Morning Musing: Psalms 34:17-20

“The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit. One who is righteous has many adversities, but the Lord rescues him from them all. He protects all his bones; not one of them is broken.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

We are sometimes tempted to think something about Jesus that is far too often presented as the truth, but which is about as far from that point as it could possibly be. We think He came to save people who have it all together. We think this even in spite of hearing numerous stories of dramatic conversions in which someone who was as far from God as he could possibly be finally embracing the Gospel. We treat those like the exceptions that prove the rule: Jesus came for the put together, and I’m not that. This morning, let’s talk about the truth.

Now, not many people will actually give word to the idea that Jesus just came for the put together. That’s something the church has done a fairly good job of advertising against at least in word. And meme. Lots of memes remind us that Jesus came for broken people. But we don’t really believe it. The idea that Jesus, the Savior of the World, God in Human Flesh (“God in a bod'” as Andy Stanley often memorably puts it) would be interested in people who do not by any metric measure up to His righteousness and goodness seems just too good to be true. And so, while we talk a good game here, we don’t actually play it. Rather than going to Jesus when we are feeling low and when our brokenness is weighing heavily on our hearts and minds, we separate ourselves from Him until we can get ourselves somewhat put together. Then we’ll go to Him, we tell ourselves.

After all, this is what we do with people. Before we even consider asking for help from someone else, we want to demonstrate to them how hard we have tried and that we’re already making some progress. We just need a little boost to get over the hill. We just need Jesus to give us a little boost, we think. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.

In practice, too many churches – including many of those same churches that have done such a good job of teaching against this idea in word – behave as if it weren’t really true as well, further feeding into the struggles most of us have with it. When people come into the church who really are experiencing the brokenness of the world, we gently push them away. We push them off on other local ministries that actually get this right because, honestly, we don’t know how to handle people when they are really broken. We don’t want the messiness in our midst because it will distract us from what we are really there to do – you know, preach and teach about a Jesus who accepts people even at their most broken points.

Now, to be fair, helping people who are swimming in the midst of life’s brokenness can indeed be tricky. It can be difficult. It takes a great deal of wisdom, and unless we have spent time developing that wisdom and growing in it with the help of folks who have some experience in these matters, we can wind up doing very little good and getting completely taken advantage of by someone who’s not really looking for a way out of their brokenness in Jesus, but who has rather learned the right language to speak to guilt church people into giving them handouts to enable them to remain in their brokenness. Sometimes meaningfully helping people who need help the most looks very unloving to the untrained eye and will feel very unloving in the moment to them. That’s a conversation for another time.

There’s something else that feeds into all of this tension. So often, how we understand the kind of shape we need to be in so that we are acceptable to Jesus is heavily influenced by old covenant thinking. In the old covenant God made with Israel, if someone wanted to be a party to it, they couldn’t just come as they were. Men had to be circumcised and everyone had to commit to keeping the Law of Moses. That covenant was rooted in the Law. Law-keeping was the indication that you were a part of it. In other words, you had to get yourself into shape before the people were going to accept you as one of them. Of course, God accepted anyone who came to Him in faith, but keeping the Law was the means by which that faith was demonstrated. Eventually, the people began to think and live by the idea that only certain people were acceptable to God. This idea was baked into the cultural cake for a very long time.

When Jesus arrived, though, He changed everything. He started going directly to people who didn’t check off any of the cultural or religious boxes they were expected to check before they were going to be good enough for God and assured them of His presence and blessing. He kept opening doors the people had worked so hard to keep closed. He kept giving legs to the idea that anyone was welcome. And if anyone was welcome, you just never knew who was going to wandered in…and what they might bring in with them. Yet Jesus was not revealing to the people anything more than God had been revealing to them about Himself and who He would accept for a very long time. As He inspired David to write hundreds of years before, “the Lord is near the brokenhearted; he saves those crushed in spirit.”

Ever since, the church has struggled to live in the direction Jesus was pointing us by His words and His deeds. We struggle with living in His open kingdom whose only entry requirement is faith and whose only law is love. If we aren’t regularly vigilant, we’ll drift back in a more natural direction of being exclusive and tribal in our outlook toward others. That is, if they aren’t like us, then they are a threat to us, and we don’t want them to be a part of us. Yet the little baby who was born at Christmas came to be the Savior of the whole world.

Face it: You aren’t put together enough for Jesus. You won’t ever be. If you wait until you’re “ready” to go to Him, you’ll never get around to going at all. Jesus accepts you anyway. This Advent season, go to Him. Go to Him no matter what it is you have going on in your life. Go to Him no matter how far from ready you feel like you are. Go to Him in your broken- and worn-down state. Go to Him because He came for you. Go to Him because He loves you. Go to Him. You’ll never be anything other than glad that you did.

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