Christians are supposed to be perfect.
Christians don’t screw up. You are screwed up first, then you become a Christian, then you are perfect.
There are hundreds of books about how to become a Christian despite your failures. We tend to uphold the “Christian” label as the best, the top, the penultimate.
The typical Christian book believes you to have grown up rejecting God, or maybe embracing the idea and being turned off by a hypocritical friend, a Christian who condemned your sinful actions while doing something sinful himself.
Then, you found yourself in a fine mess.
You drank and eventually became dependant.
You tried a drug and eventually became addicted.
You got a credit card and eventually found yourself in tremendous debt.
You got married and eventually things went wrong and now you’re alone.
You looked at pornography and eventually hired a prostitute.
You developed a self-image problem and eventually depression led you to suicidal thoughts.
Then, you find Jesus and all that stuff magically goes away.
And everyone lives happily ever after. This is the plan. You don’t deviate from the plan.
But this is not my story. My story is not the neat and pretty one.
My story, like many of yours, is ugly.
But that is good news.
Because God likes ugly. God can use ugly. God can take ugly and make something beautiful. If you’re already beautiful, what do you need God for?
I dabbled in church for a long time before I came to Christ.
I was always fascinated by it. I grew up going to a Catholic private school, because my mother had heard that the normal elementary schools were overrun with gang violence and was afraid I would be shivved on the monkey bars.
I have no complaints about it though, because I loved that school. I might not have enjoyed going to Mass every single morning, but other than that, it was great.
Then, my family moved to a new town and I joined a Southern Baptist church, which was basically the opposite end of the religious spectrum.
I was an attendee there for several years, pretending to already be a Christian, but knowing in my heart that I wasn’t.
I had some issues growing up, like all teenagers do. I had a self-image problem, I started hating myself, my family was on a rocky ground, my mother got cancer, my dad lived in another town because that is where he found work, and we had recently moved, so I didn’t have any friends at school.
There was a moment in time that is burned into my brain, where I, as a 13-year-old, was convinced that death would be better than living one more miserable day. I convinced myself that happiness would never return to my life. I convinced myself I was better off dead.
I was holding my pocket knife in the air, over my chest, as I lay in my bed and was grimacing my face trying to get up the nerve to plunge it into my heart… when the phone rang and scared the mess out of me, causing me to drop the knife.
It was my best friend from my home town, calling just to chat. I never picked up that knife again.
That’s my big God story. That was the moment I was convinced that God was real and that he wanted me alive.
Isn’t that a great testimony? I mean, if only I could just end the story there… Sure, it’s a short one with the climax coming in at just my thirteenth year on Earth, but some people got saved when they were seven! My story has six years on those people!
The truth is, though, I didn’t get ask Christ into my heart that day, and even then, it was long after I got saved when my testimony really took off.
There is a misconception that a testimony is about how you were a lost/horrible person before, and then you came to Jesus.
That’s not necessarily true.
A testimony is not about what you’ve done.
A testimony is about what God has done in spite of you.
We are all imperfect beings. But we don’t always seem to act like it. Or, at least, we don’t seem to let others act like it.
The lie we tell society, or maybe the lie we let them believe, is that once you become a Christian, life is all Jesus and puppies. No more drama. No more trauma.
Truth is, for many people who accept Christ into their hearts, very little changes in their lives right away.
You see, accepting Christ, fully believing that he existed, that he was the Son of God, that he died on the cross for the sins of the world, and that he rose again on the third day, defeating death and granting us redemption… it’s essential, but it’s only the beginning.
Salvation is the key to Heaven and thus, is the most important part for the individual, yes.
But something changes after that. You are no longer a lost sheep. The Shepherd, then, goes out looking for other lost sheep and you feel like you got crammed in the middle of the other 99 to be forgotten about.
Of course, Jesus is the Shepherd, and he doesn’t forget about you.
But it often feels that way. People who are already Christians seem to expect a new believer to be fully schooled in the Christian ways.
It’s like inviting someone into your home for the first time and expecting him to know exactly where you store the extra batteries.
We drop the ball.
We let newborn Christians out into the cruel world with no preparation, no education, no way to survive.
And when one fails in life, sins and gets caught, we rush to sweep them under the rug or disown them because we don’t want to look hypocritical, which ironically makes us hypocrites.
People out there who hate Christians have it easy. They have so much fodder for arguments to throw in our faces because we chose to live by a set of rules, and when we slip up and break those rules, we automatically lose the argument. We lose all credibility to the outside world.
So, we tell each other that when you become a Christian, you can’t screw up anymore because it’ll make all of us look bad!
(We might not say those words, exactly, but we all have that drilled into our minds somehow.)
But that only puts more pressure on us. That’s like telling a kid backstage that he’s about to tap dance for thousands of people. The pressure becomes so overwhelming that we freak out and run away.
Or worse, we make it out on stage and then promptly trip over our own feet in front of everyone.
And so, Christians are scared to admit it when they have a problem.
In that way, Christians and unbelievers are exactly the same.
No one wants to admit they have a problem. So, they don’t. They hide their problems until they hit rock bottom or get caught, which, of course, they were convinced was never going to happen.
When we finally do get caught in our sin, we feel lost.
We feel hopeless.
We feel like we were given such a great gift and we squandered it.
We feel like we let God down.
This is one of the main reasons people leave the church. It’s not because they are angry at the church. It’s because they don’t feel like they measure up.
They feel that way because at church, everyone is wearing a fake smile to cover up any evidence of the myriad of problems every one of them is facing.
They feel like they are the only ones not getting this “Jesus” thing right.
They feel unworthy, unconnected, and unsupported.
And they leave, possibly never to return.
And what do we do? Well, we pray for them for a week or two, if we even notice they’re gone.
I’m not trying to point fingers. I say “we” because I’m guilty of this too.
We’ve let the desire to keep a clean image in front of the rest of the world shame us into hiding our faults by pretending they aren’t there.
And the world, in turn, is forced to look even more closely to find our hidden faults.
We try to hide them better, they pull out a bigger microscope, around and around in a perpetual motion machine that might one day destroy us all.
The only way to stop the cycle is to stop hiding.
We need to stop being afraid of failure. We need to stop being afraid to be imperfect humans.
Our real testimony is about how Christians fail and are redeemed.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, with each other, and with the world and let God be the one who is perfect.
God likes failure. Failure is ugly.
And ugly is beautiful.