I feel like my understanding of grace and the gospel has made me socially awkward in a lot of ways. I’m really sensitized to law preachers who preach as though obedience to law was God’s message to us. The further away in time I get from my own crash and burn (it’s been six years), the more sensitized I seem to be getting to law preaching. My law radar is on all the time now. I see law masquerading as good news all over the place and it’s become easier than ever to recognize. Law and religious rule-keeping isn’t God’s final word to us. Jesus is. Unfortunately, most Bible preaching and teaching pulls up short and stops with law as though there was hope there. That used to describe me.
After hitting a wall of performance in early 2009, the now-power of the gospel gripped my heart and turned my predictable little world upside down. We ended up leaving the church I helped plant nine years earlier, as one of its founding pastors. People got mad at us and then we got mad at them for being mad at us and not understanding. It wasn’t a pleasant time. In fact, it was a very sad and heartbreaking time for us. Our heads were spinning and we were trying to sort through what had just happened and what God was up to. It became increasingly clear to us that staying wasn’t an option.
We found a gospel-centered church soon after our departure that proved very healing for us. We were welcomed and after we shared our story, we were embraced without criticism or judgement. They were glad we were there and week after week, we heard the gospel and healing began. That went on for about two years until the lead pastor felt called to go elsewhere and the church merged with another one, and what we had known and experienced those two years basically morphed.
Then the dreaded search started again. And it’s still going. Yep, I’ve become that guy. The guy I used to judge in my performance days. The guy who seems to always be church shopping, but never lands anywhere. I don’t want to be that guy, but here I am. Go ahead and judge me if you must. But I’m not alone. I’ve discovered that in in this area alone, there are pockets of people (a lot of people) in the same predicament. People who haven’t left Jesus but to varying degrees, feel that the church has. People who are simply looking for a church that preaches “it is finished” instead of “you need to pull yourself up and get er done. Here’s your checklist.”
But I’m tired. And as my understanding of the relevance of the gospel increases, I feel I’m becoming more socially awkward around those who haven’t crashed and burned or who just don’t understand the ongoing relevance of the gospel, but sometimes try to fake it. Gospel-centeredness isn’t optional for me because I’ve seen and experienced the ugliness of not being gospel-centered. Unfortunately, in searching for a gospel-centered church, references to the gospel are becoming a popular tag line on many church web sites, whether they truly get it or not. I’ve been to some of those in my search and law and condemnation were so thick, I just wanted to run. In one of them, we did just that. We got up and left because the condemnation was so thick. We couldn’t get out of there fast enough! Sad, but true.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I love the church. Jesus died for the church. I’m not looking for a perfect church. I just want to hear “it is finished” and “no condemnation” over and over because I constantly forget it. There is no hope in to-do lists. I want to be reminded that in my failures, Jesus runs to me and loves me. As my substitute and savior, Jesus is my only hope and none of this is riding on me. But when I mention that to most church people, it makes them uncomfortable and I start to feel socially awkward again. On many days, I want to throw in the towel and give up because it seems to be such a waste of time and I’ve become that guy I used to judge and criticize. Oh well. Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. My understanding of grace makes me a socially awkward mess at times, but I’m his mess and a work in progress. He knows what he’s doing.