following the crowd. It’s so easy just to go along with those around us, instead of making our own way.  Or better yet, following the Lord’s way. As Christ-followers, we need to be reminded sometimes that Jesus is our model, the example we are to follow to live out our faith. And we’ll never go wrong if you choose to imitate Him in the way we live our life.
Think about that this week. How would your life be different if your actions and your attitudes truly reflected those of the Savior whom you claim to serve? Are you more like the world you’ve been called out of, or the Lord who has called you to follow Him?
I’m praying for you this week, that your faith will be genuine and that your walk with God will be evident to all those around you.
TCASC ePistleThe e-newsletter of The Church at Shelby Crossings – 08.31.18

How You See Church

It was good to be back at Shelby Crossings last Sunday, even if I wasn’t quite ready for prime time to preach just yet. (I will do that this week, Lord willing.) I did enjoy the worship and message, especially with limited responsibility, but I would have to say what blessed me the most was just being with my church family, and hearing all the kind expressions of love and encouragement.

I couldn’t help but think of an analogy I have often used, about how some people see “church” and how it affects what they do when they do attend. It has been my observation that many people view church as something you “go to,” at a certain time and place. Now I understand that it is helpful that our church gathers at a predictable place (532 George Roy Parkway) and time (9:00 and 10:30 each Sunday) but we have to resist the idea of thinking that the place and time equals the church. We don’t go to church, we are the church–all week long, wherever we are.

Likewise, how we view what we do when we do congregate together is crucial to how we do it. Some people see church as a performance on the stage that one observes from the crowd. As such, they consider themselves as merely members of an audience instead of part of a church body. Accordingly, when the service ends, you would reasonably expect them to quickly gather their belongings and head to their cars to go home. There is really no attachment to their fellow audience members.

This would be similar to how many of us would view going to a movie theater. There is a particular “show” that we have paid to see, and we watch it for our entertainment value. We really have no interest in interacting with the people around us; we are here to see a flick, and maybe eat a little popcorn along the way. Those of us who are especially extroverted might consider making a brief comment about the movie to someone coming out of the same theater on the way to the car, but that is still pretty unlikely. We aren’t there for the people; we are there for the show.

You could also use a concert or sporting event in that analogy. Those in attendance see themselves mostly as spectators (or fans), though the environment of a game where you are surrounded by fellow fans of the same team does allow for some social interaction. I specifically remember being so caught up in a moment at a UAB football game last season that I found myself high-fiving several people I did not know after an unlikely blocked field goal on the last play of the game preserved a Blazer homecoming win. 

Still, for the most part, whether it is a movie, a concert, or a football game, we understand that we really don’t have that much of a connection with the people who share the role of audience member with us. But that is not how church was ever intended to be in the first place, and should never be now.
The environment of authentic church life as defined by Scripture is that of an extended family, not of an audience. In fact, there is no such thing as an “audience” in church. We are never mere spectators, we are always participants, and we are there as much for the horizontal interaction with our fellow “called out ones” –which is what ekklesia, the Greek word for church, means–as we are for the vertical relationship we have with God. Let’s face it: if we were just there to worship God, we could do that in our own prayer closet at home. If we were there only to hear from His word, we all have access to His truth and don’t need to come to a building to read it.

There’s something more than hearing or watching involved in church. And that something is genuine Christian fellowship–from another Greek word used often in the New Testament, koinonia, which comes from a word meaning “to share” or “to have in common.” That fellowship is defined by the interdependent “one another” commonality that we share with each other. (Acts 2:42-47) As the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians, we are members of one another. That’s fellowship.

I remember a former pastor of mine saying that “fellowship” is two fellows in the same ship. And what is that ship? It’s what we have in common, a shared relationship with the God who created us, through His Son Jesus Christ. That common bond is what makes us family, and when we come together as the called out ones to share fellowship together, we are essentially having a family reunion. 
With that in mind, I can’t imagine someone going to a family gathering, finding a seat without acknowledging those around them, and never speaking to or welcoming fellow members of the family. Likewise, it would be hard to fathom someone attending such a reunion and then running to the door as soon as a final prayer or greeting was offered, without ever interacting with those in the same family. And yet, some people do just that many Sundays.
So, I guess the question is, how do you see church? As a performance, where you are a member of an audience? Or as a family gathering, where you come together to meet with those whom you share the same experience of having been gloriously saved by the gospel? Your understanding of what church is will determine how you act when you get there.
I am grateful to be a part of a church family of real people, living out real life together, gathering to worship a real God, and hearing real truth for our real world. And why would I ever want to miss gathering with a group of people like that every chance I get?

What’s Important

An ABC News story on Good Morning America a month of so back generated a lot of attention, and as you would probably expect, quite a bit of social media sarcasm. The story was about a mother whose child died when she left it in a hot car in Texas seven years ago, who now dedicates her life to preventing any more “hot car fatalities.”

The part of the story that got everyone’s attention was the reporter’s advice at the end to help parents avoid such a tragedy. She shared an acronym, which included a helpful hint for parents to put “something important” in the back seat with the child so you wouldn’t forget it, and included examples such as your cell phone, wallet, work badge or handbag.

And everybody who heard it turned their head like a dog hearing a high pitched sound and asked in unison, “Something important?”

I know it is hard to fathom a parent completely forgetting his or her child and leaving it in a hot car, though sadly it happens dozens of times a year in our country. And that is just those who have tragic outcomes that end up getting reported. No telling how many more times the parent or someone else remembers in time and rescues the child from serious hard, and no one ever hears about it.

And as much as I believe I would never do anything like that, I have done plenty of other absent-minded dumb things in my life, and we should all be careful not to say that could never happen to us. For that matter, I once left one of my children at Hardee’s, but that was because I didn’t do a head count when we left and only had five in my van. And I have never been able to live that down. (But, I must remind people that Jesus’ parents left Him in Jerusalem once, when He was twelve, and He turned out all right.)

I don’t want to make light of such a serious and tragic situation as the loss of a child, but that one “helpful hint” from the ABC reporter is what stood out, to me and millions of others Americans who responded: we should put something important with our child, so we don’t forget our child–as if the child in and of itself is not important. 

If you need to leave your phone or wallet with your child so you don’t forget the child, you probably ought not to be parenting anyway. More than anything, that suggests a mixed up set of priorities, if your phone or wallet is what you can’t do without. Lord, help us if we have allowed either to move ahead of our children in our “what’s important” list.

On a similar note, I saw a pretty funny tweet a few weeks back, that had a similar sentiment. It was a .gif of someone with a whimsical or confused look on his face, who was supposed to be a pastor, and the caption read: “When you realize there are always a bunch of Bibles in the lost and found but never any cell phones…” Ouch!
Okay, so here’s the deal. What is it that is really important to you? That is, what are your priorities? Not just what you say they are, but what your life says they are? Are your children more important than your phones or wallet, and I’m not just talking about which ones you leave in the car, but which ones you give the most attention to? And, is it easier for you to get by if you lose your Bible than if you lost your phone?
Most importantly, I hope your first priority is to “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness,” trusting that everything else will fall into place after that. That’s how you truly understand what’s important.

On a personal note, thanks so much for your prayers for me in the week ahead, as I face surgery for my prostate cancer. We appreciate all the love and support you have shared with our family over the past few months, and we are so grateful for each of you.

The Source of Peace

Many people consider Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the famous British pastor of the late 1800’s, to be the greatest preacher since the apostle Paul. Spurgeon, who was referred to as the “Prince of Preachers,” pastored the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London for 38 years. That is especially significant seeing that he passed away at the age of 57.

He was the first “mega-church” pastor, and was also a prolific author. What many people do now know about Spurgeon was that he openly admitted to often struggling with depression. It is a matter of record that on more than one occasion he was so overcome with feelings of worthlessness, depression and despondency that he left his pulpit in London to go to a resort in France where he stayed for two or three months at a time. Often he would spend days resting on his couch because he was so depressed, fearful and discouraged.

There is a chapter in his classic book Lectures to My Students called “The Minister’s Fainting Fits,” which Warren Wiersbe says every pastor should read at least once a year because of Spurgeon’s honesty about the pressures that men and women in the ministry face. He offerered as one of his examples none other than Elijah, “a man just like us,” whose life and ministry we have been examining in our messages this summer.
You may be surprised some of the names of those who would join Spurgeon in battling depression. People like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Tolstoy experienced it. Abraham Lincoln waged a lifelong battle with depression, as did Winston Churchill, who referred to it as “my black dog.” Sixteenth century Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross famously wrote of the “dark night of the soul” which he experienced. Even the great Protestant reformer Martin Luther dealt with deep depression.

Last Sunday’s message really seemed to have struck a cord in our church body and the story of Elijah struggling with burnout and depression resonated with so many of you. Most of us can certainly relate to great men of God like Spurgeon and Luther, and Bible “heroes” like Elijah and Jonah, who have feet of clay, and go through hard times like the rest of us. (If you haven’t heard the message, you can find it online with all of our other messages here.)

Depression has risen to epidemic proportions in our nation, and no one is immune. It is not a willful, chosen state of mind, nor is it a sin. It can’t be dealt with by just telling someone to “cheer up.” I remember seeing a sign one time that said, “They said to me: Cheer up, things could be worse. So I cheered up and sure enough things go worse!”

Often depression is a signal that something is wrong and that we need help. Or, more specifically, that we need hope. And that’s where we as a church come in. As much as the issue sometimes must be treated clinically, by doctors and psychiatrists, with therapy and medicine, ultimately depression is a soul issue. To treat the emotional side and neglect the spiritual side, is nothing short of malpractice.
God wired us, just the way we are, including our body, soul, mind and spirit. He made our emotions, and He understands the mountain tops and valleys we experience. His word are full of both. We are all created in the image of God, which means that at our core we are spiritual beings. And God is interested in our whole selves, and He wants to make sure that our selves are whole.

That was the message from Sunday: that Elijah needed to get some rest, that he needed to rethink his disoriented perspective and focus on the truth, and that he needed to hear from God. Ultimately, the source of His peace would be his relationship with the God who loved him.

I know there are no simple answers for the complex problems of mental health, and the last thing the world needs is simplistic cliches from those of us who follow Christ. But we would do our friends and family–and ourselves–a great disservice if we did not point people to the only real source of peace, Jesus Christ.

That is our purpose, and that is our mission. May the Lord help us to do it obediently, and authentically, and sensitively.  Thank you for your continued support and prayers. I am praying for you this week, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

Warts and All

One of the over-arching desires for our ministry at The Church at Shelby Crossings is that we would “get real.” Whatever we do, we seek to cut through the artificial and superficial to relate to God and to one another in a sincere and genuine way. That’s true for our worship, our small groups, and all of our relationships.
No pretense. No posing. No hypocrisy. Just real faith, in a real God, in real life.
Get real is a common expression in our generation. We don’t have to define it; we know well what it means. But sometimes getting real means getting “messy.” Life is hard, and when we take the step to take off our masks and cut through the surface-level layers of image-protection–and truly live in the abounding grace of our God–it makes us vulnerable and scares us to death. But it’s worth the risk, I promise.
There’s another common expression, passed down from years gone by, which is a little more earthy than cool:  warts and all.  Like a wart, getting real is not very pretty sometimes. But we must always resist the temptation to cover things over and act like everything’s fine when it’s not. We are imperfect people, in process, seeking to “get real” with ourselves, with one another, and most importantly, with God.
We in the church can be sure of one thing: the world is checking us out, not expecting that we would be perfect, but seeing if we are real. There is no greater turn-off to an unchurched world than artificial, hypocritical people, especially in church.  They want to see substance, sincerely, authenticity. And often, they judge by our level of authenticity, how real they think our God is.
So, instead of acting like we’ve got it together, maybe we would all do well to work together to get it together, together. That’s what the body of Christ is all about–living under God’s grace and sharing in community with other imperfect people like ourselves, seeking to become all that He has called us to be.  nd that starts with getting real with Him…warts and all.
My prayer for each of us is that we’ll experience the real-life joy of a real relationship with a very real God, even in the midst of all the real struggles and pain that we all face each week. God knows where we are, and He sees beyond our masks, and desires to meet us where we are and “get real” with us today.
May His sufficient grace be poured out in your life this week.