Read an Excerpt
BUCK NAKED FAITHA Brutally Honest Look at Stunted Christianity
By ERIC SANDRAS
NAVPRESSCopyright © 2004 Eric Sandras
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBRUTALLY HONEST
SEX WITH A STRANGER wasn't supposed to end this way. I hadn't gone into this evening wanting my two worlds to collide. But by midnight my fantasy life was going to ensure that my spiritual life would begin to crumble.
I had worked hard to make sure I met this girl in a place where my Christian friends didn't hang out. The odds were totally in my favor (at least until you factor in the Holy Spirit). I attended a university with over sixteen thousand students. What was the chance that one girl at one remote college hangout would know me-the other me?
It wasn't like I went to that club just looking for sex. I think what I really wanted was a bit of a reprieve from my everyday life. I just wanted to get away from having to be so "nice" for a while. I felt I deserved it. After all, I was a full-time student, worked on the side as a waiter, and led a student ministry boasting over 250 people in attendance. Around campus I felt I always needed to live up to the image of being a spiritual leader. I had a responsibility to the troops to live a godly life-the whole live-above-reproach thing. My social world on campus surrounded me with the expectation that I walk the talk.
No doubt I was sincere in my concern for the lost, my desire to inspire others to become disciples of Jesus, and my love for God. I really did care about these things and about honoring God with my life. Yet periodically I found myself drawn to the freedom of not being known for any of this stuff. I just wanted the opportunity to live my life (at least for an evening) without having to measure up to some unattainable standard. Like the token heathens I evangelized, I occasionally wanted to enjoy the benefits of the opposite sex without all the responsibility my faith and morality attached to them. It was sometimes appealing to indulge my flesh just a little bit, at least so I knew what I was missing the other eighty-five days of the semester. My periodic desire to escape was only superceded by my need to return unscathed and undiscovered.
God had a different agenda that night. He was going to invade my private world and shake it to its core. From this moment on, my soul would be scarred. I would forever know that the painful consequences of duplicity far outweigh its benefits.
Five Life-Changing Words
The dagger came as I smugly rolled over in bed, feeling pretty good about my performance and slightly enjoying the rush that accompanies risks like I was taking. Then I noticed some tears welling up in the girl's eyes. They weren't tears of joy or even deep hurt; they were tears of disappointment. This became even more evident in the five words that accompanied those drops of disillusionment: "I thought you were different."
It was like someone had just unzipped the covering off a black hole in my soul. I felt my world implode. "I thought you were different." Those words echoed inside my hollow character. But unlike an echo, the words seemed to grow in force until every corner of my darkened understanding was awakened.
Suddenly, I realized that I did indeed know this woman, who hours ago had only been the target of my carnal desires. How could I have been so blind? She had just started attending the weekly campus meetings of our university fellowship. She was simply trying to make sense out of Christianity and religion. In my eyes she had only been an object of my attraction, but in her eyes I had been Jesus.
Obviously, she was having trouble reconciling the Jesus in me she witnessed at our Wednesday night gatherings and the Jesus in me she had just slept with. One wanted to give her everything and save her life; the other wanted to take something from her and steal her life. A divine spotlight was shining in that room, and the sinner being exposed was me.
Now, don't get me wrong. It is not like I woke up one day and decided to live a life of duplicity. It's not like I decided to fake my way through Christianity. Quite the contrary, I honestly thought I was doing pretty well. After all, people were coming to Christ, I was teaching the Bible with a competent level of gifting, and those around me constantly told me I was spiritual. But time had produced a widening gap between my external profession and my internal character. Those things I claimed to believe and do were far exceeding my reality.
Have you been there? Around one group you profess to believe and do so much more than your life indicates, yet something inside knows you are being and acting deceitfully.
Suddenly I knew I needed help. I finally admitted that something was tragically wrong, yet I didn't know how to fix it. Thankfully, I knew someone who did. But it meant being brutally honest, ending my charade, and submitting to someone I trusted.
Gifts Versus Character
I walked into Pastor Rick's office the next day after a night of sleepless torment. I knew that trying to fix this problem on my own had only led to more duplicity. I needed a mentor. Rick had been my pastor for years, but I had never seen the need to be transparent around him. I had wanted his approval and his recognition of God's work in my life more than his wisdom and character development.
Deep inside, I was afraid that if he learned about the black hole in my character, I would lose what superficial connection I had with him. But in order to escape the trap of duplicity, desperation must become more important than image. I knew I really loved God and wanted to find meaning and purpose in my walk with Jesus; however, I felt I was on the verge of disqualification. Little did I realize that my crisis was actually bringing me to the brink of what my spirit truly longed for-a cooperative friendship with Jesus.
Now, there's a fifteen-dollar bit of religious rhetoric that could have carried a whole trainload of momentum in my life had I truly understood it. Deep down I wanted to be the type of person who, like Jesus' closest disciples, could walk the dusty roads of life with him-growing in my understanding of his kingdom, his power, his authority, and his person. I knew it would be incredible to have Jesus share with me not only the power of his creativity but also the humor. It was one thing to trust Jesus enough to tell him how I felt, but it would be something entirely different when he trusted me enough to tell me how he felt. What I didn't realize then was that the path to that kind of friendship runs through the valley of brokenness.
So there I was-disillusioned, damaged, and disqualified. What I thought could be the end of my spiritual career was actually just the beginning of learning to be a genuine apprentice to the Master. Jesus was about to lead me through a fifteen-year training course so that I could truly become who I professed to be. And though I didn't see him then, Jesus was there at every step.
Pastor Rick listened as I unloaded my sin, fears, and shame. It was as if he had been waiting for this moment. Gently he said, "Perhaps it's time for the Lone Ranger to become a part of the team. I can help you, but for you it won't be easy. For starters, I want you to resign from leadership and cancel all of your speaking engagements for the next six months."
Inside my head the battle began to rage. What? Are you crazy? I was asking for help, not martyrdom. I have a responsibility to all these people. They need my leadership and inspiration. Can't we work on me while I stay involved with them? I had so many questions, so many justifications as to why I shouldn't be transparent and broken further.
Pastor Rick answered them all with one simple statement: "How bad do you want to be whole?"
For the first time in my life, I began to learn the difference between character and giftedness. (Later in this book we will explore that topic further.) Apprenticeship led me to a place of healing the deeper wounds in my life. It was a frustrating process filled with as much pain and embarrassment as success and security. Often the temporary satisfaction of minimizing my flaws and maximizing my giftedness seemed appealing, but then Pastor Rick's wisdom would push me further: "Eric, God doesn't build a man, he breaks him."
So as you read this book and grow in living what you profess, perhaps you will feel the breaking. Then again, maybe you are already so offended by my past that you can't see your own present. Jesus' healing and forgiveness have been so powerful and redeeming in my life that I've got nothing to lose these days. I don't have a reputation to maintain, only a love to live.
Not There Yet
Of course, twenty-one years into my walk with Jesus, it would sure seem that my character would be perfected, but it isn't. Still, somehow in this conversion process it has become as easy for me-well, almost-to share my weaknesses and sin as it is my strengths and passions. I say almost, because even as I sit here in the Bella Rosa Cafe, my favorite local coffee shop, I find myself feeling strangely vulnerable. As I pound the keys on my laptop, I keep looking over my shoulder, hoping nobody is reading the stuff I just wrote.
Nonetheless, I'll share my failures and successes with you, hoping that you'll pray for me and give me grace as I now walk with a spiritual limp. In return, I will give you permission to be honest. Read slowly and find those areas in which you profess one thing but find yourself living another. It is in those areas of tension that you might actually find God pulling you toward his future and not yours.
Sometimes moments of tension are actually God's grace leading us to a crisis of decision. Still, we both know that Jesus can lead sheep like us to water, but he can't make us drink.
There Must Be More
One of my deepest temptations is to practice a lifestyle that appears to be a faithful friendship with Christ but really isn't. To be a Cheese Puff Christian-lots of volume but little substance. Cheese puffs take up space in the bowl, but crush them and you're lucky to get a tablespoon of substance out of them. Likewise, it's so easy to puff up my life with religious air without much of the kingdom that Jesus was passionate about bringing. To be in a cooperative friendship with Christ means to enter into his story and live life on behalf of his kingdom, his agenda in the world. Unfortunately, life has a way of exposing who I really am-a real friend of Christ, or just another religious poser.
I have had to take a brutally honest look at my life. I may be just one small grape in this diverse fruit salad we call Western culture, but I still want to be a real one. Yet I'm immersed in a world where everything is becoming virtual, instant, and shamelessly void of depth. Plastic fruit comes from a mold and only looks like it has substance; real fruit comes from the DNA given to it by its Creator. To reach its potential, it must be given time to grow to ripeness.
Have I measured the genuineness of my faith by how well I'm performing, or by how well Jesus and I are doing? Am I willing to admit that in a world of marshmallow spirituality my faith and relationship with Jesus the Master may be lacking? Something in my spirit keeps crying out, "There must be more!"
I don't want my faith to resemble the real thing; I want it to be the real thing. I don't want to preach sermons, share with others, or counsel myself regarding a God I profess to know without answering some hard questions about my spiritual life.
Towering Trees or Dusty Bushes
Not long ago while waiting for my daughter to check out books at our local library, I came across a book on bonsai gardening. It was sitting on the display shelf by the front counter, just waiting for an anxious father like me to pick it up and waste some time. Hmmm ... bonsai gardening. You've probably seen these tiny trees, exquisite in their windswept appearance. As beautiful as they are, though, I can't help seeing the similarity of the Japanese art of bonsai and the approach to Christian faith that constantly tempts me.
Bonsai trees are intended to look like the real trees you would find outdoors. They appear to be weathered over time, able to bear fruit, healthy, and strong. The problem is that bonsai trees are stunted, contrived, and internally very weak renditions of the trees God intended them to be. If you expect a bonsai to bear fruit, you'll be disappointed. And if you place a bonsai outdoors in the rain- never mind snow and wind-it will die.
The prophet Jeremiah spoke of our choice to become bonsai or grow tall:
"Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." (Jeremiah 17:5-8)
Imagine with me a weathered and aged spruce tree standing alone in a backdrop of gray. Its trunk is twisted and apparently windswept; its foliage is a deep, rich green. Now in your mind's eye, pan back a little to give the tree some perspective. Realize that it is not standing in a forest but in a small container. The tree is not mighty in height or breadth but is actually quite small. It is not a real mighty spruce but a contrived miniature version-a bonsai.
Taking time to get a different perspective on our lives can often help us realize that what we think we're seeing in the mirror is actually only a small and struggling version of what God intends us to be. I don't want to be a bonsai believer, one who only looks like I've weathered the storms of life and faith. I want to be the real thing, growing mightily or maybe just awkwardly toward my full God-oriented potential. But to know who I am becoming requires an honest assessment and a larger perspective than many of us have ever had. Perspective often comes by standing still and getting a God's-eye view of our lives.
As we take time to stand and look at our lives, we often notice that God has placed a choice in front of us.
Excerpted from BUCK NAKED FAITH by ERIC SANDRAS Copyright © 2004 by Eric Sandras. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.