Nobody spoils Christianity more than Christians.
Anyone who knows me well knows I say this as frequently as needed.
I say this because when the world looks at Christians, they usually see religion, not relationship. They often find hypocrisy, not hope. They sometimes discover a disconnect between our words and our actions.
How do I know? Because I have been both a participant in and witness to these misalignments.
Our words can have profound sound, but our actions can be as messy, broken and unpredictable as the lives Christ came to redeem.
This is understandable given that the church culture I grew up in was based more in dogma than grace. There was a push to look perfect, sound perfect and act perfect. After all, Jesus himself was perfect and, in the Gospel of Matthew, calls us to be perfect. I’ll come back to this.
The church was and is well meaning. But there was no space to doubt or ask the hard questions, the kind of questions that didn’t have easy answers or, for that matter, any answer. The kind of questions my seven year old daughter sometimes asks that stump me. I see her little mind spinning, genuinely seeking answers to understand the world around her and how she fits into it.
In order for us to live out our faith walk in our day-to-day lives; we need to ask hard questions while loving others on their faith walks as we seek to understand the world around us and how we fit into it.
Preach the gospel always. And if necessary, use words.
One of my favorite quotes. St. Francis of Assisi suggested that in our faith walk sometimes words are necessary. But most times, preaching the gospel has nothing to do with preaching at all. Sometimes the only encounter with Christ a stranger may have with you is the kindness in your smile or the generous act of buying coffee for the person in line behind you. Or sometimes it looks like the indignant act of standing up for the mistreated (animals included).
Talk is always cheap. St. Francis knew this. Faith is active (but to be clear, it is not performance).
Jesus was active – always moving, healing, telling stories, performing miracles, sharing meals, praying and sometimes upturning tables. He was even active about his rest. He was intentional to get away alone to commune with God the Father. Again, relationship, not religion.
In order for us to exercise our faith in real life, we have to be real about our faith.
Modern America seems to have a fear of vulnerability. We are paralyzed by the thought that if somebody sees the real me, the real mess, then my faith is a fraud.
But what if the world did see the real you, the imperfect you, the one that struggles, and the one that still seeks and despite it all, has a peace that passes understanding?
It is in our DNA to be deeply drawn to authenticity. It’s why a real sunset is more glorious than its photograph. Or why holding hands with our partner is better than watching a romantic comedy. The world wants to see real Christianity, not the Hallmark version.
Back to perfection. The word Jesus used was rooted in a meaning that conveyed integrated wholeness and unity. It was not the air-brushed, engineered, Instagrammed perfection we are fooled by today.
It was a call to be the whole version of yourself – pimples, fears and failures. Because God sees us as perfect, because we are wholly and dearly loved without condition, there is freedom to live out our faith authentically.
When we integrate our whole lives, past present and future, the struggles and the strengths, the head and the heart, the sins and the Savior, we get the full picture. We get to read the whole book. The Bible says God is the author and perfector of our faith.
Our stories are beautifully written, but do we really want them read with some of its chapters ripped out?
Faith in real life means being real about our faith. Ask questions. Be kind. Don’t shrink back from vulnerability. This is what Jesus did. The world needs people who need Jesus. Now, more than even, the call to model real faith has never been louder.