He had patrolled the blood-soaked streets of Mogadishu and endured the harsh desert of Iraq, but it was the pain of events back home that brought him to the brink of hopelessness.
I received a call one morning from a guy in our church; a call from someone who never called. "I have a friend," he said. "He's going through some pretty rough stuff and isn't sure he can go on with life. Can you see him?" I just happened to have an opening that morning, something that can be quite rare in my schedule. "Can he come right away?" I asked.
The man walked in, eyes downcast and shoulders slumped. He spoke of his despair and his longing to know that Someone could offer him hope. At least a sliver.
That man, who today is a leader in our church, was a living picture of our first value at Stone Ridge: Come as you are!
To contrast, I saw a family walk into one of our recent services. Parents and two or three kids, who looked to be in their young teens. As I noticed the relatively conservative clothes they wore (girls in dresses and boy in sport shirt and slacks) along with the somewhat stiff way they walked, I thought, "Uh-oh. They may be in for a surprise." Our Ignite worship band was leading that morning; the same band that leads Ignite for teens on Saturday nights. Let's just say that they aren't "traditional." The young man who leads them used to be in a touring band and has body art all the way down one arm. He passionately loves Jesus, but he ain't, er, traditional. At the end of the service, I noticed that the family quietly left and I don't think they have been back.
Please don't get me wrong; I have a deep level of compassion and respect for the family I just described, but they struck me as people whose whole view of attending church is different than ours. We seek to embody the value "Come As You Are." For most of us, the button-down, spit-shined version of ourselves is a person we like to be, but we would admit that looking good is in many ways just a veneer. In other words, our lives are marred by schisms, struggles and stresses that take their toll on us. Nearly every day.
Unfortunately, many of us took the admonition to "give your best to God" to mean, "Act like everything is great even though it isn't." In an era when our culture regularly grinds people up and spits them out, we have learned to walk into church with what I call our "plastic Jesus smile" on our faces. Most of us desperately need healing, but we act like we're the people who have it all together.
Stone Ridge isn't like that. I have dubbed my office as a "free-cry zone." We have boxes of tissues sitting at various places all over our campus and they are not primarily for allergy season. Jesus called the weary and those carrying a heavy burden to come to him. He said that He was here to rescue the downtrodden. One day He told the religious leaders that it is the sick who need a physician; they saw themselves as having it all together and He couldn't help them.
At our church we urge you, "Come As You Are!" It's the first step to becoming someone different.