I’m not a neat-nik, and I may have germaphobe tendencies. It’s just part of being me. I won’t drink after you, I wash my hands before eating almost every time, and I like to know where things are so I try to put them back. But I’ve discovered that there’s a difference in “clean” that I’ve had to get used to: it’s not the same degree of clean everywhere.
When I used to be a youth minister, taking dozens of teenagers on mission trips to lead VBS or minister to the poor, I remember the gradual breakdown of clean. I’d start off trying to shower, trying to keep the sense of smell to a minimum, but after a few nights of sleeping on the floor without air conditioning, you realize it’s futile. I’ve seen it this week at the beach: you can only try and keep the sand to a minimum. You just can’t keep sand out! (That’s a blog post for another day…)
While there are places that are clean, like our homes (we hope!) or visiting grandma’s house, there are some places where the level of uncleanliness just has to be accepted like the beach. Too often, church is one of those places where we act like people have to be clean, spotless, perfect, all together, or just right, like their spiritual shower has to have them smelling like Axe and radiating spiffiness like Mr. Clean.
Folks, that’s unbiblical.
Having read through Rachel Held Evans’ recent post on millenials, it seems to me that people are hoping the church will be authentic in its ability to see that IT isn’t perfect, making it more receptive to broken people who show up seeking comfort and community. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe in sin, in the things that separate us from being who God wants us to be. I believe there’s right and wrong, truth and lies, good and evil.
I still hold fast to the belief that God had a plan when he sent Jesus, but that a good portion of the church is only holding onto half of the vision. There’s one side holding onto the fact that the world was messed up so God sent Jesus to make it right and other side holding up the fact that God loved the world enough to do that. Check out John 3:16 AND 3:17: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” God was willing to sacrifice Jesus to make it right because we’d perish (die eternally from sin) without him, with the intent that the WHOLE WORLD would be saved.
God doesn’t expect us to come to church all cleaned up, smelling like sunshine. (Quite frankly, most of our churches need plenty of TLC before the buildings would smell like sunshine, and the people themselves aren’t smelling so rosy either…) God wants us to come how we are, broken, struggling, hearts expectantly waiting for miracles that only God can give. God created the church for worship, and as a community of people where the sick came for healing. God doesn’t want us to stay dirty, sandy, misguided, and isolated, but he doesn’t expect us to get cleaned off before we show up. That’s impossible.
I firmly believe when churches stop acting like they’re kind of clean is the only kind, that they’re “at home” clean versus “beach” clean is better, we’ll see people recognizing all the good that the church has to offer. Some churches get this, and some don’t. The truth is that churches are made up of people who are all struggling with the same situations, questions, doubts, sins, and everything else that everyone in the world outside the church is struggling with, too. It’s time we stop faking our holier-than-thou attitude, and recognize that without the love of Jesus shining in our lives, we’d be a whole lot dirtier than we are anyway.
For me personally, I’ve got some sand to get rinsed out of my sandals, and if I’m honest, out of my soul as well.