Sunni glanced in the rearview mirror. She had mostly stopped stripping for a living since her daughter was born, but kicking the alcohol and drugs did not come as easy—all addictions share a similar root. "My beautiful little girl deserves more than an addicted mom in unhealthy relationships. How do I get out of this?"
"Mommy, when can we go to church again?" Autum's four-year-old voice cut through Sunni's introspection. Sunni had tried church a year earlier. She always left feeling small, dirty, unworthy of God's love, and like there was no way she could ever redeem herself in God's eyes. And she knew if these church people found out her past, they'd surely reject her.
"I don't know, honey," Sunni told Autum. Yet that very day, driving along listening to her favorite rock station, Sunni heard a radio ad from a church we helped start. The ad made her laugh. "It surprised me that it was a church," Sunni recalls, "but what stuck in my mind were the last words: 'Come as you are—no perfect people allowed.'" Two weeks later, Sunday morning found her so hung over her body shook from dehydration.
"'Come as you are' kept filling my mind," Sunni recalls, "so I decided to put them to the test and see if they would push me out"—better sooner than later, she figured. Sean saw her come in, introduced himself as the pastor, and asked how she was doing.
"I have a massive hangover," Sunni blurted out, intending to shock him into a judgmental reaction.
"Oh, then you need some coffee," Sean responded, "Can I get some for you?"
Sunni was shocked. She tried again and again with other people, working hard to get a reaction to her "massive hangover." Instead, she felt like the people there were less concerned about her hangover than they were about her—it blew her away.
"I continued to come to church and began building amazing relationships with people there, and as trust built, I began to say less words for shock value (which was a defense mechanism I used to keep people from getting close enough to hurt me), and I began to allow myself to be ever-so-slightly vulnerable. People brought me into their lives like I was family. No matter what I said or did, the response was, 'I love you for exactly who you are, and exactly where you're at, and so does Jesus. Nine months later, I almost overdosed like my mom had, but I cried out for help—this time to God and my new Christian friends."
Sunni entered recovery to get clean of drugs and alcohol and was baptized. Today Sunni celebrates nearly four years of sobriety. "God led me to an amazing Christian man I've been married to for a year now, I'm back in college, and I know Autumn will have a better life than I did, because God's leading us all."
Jesus offered mercy to people who needed mercy. He brought good news about God's heart for people who felt condemned, judged, thinking God saw no hope for them. He offered people relationship that restored. As followers of Jesus, do we first bring something "good" relationally to people in need of good news, or do we bring a gospel that says, "Until I help them see the 'bad news' about how wrong their sin is, they won't see their need for forgiveness"? Jesus didn't do this, but the Pharisees did.
Jesus did not recoil in shock and disbelief at people's relative "badness." He saw it like mud on a Masterpiece—something that needed to be removed because something of immense value was present underneath. Something worth dying for! Jesus put the spotlight of grace on the Masterpiece, so people could see why the mud needed removing. He identified the person with the Masterpiece rather than the mud (read Eph. 2:8-10).
This doesn't mean Jesus ignored or denied the seriousness of our sins against God or our wrongs against each other. The reason I believe Jesus wants his followers to be unshockable has nothing to do with hating sin or not hating sin. It has to do with seeing sin for what it is—it's foreign matter. Sin is not our true identity—that's the whole problem. We need to help people identify with God's image in them (who God created them to be).
What do you see in yourself or others—the mud or the Masterpiece? What you see determines how you treat yourself and others.
Paul explained it this way: "It is no longer I myself who do [wrong], but it is sin living in me [i.e., sin is not me]" (Romans 7:17). So don't beat yourself up, beat up on sin! When people identify themselves with the mud (which is not them), they act like mud! Feelings of shame and condemnation keep driving them away from the only One who can restore them. When people identify themselves with the Masterpiece God created them to be, they're more willing to allow the Master to do his restoration work.
Jesus didn't make sure the woman at the well, who was shacking up with a guy after having five divorces, understood that sex outside of marriage is wrong (though he taught it was at other times), he offered her living water that made the muddy water distasteful (John 4). Jesus didn't remind the woman caught in adultery that she broke the Ten Commandments—he didn't have to—he set her free from condemnation so that she could "go and sin no more" (John 8:11). He offered a chance to live a new life! Relationship was Jesus' solution to sin.
What would happen if you went into your workplace, your neighborhood, or your home and really started treating people just like Jesus did? What if you were unshocked by mud ... motivated by mercy ... and committed to restoring value—connecting people to the Master Restorer?
John Burke is the pastor of Gateway Church in Austin, Texas and author of Unshockable Love, No Perfect People Allowed, and Soul Revolution (bakerpublishinggroup.com). To purchase Unshockable Love, click here.
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