What do you want to be known for? What do you want people to think of when they think about you? You may have given this no thought at all or you may think about this too much, but the truth is, all of us want to be known for something. Whether you have already given it a lot of thought or not, doesn’t really matter because we all have adjectives about ourselves.
These adjectives determine a lot about us…what we post on social media, what we say about ourselves, what we hide from other people, what we put right out front, what we listen for, what hurts our feelings, the list goes on and on. So what is it that you want to be known for?
In the spirit of transparency, I’m going to tell you what I want to be known for because it kind of sets us up for where we’re going today. But certainly this is not all about me today, but if I’m going to ask this question, I need to answer it too.
I don’t think I’ve ever said these out loud before, but I think I want to be known for a couple of things, and these are in no priority order. For one, I want to be known to my children as being a good mother. Some may say, you are doing a good job; they know you’re a good mom. But in reality, they know me better than almost anyone else. They see all the sides as people that live with us do. I certainly want to be known as a good wife.
I also want to be known as being real. The word authentic comes to mind. I don’t like it when someone isn’t upfront and honest with me, so I want to be upfront and honest with those around me. Now that doesn’t mean that I will turn my filter off and just say whatever comes to mind, but I do want to be real with everyone because let’s all just be real for at least a moment, none of us are perfect. And that’s at least one thing we all have in common. That’s something I can use to relate to every one of you. I feel like a vision from God for my life and my ministry is to be authentic.
Let’s take it a little bit deeper: What do you do when you don’t measure up? Specifically, what do you do when you don’t measure up to you?
I know what you do. You do what I do. We pretend, we make excuses, sometimes we mislead, and we begin to manage our image. But the problem with managing our image is it makes us imaginary. Think about it. When you begin to manage your image, when you are one thing on the inside and you’re projecting something different on the outside, you become, without meaning to, an imaginary person. Right?
And when we do that, it is impossible, try as you might, try as I might, to be genuine. It’s impossible to have genuine friendships. It’s impossible to have genuine intimacy in an important relationship like marriage. You can’t have genuine relationships if you are not genuine yourself. And you can’t be genuine as long as you are managing an image. The moment we start pretending, we stop growing. We get older, but we don’t get better, and we don’t get deeper. What you actually do is get stuck.
Now I know all about this because pastors, just to speak on behalf of pastors, we are the worst when it comes to this. And if you are a parent, you can appreciate this because parents do this all the time. You don’t want to lose your moral authority with your kids, and so you’re always “on” around your kids. Or at least, you probably should be. Because you just want your kids to not lose respect for you.
Well, when you do what I do it’s like everyone is your kid. It’s like everywhere you go, you just want to be on your best behavior. I remember the first time I went to the gas station after I became a pastor, and the pump wasn’t working right, and I really wanted to curse at it, but I was like “Wait, I can’t do that now that I’m a pastor!”
Now I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me because we all fall into this rut to some extent. To some degree if my lifestyle, my marriage, or my faith veers from what I present it to be to you and to the people around me, if there’s any gap between what I present myself as, I too feel the pressure to pretend.
And to make it worse, if you’re honest, you would prefer that I pretend. You want me to be what you hope I am. In other words, you don’t want me to get up and say, “Hey, today we’re beginning a brand-new series about marriage, but before we begin, I want to announce that Matt said he’s only going to give me one more chance, and then I have to move into the parsonage. Now let’s talk about marriage.”
You don’t want to hear that from the pulpit. That’s too much information. Keep it to yourself. Get a counselor. I want to live with the illusion that you are what you pretend to be. Imagine the pressure that is for me. But you have that same pressure in some capacity, right? You have it at home, you have it at work, you have it everywhere too.
So the truth is: Most of us have gaps. There are gaps between what I want to be, what I want people to think I am, and what I really am because nobody knows you better than you. We all pretend to some level, we all hide to some extent, and we all cover up.
Then it gets even worse. Where do we do most of our pretending? At church. Look at you, you’re all on your best behavior. Every couple looks happy, even if you’re not holding hands. All of you look like you must have perfect kids. You all look like you have great jobs and love it. If there is ever a place to pretend to have it all together, church is the place.
Parents, your really good at this. You may have screamed your lungs out in the car on the way here this morning, but when you pulled in the parking lot and got out of the car, all of a sudden everyone’s smiling and ready for church. Just wait till you get back in the car to go home!
We are all on our best behavior at church. And the reason we pretend anywhere, but maybe particularly the reason we pretend at church, is if people knew what we were really like, they wouldn’t like us, so we think. They just like the image. They like the social media you. They like the adjectives you have convinced them that are you.
In fact, this is a horrible thing to say, but it’s possible that nobody really likes you because nobody really knows you. You’re tempted to pretend like we are all tempted to do. And this is true for all of us, until we embrace who and where we really are, we can’t get to where we need to be.
So it’s true, we want to be known for something, but what we really need is to be known by someone. We all, including me, need relationships where we can drop the pretense. We all need relationships where we can drop all the manufactured cool, and courageous, and confidence, the we’ve got it all together looks, and everything’s organized all the time. We need a place where we can drop all of that without fear of being judged and without fear of being rejected.
And here’s the proof of what I’m saying. When you find this kind of environment, when you find that group of people, you are attracted to them whether they are healthy or not. When you find an environment where you can drop all the pretense, where you can truly just let your hair down, and be yourself and not be judged, you are drawn to that environment.
In fact, you may not like church because you’ve never met real people at church, but there’s some other environment where you’d say, “Those people are for real. When I go to church they all look like they all have their act together, and I don’t fit with that. But when I’m with this group, those people are for real.”
And maybe they are for real, or maybe those are just the first people you’ve been real with. Once you got real, you got known. And when you got known, it felt good. And maybe for the first time, you felt like someone really liked you. And they did because they really knew you since you allowed yourself to be known.
This is why rehab romances happen. People fall in love in rehab all the time. And why do they fall in love in rehab? Because they’re around such healthy people? No. Because they’re around people who are just like them. And it’s like, “Finally! Someone understands me. I love you!”
Now I’m not being critical. It is just so powerful when you are truly known. When you find an environment, when you find a circle of people, and you can truly be who you truly are, and yet you feel like they have your best interest in mind, that is a powerful thing. In fact, you were created for that.
Now, here’s the part of the message you won’t believe, and I’m going to have to spend a few minutes trying to convince you of this. The place where this is supposed to happen, the place where we are to be known the most, the place where we should have the most freedom to be transparent, and at the same time committed to becoming everything that we want to be, and the adjectives that we’ve kind of laid out for ourselves, the place designed for that is the church. That’s real church.
Now that may not have been your experience in church. In fact, maybe you’re watching this at home and don’t go to church anymore because of a bad experience, and as we’re going to see in the next few minutes, there’s a tension around this whole idea, but you need to know that the church is meant to be the primary environment where you can be fully known and still fully loved.
And here’s why I say that: In the very first church, in the very first century, the very first pastor of the very first church, which was Jesus’ very own brother, James, he said this about church. Church, here’s what you’re supposed to do:
16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
So what we’re going to do in just a few minutes is stand and find someone that you don’t know and confess your deepest, darkest sin to that person, and then allow them to confess theirs to you, and I would suggest you not go first.
No, we’re not going to do that. I’m kidding. In fact, when you read a verse like this, I know what you think…the same thing I think. I’m not going to confess my sins to anyone. I’m going to confess my sins to God, and keep it between me and Him cause I don’t want anybody to know what I’m up to.
Which is the same thing as saying, “I don’t want anyone to know me. I don’t want anyone to know what’s inside me. I don’t want anyone to my struggles. I don’t even know what’s wrong in my marriage or why I’m so lonely.”
James is saying let me tell you what the church is for. The church is for this: Confess your sins to each other, and pray for each other based on what you know about each other, so that you may be healed.
There is extraordinary power in being known. There is something that happens on the inside that can’t happen until you’re willing to do something on the outside. But let me just be completely honest with you. If you are just coming to worship and not to small groups, you can’t do that in rows. In fact, in rows it’s actually impossible to do some of the most important things the church is designed to do.
Another pastor wrote this. I shared this one last week. This was in the first century when the whole thing got started. When they knew what real church is all about.
24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
This does not mean that someone just stands up here and talks to a whole bunch of people and spurs them on. This means to be in one another’s lives to such an extent that you figure out how to urge and encourage one another to living lives characterized by love and good deeds.
This is not a solo thing either where you think you and God are good and you don’t need anyone else. Church is a together thing. Christianity is a together faith. “Don’t give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another.” You can’t do that on your own.
And you can’t do that in here either. If I asked you to stand up and find someone that you don’t know, and I want you to urge them on to love and good deeds, it would be so superficial. In this sanctuary in rows, we cannot do all that the first church leaders told us to do.
The apostle Paul, now he was the expert. He planted more churches than anybody else in the first century. In fact, he planted more churches than most pastors have ever planted. He was the original church planter. Here’s what he says the local church is supposed to be like.
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
That means if you’re going to restore or build someone up, you’ve got to know them, like really know them. That means if you’re going to carry someone’s burden, you’ve got to know what their burden is. Yet you’re never going to figure out anyone’s full burdens right here. It just can’t happen. But look how he finishes this, this is so important: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Let me tell you what the law of Christ is. Right before Jesus’ crucifixion, He said there were 600+ commands, then I boiled it down to two, now I’m just going to boil it down to one: The law of Christ. The law of Christ is: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. (John 15:12)
When in doubt, when you wonder what the Bible means, when you wonder what you’re supposed to do, if you’re a Christian, it comes down to this. I am to love others the way that God, through Jesus, has loved me.
Here’s another one that Paul wrote. Romans 15:7
Accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you.
Do you know why God accepted you just the way you are? This is the great news about being a Christian and so important. The reason God accepted you just the way you are is not to leave you the way you are. Good parents don’t do that. You love and accept your kids, but you want them to grow up and mature. The reason God accepted you just the way you are is so that He can transform you into who He needs you to be. And do you know where you will best experience God’s unconditional, transformational acceptance?
The way that we are transformed is by being around people who are being transformed. And once again, that’s not going to happen in worship. And I love what we do here. It’s one of the reasons I keep coming. I love worship! In here is awesome, but in here we can’t actually do what the local church is most designed for and best equipped to do. And that’s why we need circles.
It’s in a circle, a small group that action happens. That’s where the essence of church happens. Where transformation happens. That’s where you carry one another’s burdens and accept one another. It’s where you’re able to be honest, confess your sins, and realize they’re not going to kick you out of the group.
In fact, they’re going to pray for you, and somebody else in your group is going to say, “You know what? Me too.” And all of sudden you’re going to realize: You’re not alone. All of a sudden, you’ll realize that there are more people like you who have already dealt with that struggle or who are dealing with the same struggle right now.
And that’s what the church is all about. And you know why? Because that’s what Jesus is all about. That’s the Gospel. The Gospel is: “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son,” to move into your life in such a way that He transforms you from the inside out.
And the greatest place that will happen is in a circle, where people are able to be who they really are, so that they’re really known, because only when you’re really known do you go deeper and get better.
I believe we don’t want to be left where we are, instead we really do want to become everything God wants us to be. And I really do believe that small groups are the place to do that. Circles are better than rows. (Andy Stanley)
I would love to see everyone in our church in a group because I know personally the power that is within them. Now, the imaginary you may not have time for a group. But the real you may be dying for this. Your marriage may be dying for this. Your relationship with your kids may be dying for this.
One last thing on this: As a parent to a parent, one of the greatest advantages of being in a group is modeling this for your kids. If you make it a priority, they will too. Then the value of a group reaches into the next generation. That’s why we don’t want you to miss it.
You want to be known for something? You’re already known for something. But are you known by anyone? Are you truly known?
I understand very well that culture says, “Protect the image.” But Jesus says, “I want you to come out from behind that, to become open. Not with just anybody though cause you’ll face criticism. But in My body with My people, there’s a safe place. I want you to drop the image and allow Me to work in you. And if you will get real, I will become more real to you than you ever imagined.”
Our transparency is an invitation for your Heavenly Father to show up in an unimaginable and real way in your life. I hope you’ll at least consider becoming a part of a small group because that’s when the church really becomes the church.