On July 5, 2009, I took a risk in preaching a sermon called I am a Mess. In this sermon I thought I was being brutally honest about where I was. As I reread that particular sermon, I have come to realize just how naïve I was about my weaknesses, fears, and faith struggles. At the original time, my own reading of a blog called the Internet Monk inspired it. The author was Michael Spencer and the particular article was called When I am Weak.
That sermon began a series I had not planned on called No Perfect People Allowed.
What follows below is the gist of what I said that day. I’ll have something else to say at the end….
No Perfect People Allowed: I Am A Mess!
We need to be a “come as you are church where no perfect people are allowed.”
That statement or idea has resonated with a number of us and maybe because we have had more than one opportunity to answer the frequent criticism that church is full of hypocrites. My normal response is usually to look a person in the eye and say, “You are absolutely right.”
And they are, because a hypocrite says one thing and does another—all Christians fit that category! Even Paul said in Romans 7:18-19, For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
Those words could easily be my own. I grew up singing about “victory in Jesus” and I have to tell you that most days, I don’t feel very victorious! We talk about new life and the truth is I am a mess. No, I’m not addicted to drugs or alcohol nor have I cheated on my wife. I am not plagued with homosexual urges, but I’m still a mess!
Do you know why I like to wear sweater vests? Because I’ve created this illusion that says when I wear one, I don’t really look all that fat! And yes, there is some pain in that admission.
I hate being fat—and even though I hate it, most of the time I feel absolutely powerless to do anything about it.
The truth is being overweight is not nearly my biggest problem. And since we are being utterly honest here, why do so many Christians turn out to be just like everyone else—divorced, depressed, broken, full of the same pain and shameful secrets, addicted, needy and phony?
Why is it that if you look too close you’ll find a living room full of garbage and stink in our lives? Why is it that some of us are bitter, angry, and just plain mean—all the while living under the guise of being a Christian?
While claiming to be different, most of us aren’t really honest about our own Christianity or even what living for Christ should be like. The Apostle Paul understood firsthand that living for Jesus wasn’t always fun—in 2 Corinthians Paul acknowledges pain in his relationship with the Corinthians who criticized and accused him unjustly. Yes, he had struggles and difficulties of his own.
2 Corinthians 12:7b-10, Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Did you catch what Paul didn’t say? He didn’t say he was strong when his addictions were cured. He didn’t say he was strong when his personality and character failures were fixed. What he said was “I am strong when I am weak.”
Author and theologian Michael Spencer said it like this: Faith, alive in our weakness, looks like a war. An impossible war, against a far superior adversary: our own sinful, fallen nature. Faith is discontentment with what I am, and satisfaction with all God is for me in Jesus.
Have I cheered you up yet? Life is full of pain and confusion. We are often overwhelmed by our own failures, our own sins. Some of us are still fat, some of us are still depressed, and some of us are still mean.
We need to understand the Christian life is a constant fight. It is a battle. It is a war that will rage until Jesus takes us home. There are no non-wounded soldiers in this army.
Yes, this fight is a bloody mess. I fall down and get up over and over again—and my strength is not me, but the One who lives in me!
My greatest need is not to fool you into thinking everything is okay, because it’s not. To say it is makes me a liar and you an idiot for believing it.
My greatest need is Jesus who loves me in all my imperfections—who sees my weaknesses, who knows my indiscretions, who weeps with me when my behavior and attitudes are destructive to myself and those whom I love. My greatest need is Jesus and so is yours.
This is tough stuff, but I have to say it. I am a mess. So are you. And it is beyond time to be honest about it. We have to quit sugar coating our brokenness and sin and pretending to be something we are not. We have to quit getting all blown away and judgmental by the sins that others experience. Martin Luther once said, “Christ dwells only in sinners.”
Romans 7:24-25a, What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord!
I am a mess. You are a mess. Only Jesus makes the difference in our broken, messed up lives.
Instead of sharing some sanctimonious holier-than-thou message, why not share this basic truth: I am a mess. Jesus’ grace is sufficient. The battle rages on. Let’s struggle together.
Yep. Those words are still true. As faith goes, I am an even bigger mess. But I am beginning to believe that the real definition of faith isn’t having it all together, but the struggle and journey.
Is it possible when King David raged at God in the Psalms, his rage was itself an expression of faith, angry and hurting though it might be?
Stay tuned… I have lots more to say about this in a different format I hope.
Thanks for reading.