The Way

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Naked Before God: In Community (2)

It is vitally important for each of us to realize that our relationships with God are always in the development process; they are organic and alive. They must be cared for, nurtured and attended to; they suffer setbacks when they are put on ignore or relegated to mere forms. From God’s point of view, as revealed in Scripture, His desire is for intimacy with His people, both on an individual and corporate level, and to achieve this intimacy, He has done great things. When there are difficulties in this relationship, the genesis of disconnect is found on the human side, not on the divine side.

I’ve noticed that in this discussion of naked before God in community, that there is hesitancy on the part of some with regard to any level of openness in community, or at least to a level of openness that goes very far beyond mere formality, and the reason for this unease is a lack of a feeling of safety. Obviously I cannot speak for others, and I have no inclination or desire to dismiss another’s discomfort; for all I know they have every reason to be uncomfortable. All I can really offer is this: If you find yourself in a faith community where hostility and condemnation of other brothers and sisters in Christ is the norm, then why are you still there? If you are part of a denomination in which this is the norm, then why are you still in that denomination?

Once upon a time, I was speaking with a pastor who was having some marital difficulties. He was speaking to me about the situation because he couldn’t discuss it with anyone in his denomination, for if his congregation should discover that he and his wife were going through difficulties, he would surely be fired, even though he had faithfully served that congregation for many years. Before I could catch myself, I blurted out: “What have you been teaching your flock all these years?” As mortified as I was at my own lapse in the area of tact, he had been teaching a great deal of finger-pointing and legalism, and even though his marital situation wasn’t in difficulty because of sin or affairs or anything of that sort, he had taught his congregation to always assume the worst and point fingers; very sad. The truth of the situation was that his wife was an introvert, and could no longer deal with always being in the spotlight and having to meet the unrealistic expectations of others for “the pastor’s wife”.  My friend lost his job when his wife went to stay with her sister for an extended visit.

You see dear reader, the problem often is that there is no openness because there is no feeling of safety, and there is no feeling of safety because there is no openness.

The good news is that most congregations are not like this. Yet most every congregation contains one or more individuals who behave in a similar fashion, and it is important for each of us to bear in mind that these people are also “works in progress” just as we are.

There is a misconception in the minds of some people that being naked before Go in community means that we must stand up in front of everyone and bare all, reciting every sin, evil thought and temptation to the rest of the community, and nothing could be further from the truth! While such a demonstration might be therapeutic for the speaker in certain cases, it would be nothing other than a distraction for everyone else; it would not build the Body of Christ. Rather, being naked before God in community means to be open and honest in our relationships with the people in that community. It means being real, sincere, genuine, loving and forgiving; it means being as much like our Lord as we can manage. It also recognizes that some are farther down the path of maturity than others, while each is doing what he or she can at their level of growth.

It requires that we “get naked” in the sense that we learn leave off the facades and the pretense; it means we are who we really are, instead of who others expect us to be. In the end, it will mean that we are imperfect, just like everyone else.

Is this transformation too difficult?

The answer to that, quite honestly, is “yes and no”

It will be difficult if we need to replace one façade with another façade. It will be pretty much impossible if we haven’t developed the habit of being naked before God. On the other hand, if we have developed the habit of being naked before God, then sooner or later we will move that “nakedness” into community without even having to try, for it will have become a part of who we are. I hope this doesn’t seem to be too lacking in tactfulness, but the chances are that if you feel too uncomfortable with the notion of ‘naked before God in community’, you probably need to give extra attention to your individual relationship with Him right now. If you think that you have been ‘naked before God in community’ for a very long time, and that you are way down the path of maturity, way beyond most everyone you know, then you might want to do some soul searching, since most of us find that we are not quite as far along as we like think we are.

As always, I look forward to your comments and observations. To be fully candid with you, they will determine where we go next in this discussion…

Nakedness, Tough Guys and False Expectations

The tough guys never bothered me in Junior High School; that is something you should understand right from the first. Yet even though they didn’t bother me, they bothered everyone else, unless you were one of my friends. I was what one of my teachers called “an early bloomer” which I took to be a reference to the fact that when I was 12 years old, I was six feet tall and under my mother’s strict orders to shave every day.

That particular year was the year that my classmates and I went from Elementary School to Junior High School, and we had been told by everyone that bad things happen in Junior High School. In Junior High School, you went from being the oldest in the school to the youngest, and the oldest in the school, the ninth-graders loved to pick on the seventh-graders. We would be bullied, badgered, thrown into trash cans and beat up periodically, and the girls would laugh at us. We would be required to take PE (physical education) and in PE everybody was required to shower together before you could leave. Oh yes, and all of the classes would be harder and move faster, and you might not be smart enough to make it through.

Yet these are the horror stories we heard from teachers; the ones we heard from older kids were truly terrifying. If the truth were to be told, I wasn’t all that concerned about the ninth-graders; I knew that I was bigger and stronger than most (all as it turned out) and that I was an excellent athlete, so I figured I could probably deal with any eventuality in dealing with the tough guys. I wasn’t worried about the classes being harder; after all I was often teased for being a “brainiac”. Being laughed at by girls was something I was used to… except in dodgeball where they begged for mercy, which was always granted. The only thing that really concerned me about going to Junior High School was the showering part; that would be very awkward for me.

The funny thing about that is that I used to skinny dip with my friends quite often in our old neighborhood, but two years previously we had moved to a new neighborhood, to a house that had no pool, on a street that had no kids my age. This was a new development in that I was, at the time, isolated to a certain extent; I had to ride a bus to school, and I had no friends near my house, so no skinny dipping for over two years now. Yet the real problem was that everything about me had changed since then, and while I would never had admitted it at the time, I felt like something of a freak. I wondered if I was the only one. Some of my classmates’ voices were beginning to change by then, but I had finished with all of that over a year ago, and none of my friends were even thinking about shaving… was I going to have to beat people up in the showers for making smart remarks about… changes? Talk about awkward!

Let’s remember friends that these are the thoughts and insecurities of a 12-year-old…

As it turned out, when school started that September, I was right about some things, and wrong about others: I was right about the ninth-graders; not one of them ever gave me any trouble, and I actually became quite accepted in their midst. I was right about the classes; easy peasy. I was also right about the tough guys in general; no problems with them. In fact, they ended up being quite friendly. The girls still laughed, and since there was no dodgeball after Elementary School, I had no way to keep it under control, so I had to endure their peculiar form of torment and torture. My mother told that they did it because they liked me, and that’s when I knew that she had lost all semblance of rational thought.

The showering part however, I was completely wrong about. On the very first day, I noticed something very interesting: There were no tough guys in the showers. They might have been what toady is called “bullies” before the shower, and after the shower, but never in the shower, for in the shower they didn’t have their tough guy pants, and their tough guy boots and shirts; no, there they were just like everyone else. Oh yes, it turned out that I wasn’t that much of a freak after all, I was just the tallest. What had seemed so uncomfortable, so awkward, was not nearly as scary as I had thought it would be.

Junior High School was a cakewalk.

The more I think about it, the more I must conclude that nakedness is the most brilliant metaphor of all time, for it so richly illustrates what we go through in building relationships; with friends and co-workers, family, spouses and most of all with God Himself. More to the point, it illustrates the process of growing in community with other believers.

I fully realize that like moving on to Junior High School, this seems difficult, but also like Junior High School, it isn’t as difficult as we might expect. Oh I know that there are church communities in which many are waiting for the chance to point fingers of accusation at others, as they hide behind their attractive masks of phony righteousness; I’ve had plenty of people tell me that they find themselves in such a location. Each time I hear such things I can’t help but wonder why they would remain there, if it is all that bad.

Of course, if we are in the habit of being naked before God, being naked before God in community really isn’t as much of a challenge as it might sound when you really think about it. Next time, I’ll continue along this line of thinking; see you then!

Naked Before God: In Community

There’s a title you don’t see every day!

Up to this point we have been discussing being naked before God in our own personal worship, individually; just God and you. This can and should be a wonderful time, regularly observed. Yet it is not the end of matter by a long stretch; rather, it is the beginning. God made humanity for community, and His purpose and will is that this community would be in fellowship with Him, thus becoming His very expression of who and what He is; we saw quite clearly in our examination of His image that this was His intention from the very beginning.

For most of us however, it is one thing to be naked before God in privacy and safety, but it is quite another thing to be naked before one another in any sense of the term. Certainly in the literal physical sense of the term, the notion of baring all in front of others is simply outside the scope of what is even thinkable or acceptable, and you will no doubt be relieved to learn that I have no intention of going there, for that is entirely too simplistic and hardly scratches the surface.  You see, this isn’t a matter of simply baring body; it’s a matter of baring soul, of being real, genuine and letting people see who we really are. It is about trusting, caring and loving others in a way that allows us to put their interests ahead of our own, not just in word, but in deed.

Last week, paulfg commented on one of these posts that he saw for the first time that “naked” actually means “relationship”, and I thought that was a very wise and insightful observation, for that is what it really comes down to. Yet it isn’t just relationship, it goes deeper, to the quality of the relationship. Recall that for us to be naked before God means that our relationships with Him are intimate, open, no holds barred, with everything out in the open. There is no holding back, no attempts to deceive and no barriers of any kind. To be naked before God in community with other believers is that there is the same level of openness between us and the others as there is between us and God, and obviously, such a human community requires that there be many who have matured enough in their relationships with God to be able to handle this level of intimacy with other people.

This dear reader is what it means to make disciples; it begins with godly love.

Far too many Christians are under the mistaken impression that making disciples is little more than making “converts”, but nothing could be further from the truth. Making disciples is really the ultimate act of love in action wherein we lovingly guide another into the kind of maturity that will enable them to become makers of disciples themselves. One who “makes” disciples is a mentor, a teacher, a trainer, and most of all, an example. He or she is one who can share the love of God and love of others in a way that brings their younger brother or sister into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. That person is one who loves, shares and leads others, he or she is one who lets their guard down, who respects, who trusts, who sets ego aside for the benefit of others and who lives in such a level of transparency before both Man and God, that they inspire the legitimate trust of others; they are naked before God and in community with others.

To be honest with you, most of us haven’t quite attained the ideal we’ve been talking about here. Most of our churches are not doing as well as we’d like, many are shrinking, others may even be on life support. Many have left “church” behind, and are happy to share a litany of complaints about churches they used to attend. We can come up with a long list of possible causes for this sort of thing, yet most of our lists, while accurate, don’t really tell the story. They will speak of over reliance on traditions, forms and details, but these are only the symptoms; the causes of the problems run much deeper than that. If I might be so bold, the biggest problem in American (and I suspect other) churches today is that there are not enough people who are really naked before God, needless to say, there are even fewer who are “naked” in community. I’m not sure about you, but I think this is worth getting into next time.