Wednesday, April 16, 2008

REAL or "Impeccable"


Jack Graham is the pastor of a mega-church in Dallas, Texas. His church has over 26,000 members according to his website. That's pretty impressive!

However, I think his premise is flawed. He draws his conclusion from the story of the first Christian martyr Stephen (Acts 6 - 7). It is true that in the process of sanctification (becoming more and more like Jesus as you and I walk with Him) that our character should become more and more like that of our Savior whose character was impeccable/flawless/perfect. It is also true from the account we have of Stephen in Acts that he was a man whose heart had been radically restored by Jesus Christ. He is described in Acts 6:5 & 8 as "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit" and "full of God's grace and power." It wasn't Stephen's character that was "impeccable." It was Stephen's Savior whose character was "impeccable." It was Jesus in Stephen that gave Stephen the courage to risk his life to proclaim God's truth (Acts 7:55 - 56)!

I believe the most compelling witness to God's restoration isn't "impeccable." It is the humble fellow-sinner who is willing to be honest and open about his or her own need for a Savior bigger than "all my (or your) sin." "Impeccable" is scary and beyond my reach! Living in the reality of God's restoring grace isn't either scary or beyond my reach - mostly because it's not about me and what I can do. It's all about Jesus and what He did on the cross and coming back from the dead! It's all about what Jesus can be and do with and through me!

What the world needs now is not more people trying to be "impeccable." What the world desperately needs now is people willing to step out and risk being real! It is a risk that may feel like dying. It's a risk that may involve sacrifice and pain. Being real hurts! But being real is what draws people to our Savior!

When we appear "impeccable," we are wearing a mask that needs to be ripped off for the sake of God's Kingdom. Only God can give us the courage to live real rather than trying to live "impeccable."

One of the most compelling examples of this kind of real living I have ever seen is Dr. Jack Miller. Jack is in heaven now. Jack learned over the process of his own heart restoration that it's risky to be real but worth the cost. God used Jack in incredible ways, but Jack wasn't impressive like most people count impressive. Jack was humble and simple. He wasn't a great speaker, but he led many people down the path to deeper faith just by being real. Jack boldly talked about his own flaws, and - in doing so - gave others the challenge to step out to boldly do the same for the sake of God's Kingdom.

This kind of real living flies in the face of all that our culture counts as significant. This kind of real living brings heart restoration for me (and you) and challenges others to come along on the journey.

I hope "living an outstanding life for Jesus Christ" doesn't require "impeccable character" because that leaves me in the dust of failure.

Being REAL is best described by the children's book The Velveteen Rabbit (written by Margery Williams):

"There was once a Velveteen Rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy's stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming.
There were other things in the stocking, nuts and oranges and a toy engine, and chocolate almonds and a clockwork mouse, but the Rabbit was quite the best of all. For at least two hours the Boy loved him, and then Aunts and Uncles came to dinner, and there was a great rustling of tissue paper and unwrapping of parcels, and in the excitement of looking at all the new presents the Velveteen Rabbit was forgotten.

For a long time he lived in the toy cupboard or on the nursery floor, and no one thought very much about him. He was naturally shy, and being only made of velveteen, some of the more expensive toys quite snubbed him. The mechanical toys were very superior, and looked down upon every one else; they were full of modern ideas, and pretended they were real. The model boat, who had lived through two seasons and lost most of his paint, caught the tone from them and never missed an opportunity of referring to his rigging in technical terms. The Rabbit could not claim to be a model of anything, for he didn't know that real rabbits existed; he thought they were all stuffed with sawdust like himself, and he understood that sawdust was quite out-of-date and should never be mentioned in modern circles. Even Timothy, the jointed wooden lion, who was made by the disabled soldiers, and should have had broader views, put on airs and pretended he was connected with Government. Between them all the poor little Rabbit was made to feel himself very insignificant and commonplace, and the only person who was kind to him at all was the Skin Horse.

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.""Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit. "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt." "Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?" "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become real. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.""I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled. "The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."

The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him."

Jesus described this process of becoming real in slightly different terms: "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels - a plentiful harvest of new lives." (John 12:24, NLT) That's the way to having a "restoration heart" - being in the dirt, dying, risking while following Jesus! In the end, He's the only one who loves us enough to make us REAL! Just don't make the mistake of confusing REAL with impeccable! AND that's the reason A Restoration Church is gathering in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. We aren't "impeccable" but we want to be REAL!

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