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…

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29 thoughts on “Naked Before God: In Community (2)”

  1. When I get home from work Judge Judy is on, I really don’t care for the show, but I need some mindless drivel to unwind from the day and the drive. She has one comment she seems to make to just about everyone who comes before her – just tell the truth, it’s easier than trying to remember the lie, and then build a world around it. Good words for being Naked before God in the Community.

  2. I must admit this is part of the reason I left church for an extended period of time. Typical example:

    We had a women’s tea one afternoon. One of the “ice breaker” exercises was to go around the table and name one thing we liked and one thing we didn’t like. Having to name something we didn’t like somehow made me queasy; there were women at the table I didn’t know. We got through the “like” part unscathed, but during the “didn’t like” part, one woman said she didn’t like liberals. (Yep, she was naked alright!) I cringed inside, and sat silent for the rest of the tea.

    Coming back to this church has been a huge decision. The Women’s Director is no longer there, and I have the ear of the Pastor. My prayer is to be able to create a safe space for everyone at this church so everyone is comfortable enough to bring their nakedness to church.

    1. Gee Susan, I would have just said “cats” and be done with it. Oh no, now I’ve angered cat lovers!

      Seriously, I know that your influence will go a long way to bringing about that safety that only “nakedness” can bring.

      1. I hope so. I knew the question was dangerous as soon as it came out of our Women’s Director’s mouth. Not a good start to the morning.
        Thoughtfully embracing people in love is where we need to go.

  3. Right, Don. We don’t want to be honest and transparent about our struggles with our brothers and sisters because we’re convinced they’ll think less of us, which many will. I guess it’s up to each of us to break the cycle and step out and be real in our fellowships so that others can feel like they can be honest as well.

    1. I think that’s right tom, and the ones who think less of a person because of their struggles will have to admit sooner or later that they aren’t any better than the other guy for we are all sinners.

  4. At my church, we have a saying “Me Too” because we probably share some of the same sins. We address the big life issues in service and don’t back away and not talk about them. We are all human and will sin, Jesus died for our sin to be forgiven. Who are we to throw stones at others when our house might not be in order? Thank you for this post.

  5. I remember once being told as a minister to not let anyone know when you have any problems in life. I had a very hard time accepting that. I knew you had to be real with the people. If it always looked perfect the people would think you were perfect and they could not attain that level. God has used me many times being open with people in order to help them.
    Thanks for sharing your posts.

  6. Dear Don,

    In depth words about truth and transparency. I was in a “life group” through my church for about 2 years. It took courage, strength and a lot of tears to ‘leave’ this group I loved. Full of gossip, finger pointing and worship of self via leadership. I was also, not such a great individual nor growing spiritually. One of the leaders was my best friend and it broke my heart to have to walk away. It’s incredible how much I’ve learned through it and after it. I know God led me through and He is faithful. I’ve also learned that no person nor anything else should come before the King of Kings.

    “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.”

    I love what you said here. Everyone is in a different place. Let’s encourage and be authentic and transparent! Great blog post.

  7. Far too many churches have become “social clubs for saints”, rather than “field-hospitals for sinners”, because even though we know that we aren’t “good enough” on our own, we have to pretend we are. I remember back to when I went through the New Member’s Class to become a member of our church back in 2014. Rather than being interviewed by the Session, we each had to give a written testimony, and all of those were compiled into a printed booklet which was given to everyone in the church. I asked the pastor if I should “tell it like it is”, or “sanitize” it, and he told me that there was no reason to “sanitize” it. I did “sanitize” my testimony somewhat, because even what I told was enough to make most people cringe because some of it isn’t “pretty”. I never heard any reactions from anyone, but I have often wondered what went through people’s minds when they read it. My testimony is posted as “A Story Of Grace” on my blog.

    I really want people to be sure that “What you see is what you get” when they think of me, because I do make a concerted-effort to be authentic, even if they don’t like what they see.

    Blessings!

    Steve

    1. Great comments Steve; thank you!

      I can’t help thinking that if we would all be so open, then we all might come to realize that we’re all in the same boat, and that the only moral high ground to be taken is the blood of Christ.

  8. Don, you continue to enchant me with this topic and these posts! And for the second time today the word “safe” and God stuff is written about in this community. And for the second time I find myself thinking the same. Thinking about the word “outriders”.

    Of those who are on the fringes of the “accepted way of doing things”. Those whose relationship with God seems “dangerous” and edgy. Those whose relationship with others seems dangerous and edgy. In this case – happily naked!

    I think we always need outriders. We always need those who are safe on the margins and in community still with others (or else no one ever sees them). Those who are a little odd or eccentric. Those who allow the safety of the “middle” to be a place to step from – and still be safe. A place where stepping forwards (or sideways – or backwards) makes that stepping “safe”. Because if this odd and eccentric person is still not being zapped by God out there on the margins, if this person still is of God – then God is at work – and God is safe.

    I wonder whether Peter and his walking on water would have been such a biggie if one of the others had hopped out and been seen playing in the distance. Playing tag with the breakers – not a care in the world – and Jesus looking on and chuckling. Might not the whole bunch of them “tested the water”?

    Or in this case – bare their chests a little more than is usual.

    1. I’m going to guess that the answer to that last part is a resounding “YES”!

      And as one who might be considered a little “dangerous and edgy”, not to mention slightly eccentric, I am always appreciative of “safe”. Of course, we both know that God meets all of us precisely where we are, and His strength shines through our (perceived) weakness.

      Wonderful reflections; thank you!

  9. Afraid I am going to be negative here Don but it is a part of being naked.

    I don’t know if you know the Myers Briggs personality tests but I am what they call an INTP-A, ie I am Introverted, Intuitive,thinker and perceiver. What this basically means is I hate crowds, parties, congregations, get togethers or anything to do with community. When I was younger and before these personalities were really known I was kind of a loner even in church and introverted. You may wonder what they A is, well that means I am assertive also. So you get me in a bible group say and if I reckon the person is not very good at the bible study then I say so. This goes with anything by the way. You should see people shut up when I start telling them about the global warming fraud or even the evolution fraud. 🙂 Now that I am older ( I am almost 60 now) I usually keep my mouth shut probably because of the Holy Spirit telling me that if I can’t say it in love then keep mouth shut.

    What I am trying to say is that not all of us are community minded. I like being alone and I hate trying to tippy toe around other peoples feelings when I am with others. People like me don’t have a support group and I guess we wouldn’t join anyway but also there are no sermons or words of encouragement for us types since most are about community, nor are there any sort of jobs in the church that we could do that I know of. In a baptist church (in Australia which is different from America) I was the cleaner which I did ok 🙂

    Currently I go to Hillsong Church which is now in several countries (Google it if you don’t know) but I just turn up, worship, listen to sermon then leave. I don’t feel compelled to join in or even guilty about not joining in but I think the Lord is just happy I at least turn up. 🙂

    That is part of my story. Hope I didn’t bore every one too much.

    Steve

    1. Hi Steve,

      I’m not sure what the negative part f your comment was, but then, sometimes I’m a bit slow.

      You might be surprised to hear this, but I’m INTP-A also; like you I don’t like social events, parties, get-togethers and all of that for I would almost always prefer to be alone. In fact, my dream as a younger man (I’m your age) was to live alone way off in the woods with my books.

      But God had a different plan.

      Like every other Christian i have a few spiritual gifts, and they force me to serve where I am not comfortable; in community. I fought it for quite a long time, in fact. If I might say so, I can serve in community environments with the best of them, even though I almost always dread it beforehand. I’ve served as a seminary professor, a very frequent fill-in preacher, I lead 4 small groups, I teach, serve in church leadership, consult with several congregations, and often when people are in trouble, I’m the one they call.

      Oh yes, God has quite the sense of humor!

      But His strength is found in my weakness.

      You are quite right brother, there is no support group for guys like you and me; maybe you and I should start one. 🙂

      Don

  10. In 12-step programs there is the famous confession of step 5. But after the middle steps (which are some of my favorites), they have some that are called “maintenance steps”. Step 10: “Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” To live a repentant life requires constant confession. Confession to God is necessary, but as step 5 puts it, “…to God, to ourselves, and to another human being…” is how the program is designed. There’s something about the safety of being able to confess within a community of faith that is irreplaceable and indispensable. In Psalm 51, David says that he had to confess to experience the joy of forgiveness, and he probably refers to confession before God. But in the account of David’s sin with Bathsheba, it’s not until he is able to confess to Nathan, once confronted, that David is able to write the Psalm. The healing he describes there came through confession within a safe community of faith. And it came from being confronted within that same community. I think both are necessary for “community” and for “safe” qualities.

  11. I am also a loner, and have been a loner for pretty much all of my 60+ years. I was raised as an only-child, we moved around a LOT, so I learned early in life to “make my own fun”. As a result, I never became “well-socialized”. I have served in many capacities in churches over the years, but I always tried to stay out of the “limelight”. Even when I sang in a choir, it was easy for me to “hide” in the back-row with the rest of the basses.

    I have offered to serve in three different capacities in the church I belong to now, but all three offers have been rejected, so I am done offering to serve in that church. I have become content to occupy a chair on Sunday morning, but I have suppressed the urge to “escape” right after the service and I do stick around and fellowship a bit. I do participate in a small-group during the fall and winter, but that is the extent of my “extra-activities” in that church. I live far enough from the church to have a good “excuse” to not participate in other church-activities.

    I also live on the “fringe” otherwise because of my lifestyle and the nature of my ministry, and I don’t need to be “validated” or “accepted” by that church, so I have no need to appear to “conform” when I don’t really “conform”. My ministry is global, so my “reach” is far-greater than any local church will ever be able to achieve. Yes, I use my gifts to build up the kingdom of God, and that is what God has called me to do, not further the programs of a local church.

    Blessings!

    Steve

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