Highly Gifted and Deeply Flawed
I had a chance to see Denzel Washington’s new movie “Flight” recently. (Spoiler alert) He portrayed commercial airline pilot Whip Whittaker, a man with a unique set of skills. He could fly a plane the way that no one else could. During a doomed flight in which he had to call upon all of his training, he was able to save 96 out of 102 people who were on his plane as it crashed to the ground. He did this despite being a fall down drunk and intoxicated while at the controls. The crash magnified the fact that he was addict, and he soon learned that if he wanted to help himself and others he was going to have to admit the truth about his habit. He was a man who was highly gifted and deeply flawed. That is exactly how I view myself and the church.
Allow me to share with you some things you will never hear out of a Pastor’s mouth. I’m not a master of the snappy Christian comeback. When someone asks how I’m doing I’ll say “good” or “fine”, not “blessed and highly favored!” You are likely to find my television tuned to Grey’s Anatomy, The Good Wife, Scandal or Love & Hip Hop Atlanta not TBN. I’m not a big fan of gospel music and I listen to more Al Green and Debarge than I do Donnie McClurkin. I can verify that Kendrick Lamar’s new album (clean version) is fire and tell you what 2 Chainz wants for his birthday. There are even some Sundays that I wish I could just take my family to brunch and do nothing else all day. How is it that a Pastor can be so worldly? I’ll tell you how. I’m highly gifted and deeply flawed.
As a Christian my challenge is to live in this world but not be of it. What that means is that I have undertaken a new life in Christ and that worldly living no longer has a hold on me. But how do you do that? Should I pretend that no other worlds exist beyond the church walls? I can’t. I get the same cable TV channels that everyone else gets. So why should I pretend that I’m too holy to watch “Boardwalk Empire”. I get the same radio stations in my car as everyone else. And I find that sometimes I need that old school DJ Quick Tonite fix that only KDAY can provide. I don’t get a preacher’s exemption for my mortgage or my car note. My job is to point people to Christ, but not to act like things are all good when they’re not. I don’t need to give a blow-by-blow of my issues, but the least I can do is be honest about what I struggle with. How can I help anyone otherwise? I will tell anyone who will listen; there is no perfection on this side of heaven. We strive for it, we work at it, but it’s only practice. We stumble, we fall down. My job is to share the news about the one who keeps us from staying down (Jude 1.25).
If a member is not tithing, I don’t think to myself, “Gee that person is not trusting God!” I think to myself that their mortgage might be underwater or that their kids need money for college. If a member doesn’t come to church every Sunday, they’re not rejecting the Lord or forsaking the assembly. Maybe they just didn’t feel the need to deal with church drama that day. And guess what, it’s ok.
Some days I don’t get it. I was a guest speaker at a church once and after the message I stood in front to meet the congregants. People have lots of questions that they don’t always feel comfortable asking all these “deep” pastors. (I guess I come across as “not so deep”, go figure). As I stood in front of a crowd of young boys answering their inquiries on what the bible means, I was suddenly ushered away by a team of “armor bearers” as if I was being knifed! I was reminded by that church’s Bishop that I could not mix with them. He said that I needed to maintain my spiritual high. If I talked or mingled too much with the crowd it would bring me down. He literally told me that if they touched me I would lose my anointing. What the heck? I’m not the type of guy that locks himself in an office. How can I determine the needs of the community that I serve if I don’t know its heart? How can I work for change unless I identify with the struggle?
At the end of the day I preach God’s word to all who will hear, but I have no heaven and no hell to place anyone in. I’m highly gifted, deeply flawed. I’m no better than anyone else simply because I’m “Reverend”, I just happen to have a different gift. Of all the people in the church, someone has to get up and proclaim the Word on Sunday, but it doesn’t make me special. I’m certainly no better than the great Bible figures I’ve read about. Moses was a hot-tempered murderer with a brother and sister who were consistently out-of-pocket. King David was a disobedient adulterer. Saul of Tarsus signed death warrants for Christians. All these men are considered among God’s finest, all for different reasons. Each like me highly gifted and deeply flawed.
And then there is the church. Is there anyone out there besides me who wishes that the church would get out of its own way long enough to affect real change? It’s a great and positive thing for the church to have focus, but the truth is many times we focus on all the wrong things. Whenever I see the preview for a movie sequel like “Rocky Balboa Creed 16” I always ask the question “was there a demand for this?” And by the same token whenever I see another church fish fry or chicken dinner sale I ask, “Is this more important than supporting a women’s shelter or providing health screening for the community? The church tends to find itself trapped, a victim of the kingdom it has built for itself rather than the Kingdom of the God we are supposed to be serving. It’s a kingdom of dress codes and formality complete with its own language and rituals. Highly gifted and deeply flawed.
And yet with all of these problems I still maintain hope. I still believe that there are men and women of God who preach a life-changing word of truth that makes lives better. I believe that somewhere in between the politics and tradition that the church is still one of the best places to get work done. The church is one of the last places on earth that still give free music, vocal and public speaking lessons. It’s the only place where a man who works as a janitor all week can come in for one day and be the Deacon Board chairman and CFO. It’s a place where people of color can meet in large groups and not be considered a gang. It’s a place to go when there is nowhere else you can go. Sure it needs a tweak. The church can’t continue to falsely proclaim that the homosexuals in Romans 1 are worse than those on the long and prestigious list in 1 Corinthians 6. In fact the list in Corinthians is longer, and thus everyone is better able to find their particular sin there. So why do we ask homosexuals to stand outside the door while adulterers lead the praise and worship? We must stop living in the tension that constantly pits one group against the other. Gay vs. straight, old vs. young, praise & worship vs. devotion. Let’s stop putting people in hell. When a Pastor falls, when hypocrites rise, when the church disappoints you, just shake your head a bit and say to yourself “highly gifted, deeply flawed”.
In my heart, I only wish that we could all come together in the end. How I wish we could simply admit our flaws and show our warts without the mean-spirited condemnation that we have become accustomed to. Whip Whittaker was able to admit that he was a drunk when he decided that he just couldn’t bear to tell one more lie. He paid a price, but he was able to help himself and countless others. Let’s decide to pay the price today. No more lies. No one is perfect, no one is holy. Let’s agree that we are all highly gifted and deeply flawed; and let’s begin the work of helping and healing today.