I arrived into San Francisco to be picked up by a friend whom I hadn't seen in far too long a time. And yet, in that moment, it really didn't feel like it was years ago, more like just last week. Just last week we were inseparable. Ministry without him was just not ministry! I was his associate in three different churches and he was (and still is) one of my closest friends. And yet, in the last number of years, our paths have gone in two very different directions.
He was the best preacher I had ever heard. He could write like no one else. And he taught the Bible in a real, challenging way. His blog was getting thousands of hits weekly. He was the man until things conspired that led to a failed church plant and a broken marriage. Everyone who was with him for the ride, from church members to colleagues, disappeared. And he was left alone to pick up the pieces of his life. Is it any wonder that he has no want to be part of a church?
The conversations I had with him can be summed up in one word... Authenticity. Were people in church real, or were they just fakers living their lives so long as everything went according to their plan. True disciples stick it out through thick and thin, but where were those disciples in his life today?
My friend's situation reminds of the story of Noah... no, not the flood, but after it. He gets naked and drunk and his son laughs at him (Genesis 9:18-24). And who wouldn't laugh at dad passed out naked and drunk!? Ok, so he should have helped his father out, but did he really deserve the curse. Canaan (his grandson) would become a real thorn in the side of Israel for generations to come, and it all stems back to this one curse. So much for Noah learning about the grace of God. Grace was recevied but grace was not shown.
It seems to me that churches can be places that, instead of having an abundance of grace, have a troubling lack of grace. A friend of mine who was a pastor in a church was forced to leave his position because of the troubles he faced in his marriage. Instead of getting behind him, supporting him, and affirming him, his church let him go in his time of most need. Why do we do that?
Peter, the Apostle, would not have have survived in many of our churches today. Instead of being like Jesus and re-affirming him, we'd dump him in an all out church business meeting!
When the rubber hits the road, how authentic is our Christianity?
I am challenged by looking inwardly at myself, and looking outwardly at my church. How authentic are we?