In Friday’s Mass Event we explored what it means to be REAL.
We see a filtered and phony version of reality everywhere we look. But if we’re being real, we all know this world is a broken mess (our lives included!). We saw how a very real Jesus steps into the broken mess of this world as a real person and delivers God-given freedom to us.
AJ and Emilie warmed up the crowd with a game, some laughter, and the “perfect” selfie. Emilie confessed to always editing her photos before posting on social media, and AJ confessed to using filters on Instagram. We want people to see us a certain way, and so we edit ourselves.
“We care so much about how other people see us. Sometimes we think that our value is based on the way other people view our lives,” said Pastor Jake.
In the drama that followed, we saw two people meeting up at a coffee shop. Their conversation was shallow, and, as we saw the drama unfold, fake. Each person had a shadow who said what they were really thinking. At the end of the drama, they said goodbye and walked away, neither sharing the hurt and pain they carried.
Pastor Jake helped us unpack this idea. We spend so much time caring about how people see us and trying to portray a perfect image of ourselves. But it’s exhausting. That’s why this idea of being real is so important, and biblical.
“Being real takes God seriously as He has made Himself known to us…. Our God is real. He doesn’t pretend. His identity is not determined by what we think about Him. He is who He is. Because Jesus is real, I can be real. I can stop pretending. I can stop hiding. I can stop the constant, exhausting pursuit of trying to make other people and God see me in a certain way. Even in your mess, Jesus still loves you. In your real-ness, Jesus still loves you. And that’s so freeing.”
Ashley Paavola then took the stage, and got real with us. She shared her experience of launching an after school program for at-risk teen girls in a public high school, and the insecurities and fears she faced. Ashley and her husband were led to plant a church five miles south of Ferguson, in a predominantly African American community. As a multiracial family built through adoption and foster care, they were excited about this opportunity to be in a community that reflects the diversity of their own family.
But the more they considered the community they were called to reach, the more they began to feel the gravity of Ephesians 2:
“The cross has destroyed the dividing wall between races and there is now one new humanity in Jesus,” Ashley said. “And if we are called to bring the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection to our community, we are also called to bring racial reconciliation to our community. See, in Jesus we have the reconciliation that St. Louis is literally burning itself down to find.”
Realizing how inadequate she was for the task of planning and creating a program to help girls whose life experience was so different from her own, she cried out to God. And God reminded her that she loved those girls, and that He loves her.
“‘And my power is made perfect in your weakness….not your fakeness. Ashley, love is real. I am real. Your Savior is real. So YOU can be real.” I could either work really hard to pretend, or I could do what seemed even more difficult at the time: Be real. Just be me, the real me, without a mask or show or facade.”
So she was real. She told them the truth, that she had no idea what they had lived through, but she loved them and wanted to support them no matter way. She learned from them, she listened, she walked with them.
“And I listened and listened and listened. And I bit my tongue and didn’t give a word of advice unless it was specifically asked for, because being real did not mean proving my competence. Being real meant admitting my weakness. And since Jesus is real, I can be real.”
Since then, she and the girls she mentors have all grown. That first group of girls have graduated from high school and gone on to pursue their dreams, to advocate for themselves, and use their strengths to accomplish their goals. The after school program has transitioned to a weekly teen ministry at All Nations Church.
Ashley closed by saying,
“Jesus loves the real us, even when our lives are a mess. It’s His real love that gives me, and you, the freedom to be real with each other. Because Jesus is real, so we can be real. That is what I want for you. Maybe it’s in your youth group, or your school, or in your family. But find someone you trust and tell them about your challenges, your fears, and your weaknesses. And when you do, you won’t regret a moment of it because you will discover that the truth really does set you free. Because Jesus is real, you can be real.”
A powerful drama followed, as we watched a girl go through her day. As more and more labels were given to her, “Idiot. Failure. Dirty. Terrible Friend,” her white clothes became stained with paint. In the end she felt helpless and burdened with the weight of these labels and the stains. Then Jesus walked in and wrapped her in white, holding her close and giving her His love.
Pastor Jake closed the night with a powerful message of forgiveness.
“We’re carrying sin. We’ve made a mess. We’ve been selfish and thoughtless. We’re holding on to things that we don’t anyone else to know about, especially God. We’re carrying sin.”
He read from Psalm 32:3-4: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” David was holding on to sins, and it was killing him. He was trying to deal with it on his own. In verse 5, speaking to God, he writes, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
“Friends, all the sins that you hold so tightly to your chest have already been laid out on the table of the cross. Jesus knows exactly what you’re carrying because He already carried it to a hill outside of Jerusalem. He already shed His blood and died for it. All the things that you want to try so hard to keep hidden were left naked and exposed in the body of Jesus. Because of Him, you’re already forgiven…. You are fully known and fully loved. God refuses to deal with you in any other way because His “I love you” has already been declared at the cross…. You will always be welcomed with love and forgiveness.”