Most of Us

Most of us are more similar than different. Thank God!

Medicine depends on that truth for research and application of breakthrough treatments. A surgeon expects to find the heart in the same place for every patient. Such studied and learned expectation applies for every organ, vein, a brain neural pathway, and all that is wrapped up under skin. Any exceptions are called anomalies. It’s comforting and helpful to know that we are not alone, that when we cut we all bleed. Point made.

The similarity is equally true in our shared experience of life, love, struggles, psychology, faith or lack thereof; and every other human predicament, disappointment, and joy under the sun.

I was reminded of the shared universal themes listening to Ed Sheeran’s latest album, Substract, released today. He’s been through quite a trial over the past few years. Challenged in court for plagiarizing music (he won both cases), his wife diagnosed with a cancerous tumor while pregnant, and a best friend of thirty-one dying. Tough circumstances, no matter how rich and famous you are. The entire album consists of songs describing his struggle and journey through these rollercoaster times. Raw stripped down acoustics, eloquent lyrics, rough and unpolished without time lapses to smooth, heal, or make pretty.

“How refreshing!” Read the comments beneath the songs on YouTube. So many identifying with the pain of a lost friend, the struggle with dark days, the shared emotions when life does not go as planned.

Speaking our muddled reality is cathartic, messy, and often tough (or impossible) to answer. Yet, many of us bottle up all the untidy and awkward bits. As a friend says, “Showtime!” is how we live in front of others. “I’m fine, God is good, just keep positive.” This is particularly prevalent among those who profess to be followers of Jesus, and it’s such a shame. I believe churches would be full if we Christians were more empty of the need to portray victorious living, unwavering faith, lives without sin or compromise, and keeping a lid on questions, doubts, and embarrassing inner thoughts and struggles.

That’s why Jesus was such good news. He turned religion inside out when he walked through Jerusalem and Capernaum two thousand years ago. He engaged with the Ed Sheeran’s of the world and those far less famous. Those who were crying out for help and healing, and didn’t even know they needed God. Jesus encouraged his disciples to speak up and engage in sharing with him their ambivalent thoughts, their unbelief, and their conflicting agendas. That authentic encounter helped them discover deep and real answers, accept mystery, experience the unbelievable, and eventually lay down their lives even though they never had it all resolved. Peter could not hope to explain the resurrection, John had no idea how miracles happened other than that the name of Jesus made sick people well. They knew just enough to change their lives because of the safety, empathy, encouragement, and unconditional love they found in Jesus.

We have permission to be authentic as we share this journey of life. Where do you regress when life is tough, you’re disillusioned, or you’ve had enough of trying? What happens when recurring bad habits surface, attitudes cling like barnacles, the past disappointments don’t fade quick enough. I find hope in my favorite passage yet again.

Peter denied Jesus, acted like a coward and hypocrite, denied that he knew Jesus when his friend most needed his support. He ran into the darkness and regressed to fishing with friends in Galilee. Even the fish wouldn’t come close to a boat laden with guilt, regret, and shame. They caught nothing but cold.

Then Jesus appeared (at first a stranger) on the shore, and invited them to throw a net on the other side. Reluctant and miserable, half-hearted obedience, resulted in nets filled to breaking with fish. A fire was prepared, bread and freshly baked fish were served to these imperfect friends by Jesus. He was underscoring his commitment to them when they were least committed. He reached out to them in their unhappy place and reeled them in to find hope, warmth, love and acceptance on the beach. Only then did he pose the question to Peter (he didn’t ignore the elephant on the beach), asking him three times if he loved him (Jesus). Peter wept again, “Lord, you know that I do, but I screwed up badly.”

Jesus didn’t appear on the beach and hand them a bible, or teach a new song, or call them to repent. He handed them a meal to feed their hunger, he lit a fire to warm their cold and weary bodies, he offered them a smile to encourage flagging spirits. He generously provided them space to breath and catch up, to settle down in the presence of his love and friendship. He did not place heavy burdens on their shoulders exhorting them to smarten up. He took it all on himself, the fear, the judgement, the shame, in order that hope and healing would flow into them as the morning sun brought a new day over their disillusioned beach. We are all the same. Nothing has changed in two thousand years.

That’s how God works. He loves, understands, sees without ignoring, and wraps his arm around us ‘while we were yet sinners’. Some time later he faces us with the truth of our lives, the destruction of our attitudes, the hypocrisy of our actions or words and invites us to repent. Which means to confess, to acknowledge, to own our stuff – so that we all can move on. The reason churches are empty is because people just like us and Ed Sheeran don’t feel loved or accepted because they usually encounter the perfect veneer of ‘showtime Christians’. “I can’t land on that beach, no-one there would understand. I’ll be judged, rejected, have nothing in common.” Sadly, there are many Christians living in exile for exactly the same reason.

This is merely a simple plea for those who do follow Jesus to allow people to see and know at least something of who you are when life is not perfect. By being authentic you give permission and hope to others. Believing in God and following Jesus does not remove struggle from life or bad habits from surfacing. We still bleed when cut, feel despair at times, or wonder if ‘this’ will ever change. Our hope and joy in not in our goodness, but once you’ve had breakfast with Jesus on the beach you know that you know that nothing can ever separate you from his love again. Because his grip is stronger, his grace is deeper, his love is higher, and his patience is eternal.

The resurrection would have been empty of meaning without the darkness of the crucifixion. Sharing our ‘less than proud’ moments accentuates the authenticity of hope and faith providing room for others to hear and identify. One without the other is either depressing or superficial platitude, hard to hear.

Let Jesus be perfect, and for God’s sake relax with the not-so-complete version of you, that if revealed may well provide a pathway for a friend to dare to make their way to him as well. And we’re not suggesting a license for doing whatever. After all if Jesus accepts you, warts and all, there’s hope for me. Hallelujah, thank you Jesus and Ed Sheeran!

Here are two of his songs. “No Strings” could be written by Jesus to you and me 🙂

And if you have time and need encouragement do your self a favor and listen to this talk by Louis Giglio, pastor of the Passion Church in Atlanta.

John Cox

Christian Author

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