I don’t like powdered eggs. Do you? I’m not sure I’ve met anyone who can say that they like powdered eggs. I mean, really like them. They’ll tolerate them. But always with a grimace.
We don’t like them for a very simple reason: they’re not real.
Now, I know that powdered eggs are some kind of strange version of eggs that were once, in some alternate universe, real. But that doesn’t matter. They’re still a shadow of the real thing. They have no value. No taste. And after you eat them you just feel…ripped off.
It’s the same feeling you get when you’re around certain people, isn’t it? I mean, let’s just be honest for a minute. We expect a measure of superficiality from that car salesman who’s willing to say anything it takes to get you into the seat of the new Toyota. Or perhaps that well polished politician campaigning for reelection. But what about the friend who is always unloading their problems because you’ll listen, but never really interested in listening to yours? What about that coworker who casually smiles and agrees with everything you say, but complains about you when your back is turned?
Friends, what about authenticity in the church?
Let’s talk about that for a moment.
If there was ever a place we should expect authenticity it should be in the halls of faith. Yet more and more people are rejecting the church. Why? There are probably many reasons, but one of them is a simple lack of realness found in those who identify as Christians. Church feels fake. Manufactured. Overproduced.
Like powdered eggs, any derivative of the real thing is lost beneath the superficial shell we create to package our beliefs.
It’s not about coffee shops in the lobby or glamorized modern worship. What this world really needs is genuine people who have been radically altered by the grace of a loving God, and who are willing to model that grace in their own lives and share it with those outside the church.
Even when it’s ugly.
We long to be around the kind of people who are willing to show their vulnerability and who are honest about their struggles. Church isn’t a place to put your game face on and pretend everything is okay. How did we get to be like this, anyway? Life is messy, and none of us have it all figured out all of the time. We are called to embrace each other with open arms, and yet as we talk about love and forgiveness we’re harboring things like animosity and fear in our hearts. We isolate ourselves from those who really need to hear the message of Christ the most because we are caught up in our own stories, our own dogmas, our own convoluted prejudices. We even isolate ourselves from each other, though brothers and sisters in faith, which is a form of emotional starvation.
Because we need each other to survive.
The Christian life was never guaranteed to be easy. As a matter of fact, it was promised to be the complete opposite. Don’t listen to those who say otherwise. The Prosperity Gospel has twisted many minds in regard to the kind of life we are called to live. Its a long, hard road that requires companionship and devotion to endure. But it is supposed to be authentic.
So what does that mean?
Authentic does not mean perfection. “Blessed are those who are perfect” was never written in scripture, but often we live as if this is a tenement of our faith. The idea that we have to act like our lives are somehow better than they are is utter garbage, and the world can see right through it. Are we afraid that if we show our humanity that it somehow voids our testimony? Do we really think the gospel is that weak? On the contrary. God meets us where we are at the moment, and not only at the point of salvation. Our lives are an ongoing testament to the grace and presence of God, who is working within us to restore what has been lost. But the completion of our restoration will not be fully realized until He returns. When we try to clothe ourselves with a false perfection, we are not only muting our testimony to the world around us, but we are limiting God from actually perfecting His work within us.
We are not moved or influenced by perfect people. Go back to the stories you love to read or the movies you love to watch. We are inspired by those who, despite their humanity, rise above their circumstances and limitations. Not by hiding them, but by embracing them and in time overcoming them. Think about the men and women in the bible who are the most memorable. David. Moses. Peter. Not one of them was perfect. Not many of their limitations were hidden. And yet each one of them changed the world around them.
It would seem that God honors the authentic heart. He sought out David to be king of Israel, called him a man after His own heart. All of this knowing that one day David would do some pretty heinous things.
We should be open to change. We are instructed to forgive others in the same way that we have been forgiven. Holding grudges and carrying resentment in our heart is a sure way to hit a wall in our development as people of faith. It’s also not healthy. In the same way, our repentance must be authentic. When we ask God, or our neighbor, for forgiveness, we need to do so with the intention that we will change our behavior.
The Christian life is one of change. We are moving from a former way of understanding to a renewed mind, and our behavior and life choices should also evolve in accordance to this change of mindset. If we look just like the rest of the world does, then what’s the point?
False comfort. There is more heartache, devastation and suffering today than I can ever remember in my lifetime. Families are broken. Lives upturned. Most of us are carrying some kind of wound, whether we would admit it or not. Financial uncertainty, grief over a lost loved one, physical trauma…whatever it is, some of us are not doing well. But so many of us refuse to engage when we see another person hurting. Or we offer a token word: “I hope things get better” or “Hang in there”. It would be better to not say anything at all.
Seeking to bring comfort to others is part of the deal.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3
Be willing to just sit with someone who is hurting. Let them cry, or better yet, cry with them. Listen to their story. Don’t just offer to pray for them, and certainly not until you have a better understanding of their situation. Connect with them. When you do pray, make sure it’s not pious or strange. Use your own words. After all, you’re modeling a very natural conversation with your Father in heaven. Interceding on behalf of a hurting friend. What better way to show love?
Live what you say you believe. This is simple. We go to church. We participate in all the church things. But how do we live on Monday when we go back to work? How do we treat our spouse or children? I know men who have been in church all their lives who wouldn’t bat an eye at cheating someone on a business deal. I’ve heard some of the most ugly and hateful things come out of the mouth of Christians, especially in the politically charged environment we live in today. It’s shocking and it’s sad.
When we offer the Kingdom of Heaven to the world let’s make sure we’re not offering a counterfeit. Many have come in the name of Christ who never really knew Him at all, and Christianity is often misaligned and marred by politicians and others in the public eye. We must not let this happen in our own communities and circle of influence.
The best way to model integrity is to simply practice what you believe. This is the most powerful testimony there is.
Don’t be religious. Don’t walk around telling everyone how blessed you are. Keep your hallelujahs to a minimum. Don’t talk about “Gods’ will” as if we have a lifeline to knowing the mind of God in everything. We’re often too casual with the things we say, and our words have implications. Nothing closes a heart like listening to someone talk unnaturally about their faith.
Friends, our relationship with God should be the most natural thing in the world. Why do we dress it up with religious words and symbolism? Jesus certainly didn’t. He spoke with clarity and intention. He was a story-teller, and to make his point he used common images that the people listening would easily relate to and understand. When he prayed, he did so with passion and honesty. Remember, He scorned the Pharisees for the way they modeled their faith, calling them white washed tombs. They often prayed loudly and with big words, and made sure that everything they did was in sight so that they might be praised.
Jesus told us to pray in private, and he often pulled away from everyone else so that he himself could pray in solitude. He told us to give in private, as if the right hand didn’t know what the left was doing. There is a very important message here. Authenticity in the way we model of our faith was something our Lord was serious about.
Seeking the approval of others will kill authenticity. When we spend our lives worrying about what other people around us think, our faith becomes meaningless. We will not hesitate to water down the gospel in fear of offending someone. We’ll compromise our own values, or even hide what we believe. We might as well have no faith at all. This person is like a shifting wave that is blown about by the wind. Or a man who looks at himself in the mirror and quickly forgets what he looks like after he turns away.
We’ll never please those around us. It’s fruitless to try. We’ll only heap a world of hurt on top of our heads if we make this our mission, and we’ll ultimately become ineffective in our ability to influence any kind of change in the world around us.
We are called to shine and sternly warned not to compromise. Accept where you are in your walk with God. Be honest with yourself and with others. The only approval we should be seeking is that of our Lord.
“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:20-21
I’ve approached this conversation from a faith-based perspective, but these principles can be applied to almost any facet of life, whether in business, social work, team-building or anything else. Authenticity is powerful, and no matter who we are, most of us gravitate toward those people who model an authentic life. Because none of us like powdered eggs.
We crave authenticity because it’s what we were made for. Real relationships. Real passion. Real beauty. Real adventure. The spirit of this world offers us a counterfeit lifestyle, because it is in and of itself a counterfeit.
Let us seek to live a different way. Let us seek to shine.