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March 13, 2010

hope in the mess

When I am mid-project, my house tends to be messy. Don't get me wrong: I love a neat and clean house and messes weigh on me until they're cleaned up. But when I'm in the middle of baking, writing a research paper or sorting Sunday school materials, my house is not "presentable". Splashes of cake batter freckle the fridge, books are strewn around, and that paper I was supposed to send to you, well, I'm not sure where it is...give me a moment, please.

If you have only ever been to my house on invitation, you may not know this about me, because the hours before company comes are often filled with clean up. Garbage cans are emptied and the tap sparkles. Every area where the guests may step is subject to my inspection, to make sure everything looks decent. (Sometimes my shut bedroom door blocks out the explanation as to why the rest of the house looks so neat.) In a way, my very neat house is fake. I'm not really trying to be deceptive, but just putting my best foot forward: I want to be clean. This is really how I'd like my house to be all the time.

How much does this compare to our Christian lives? Every Christian's life is mid-project. Upon believing in Christ, we were each saved from something (the penalty for sin) and saved to something (freedom from the presence of sin in Heaven). But the Christian is not instantly transformed into a person that is "clean and neat" in his entire lifestyle. God is at work. Your life is mid-project. God is doing renovations or transforming a mess into something useful to Him.

But often we are afraid to let others seen any mess in our lives. We become very good at creating the illusion that we have polished, perfect Christian lives, when the reality is very different. We may not be trying to be fake--we just want to show the life that we're working toward. Positionally, we really are well. Our home in Heaven is guaranteed! But in our day-to-day life, all is not well...we just don't want to talk about it.

One Sunday afternoon, my friend said to me "The church is meant to be a place where we celebrate redemption, but we never admit to the messiness from which we are being redeemed." We realize, past tense, that we needed Jesus for our eternal salvation. But do we realize our need for Him in the mess of daily life? Church has become a place where it is easy to present your "clean living room" to everyone else. But we gather to celebrate redemption, past, present and future! The Lord's Supper reminds us not only of some past benefit we've gained, but that God now lives within us and is doing a powerful work! He is the hope, and the reason we can admit our problems--because we know He has a solution. Our perfect Sunday appearance betrays the reality that each person's life is a work in progress, and that being real is going to involve some mess.

When we take the time to get real, I meet other members of what I call "the raw hearts society." People who are broken by the mess their sin makes, but are looking to their Redeemer and realizing how needy they really are of Him. People who vocalize their struggle, even when its hard. When a friend lets me see a messy room in his or her life, I'm not usually shocked, because I have seen the mess in my own life. Actually, I am encouraged. I'm excited that they're feeling the crash of God's wreaking ball, and that they're responding. "I have this relationship that is dysfunctional, it's broken, but I know I need to work on it...." They're unwilling to stop God's work, even if it means difficult conversations, a raw heart and a messy "living room".

What makes me sad is Christians who never realize their need for a Saviour right now. Christians who don't even think they have much to be saved from anymore. They say "a true Christian wouldn't act in that way." (I wonder if they're on some sort of instant sanctification pill that I've never heard of, because I know my sins are dark.) Christians who have relationships which are clearly broken, strained or cold, but don't care to seek restoration. Christians who act like their whole house is perfect, all the time. I have been that pretender, and I have kicked myself over and over, because I believe that my falsity just perpetuates this trend. When appropriate, I want to be willing to be raw, open and honest about the work-in-progress that is me.

In Lane and Tripp's insightful book, How People Change, one of the authors shares about a difficult time that he and his wife went through as they watched one of their children make some poor choices.They found assurance in knowing that God would someday tie all the loose ends of their lives together--for His glory!
"We needed to see that our hope was not in the fact that we had everything under control--we obviously didn't. Our confidence could not be in the fact that we had everything tied up in a neat little bow--things were actually quite messy. Our confidence had to be that Christ was carrying us--and our child--through the process he had ordained and would complete. We began to see that this hard moment was a God-given step toward a wonderful destination. This prepared us to deal in a very different way with the issues that had previously produced fear." (p43)
As I've started to realize the depths of my sin--how much renovation God has to do in my life--it has been one of the most painful, but also most rewarding, changes in my life. God is mid-project in me, and some days it looks like He's just getting started. The more I get to know Him, I realize that He has more work to do in me than I had ever imagined. I want to be honest about the mess, but not comfortable with it. Please come in. In the mess, there's hope--Christ is redeeming