Have you ever lost faith in humanity? At times it has felt like I have. Last Friday was one of those days. It had been a busy week already and as I approached my lunch break at work I knew I would be spending it reclining in the chair at the dentist and having a small filling done. What a way to end the week! As I lay there listening to the light, buzzing hum of the drill I had no idea what was happening out in the parking lot. Done, and feeling relieved to have it over, I walked to my car. As I sat down I thought I smelled something different. It was a stale smell of body odor mixed with the distinct smell of cigarette smoke. I know that smell well. Because I visit a variety of people in their homes for work, I often smell it. I can always tell who is a smoker, because the smell lingers. These unpleasant smells sparked my curiosity, but it would take me a few more minutes to notice that a few items were missing from my car. I had been robbed. Thankfully it hadn’t been much, just a wireless charger, a USB cable, and a booklet of old CD’s (which I am positive they will hate). All totaled it was maybe worth $20, but that isn’t the point. If you have ever been stolen from, you know the feeling that immediately follows. It is a feeling of having been cheated and your personal space violated. I could feel the anger seething up in me. I could feel myself raging. I checked my doors and realized that I had left one of the back ones unlocked. I had more valuable things in my vehicle, but they were not taken. I suppose I should have been thankful, but I wasn’t. I was just plain angry. “Who steals from people at the dentist’s office?” I thought. As if going to the dentist isn’t bad enough on its own, someone needs to terrorize people. Immediately I could feel my lips parting and subconsciously forming the words. “What is wrong with people?” My question was followed by denouncement after denouncement of people who would feel the need to steal from their fellow human beings. The combination of the smell and my anger made me imagine the thief as some burnt out, jobless crack addict, so desperate for a fix that they would steal anything. Whether this was really true or not I obviously didn’t know, but I convinced myself it was. Moments like those have made me wonder if there is any good left in the world.
The very first line of the famous Bonnie Tyler song asks the question, “Where have all the good men gone?” I suppose it is a good question. While the song deals with her desire to find a knight in shining armor, I suppose that initial question could be directed towards society as a whole. Where are all the good people? Where are those perfect specimens of men and women who we can look to as examples? The answer is simpler than you might think. They don’t exist, nor have they ever existed. I hope that you don’t find my statement too shocking. The problem is that Scripture paints a very different picture of mankind then the one we paint of ourselves. Jeremiah 17:9 lays it all out on the line for us. It says, “The heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” That last question is the most sobering, because it tells us that our hearts are so wicked that we cannot even know the depths of their wickedness. What a sobering thought that our hearts are more deceitful than anything else that exists! The statement is also all encompassing. It makes no room for exceptions and implies that it is talking about everyone last one of our hearts. How many of us would choose to describe ourselves this way. “Hello my name is __________ and my heart is so wicked I can’t even know the extent of how wicked it is.” We prefer to see ourselves as mostly good. Sure, we have flaws, but we aren’t THAT bad. How quickly we forget Romans 3:10. “There is none righteous, no, not one.” None of us is good enough to attain forgiveness on our own, so why are we trying to live that way?
We are good at pretending. Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” I think he might have been on to something. We put on the mask we want others to see. We live in a world that is getting worse and worse at being real. Virtual worlds and social media allow us to generate the image we wish for others to see. Often our lives are one giant production; carefully written and performed. Sadly this has even infected the church. Pews become stages and public prayers and testimonies become the written scripts we recite for the sake of the show. Forgive me if I am being too harsh, but I couldn’t say these things if I hadn’t been guilty of them as well. Let me also remind you that the stark words written here are mere reflections of conviction and chastening in my own life. I feel confident that I am not alone in this matter, that I am not the only offender and pretender. I once attended a weekly prayer service where a newly saved man stood and asked us to pray for a specific wrong attitude he was struggling with. It felt as if in that moments all the air was sucked out and replaced with instant discomfort. I felt it and I am sure that I could feel it all around me as ever back stiffened and nervous muscles strained. I am just glad the pastor thanked him and graciously acknowledged the validity of such a request. Even though it was several years ago, that moment remains etched in my memory; a constant combatant to my own insincerity. Why such discomfort? You mean we come to a prayer service and we are supposed to pray for more than just sick people and other physical needs? YES, a thousand times yes! James 5:16 very bluntly tells us, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that ye may be healed.” The Bible tells me to confess my faults to other believers so they can pray for me and I can have victory. What that man did on that night, I have frequently failed to do, and failed to see many seasoned believers do. Yet, Scripture tells us it is to be the norm. We must not let our image and our ego come in the way of our relationship with God.
Our all too frequent misunderstanding here is that we forget the church is supposed to be more like a hospital. I have had the priviledge to work in hospitals, and I find the people there are sick, needy, and often at their worst. Physically they are in discomfort and their appearance is often unkempt and disheveled. The one word that probably best describes anyone in this situation is “vulnerable”. Theirs is a vulnerability that is not chosen, but is unwillingly thrust upon them. So what about the church? Do we come there sick of heart and in need of healing? Do we come there in our most vulnerable state? I wish I could say the answer was yes, but I am afraid that all too often that is not the case. Think about it. We come to church dressed in our best and often putting on our best faces. How many of us have screamed at our kids or argued with our spouse right before church, but arrived with a forced smile on our faces. Now I recognize there is a fine line here. We should dress nicely and it is not always pertinent to tell everyone our problems. The point is whether we are arriving spiritually vulnerable, hungry for healing, and ready for God to do a work in our lives. If we are not, then we are likely only there to shore up or “Christian social standing”. How quickly we forget the saving power of Christ which brought us into a relationship with God to begin with and causes us to fellowship with others who have experienced the same thing. The beauty of that salvation is that it is a recognition that we are anything but good and forces us to rely on the perfect redeeming forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Titus 3:5 sums it up well. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us.” When we forget that we need that mercy and begin to act as though we are good, we are losing sight of the message of the Gospel. Let us determine that we will be spiritually vulnerable and open to the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, so that we may rest in God’s goodness and not our own.