Do you ever peel the sticker off your windshield before you get your oil changed? I never want Jiffy Lube to know I’ve gone over my mileage. Maybe you make sure your tire pressure’s okay or clean the junk out of the floor before you take your car in for service. Do any of you “pre-clean” before the cleaning service comes or make a special effort to fix your hair before getting a haircut? Maybe you spend hours carefully curating your Facebook profile.
Who doesn’t try to lose a few pounds before that wedding or class reunion? Who doesn’t pay careful attention to what they’ll wear or maybe even buy few new things before a special event or family gathering? In the third week of the New Year, many of us are still working on self-improvement goals. Some of us may have target dates or events in the spring or summer that we’re working toward or aiming for.
We all want to present ourselves in the best possible light, so we spend an inordinate amount of time working to present ourselves as slightly better than we know ourselves to be. A little more conscientious. A little smarter. A little more polished. A little more secure and self-assured. A little happier. A little more attractive. A little more pious. A little more righteous. A little more successful. A little more with it and together. A little more.
We don’t want others to see us as people who doubt. We don’t want to be seen as people who hurt. We don’t want people to know we’re scared or lonely or insecure. We don’t want anyone to ever know we feel out of place or don’t have all the answers or struggle with sin. We hide our failures and embellish our successes. And we never quite feel comfortable being fully ourselves.
For a lot of us, there are few places where we are less comfortable being fully ourselves than at church. At church we feel a need to hide our humanity, as if we are expected to have an eternally divine disposition. And we don’t just feel the need to shield ourselves from fellow church members; we often seek to present an embellished version of ourselves to God.
Remember this week that Christ was fully human. To be human is to be like Christ. Because God in Jesus became like us (Phil 2:5-8), God knows doubt and hurt. God in Jesus Christ has been scared and lonely and insecure. God knows what it’s like to feel out of place, to feel the need to hide weakness and the temptation to embellish success. God knows what it’s like to try to hide our true identities.
Remember also, that you don’t need to present the polished version of yourself to God. God’s acceptance isn’t something we earn by our behavior. We don’t need to be righteous enough or pious enough; in fact, we can’t be pious enough or righteous enough.
The Bible clearly teaches that God’s love comes first, last and in the middle regardless of what we say and do. God doesn’t love us because of what we do; God loves us because of who we are. We are God’s masterpieces, created in God’s own image. The Christian life is a process of becoming better versions of ourselves in response to God’s love rather than in an attempt to earn it.
In 2014, we’ll be placing a special emphasis on group Bible study and Christian formation. As we dive more deeply into God’s word together, I hope you’ll discover again (or for the first time) that we are loved, forgiven and redeemed every day; that there is no one who more fully accepts our unvarnished selves than God; and that there’s no place better than church to learn to accept and reveal the people that God created us to be.