Monday, June 3, 2013

Truth re-dux

I feel the need to back up and review the previous section … please pardon the lack of sequence here, but something more needs to be said before we move on, so please indulge me.  This is very, very important.

Again, you've heard that the ancients were told,
‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’
But I say to you:
Make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,
…or by the earth, for it is the footstool of his feet,
…or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
…Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.
Let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’;
…anything beyond these is of evil.
Matthew 5.33-37

Pay attention to exactly what is being taught here, and don’t be distracted: 
First Jesus reminded them of the teaching from the Hebrew scripture. 
Then he told them what not to do (don’t make oaths/promises at all) …
Then he told them what to do: “Let your statement be, “Yes or No … anything beyond this is of evil.” 

Let’s be clear: our Master gave us a direct order: only the truth is to come from us.  Period!

If Jesus really is Lord of your life and your heart – you must know you cannot refuse to obey the one who gave his life for you!

How can we overstate the importance of truth?  Impossible, because Jesus himself was the living embodiment of truth:
 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.”John 14:6


This particular lesson is very personal to me – it hits me hard.  If it doesn't have the same impact on you, please take time to read this and try to understand how vital this is to some of us.

It’s personal to me because I am a recovering liar.  I spent many years learning how to lie and learning how to leverage it to my benefit.  After years of practice, I developed skills.  My ability to lie and deceive is one of my greatest abilities, and probably my greatest failure.  Once a person is good at deception, it becomes so easy to fall back on it as a crutch.  This is true in business, at church and in personal relationships.  One lie leads to another, and after a while our lies destroy us.  It may be the deadliest thing in this life.  Just a little deception here and there, to spare someone’s feelings, or cover up a blunder or an embarrassment or to let someone off the hook … it is, in my opinion, Satan’s greatest tool, and why Jesus calls him “the father of lies.”  All lies begin with pure evil, and they also carry his addictive power.  My personal struggle with this will never end, but I have (by God’s grace) managed to reduce this to almost zero.

It’s also personal to me because of how much I've suffered because of the lies and deceptions of others.  Maybe this is God’s way of making me pay for my own deceptions, I don’t know.  But I do know what it’s like to be lied to – and suffer for it.  I've been lied to by false friends – sometimes just to “spare my feelings,” and sometimes to manipulate me. 

Deception in ministry is the worst.  I've been claimed as friend, great teacher, son, brother and many other ways … only to discover later that these words were empty and false.  My greatest struggles since becoming a disciple have all come because someone lied to me and I was foolish enough to believe it.  In ministry people lie more often even than in the business world.  “Christians” claim to be your friend, your supporter, even ‘family,’ and then it turns out to be a lie.  They will tell you of their commitment, their support and their appreciation of your work – but fail you almost every time. 

I don’t have enough skills to accurately describe the pain I've both caused - and experienced - as the result of deception, dishonesty and out-right lies from people who claimed to be “Christians.”  Deception and dishonesty are unquestionably the undermining of our whole belief system. 

Heart Disease

Most of us consider deception, lies and inaccuracies to be inevitable moments of misspeaking.  We try to be careful in what we say – but we expect to often fail, and we accept that in others. 

THIS IS NOT TRUE!!  When we deceive, when we gloss over something, when we pass along gossip, or false emails or any other misleading information – we are not merely speaking poorly – we are revealing a bad heart.  This is NOT about controlling our words, it’s about changing our hearts!  And when we change our heart – we discover that deception is neither inevitable, nor is it a question of controlling the tongue.

Our deception is not a “slip of the tongue,” it’s a disease of the heart.  Read this, think about it, believe it, pray it, and live it:
“The things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”  Matthew 15:18-20
When you have time, you should read that whole section – Matthew 15.1-20.  Jesus makes it clear that it’s not following religious rules or monitoring our speech or behavior that makes us right with God – it’s having a change of heart! 

This is especially difficult in our religious world.  Most of us know that we don’t want anyone at church to know what’s really in our hearts.  It’s embarrassing, humiliating; it can be creepy or disgusting; and in some cases even illegal.  Ask yourself: if your friends really knew your deepest secrets, would they still be your friends? 

Now step back and look at the big picture, because this is important.  See that we have created religious systems that actually make it harder for us to tell the truth!  We know for sure that some people will never forgive us for some of the things we've done or even temptations with which we struggle. 

So we pretend to be something we’re not.  We overlook things we shouldn't  and we settle for a life that’s much less than it might be.  Worse yet, our friends are afraid to confess their junk to us because they think we’re so good, and expect we’d think less of them if they told the truth.  So we all have a system of concealing rather than confessing. 

And the same thing holds true with our churches.  If some of their doctrines or lessons or actions don’t measure up to scripture, we just cover over that, too, because we want people to like our church.  And again … if people knew the real truth, they will refuse to fellowship us! 

This is why there are 12-step programs, because we recognize the need to create a place where it’s “safe” to confess.  We admit defeat at church – no one will confess like this – so we have a group for perverts and one for gluttons and one for drunks – as if the drunks will look down their noses on those who are pervs, or vice-versa.  But of course this is our reality, isn't it?  Churches are full of wasteful, selfish, dishonest gluttons who look down their noses at gay people, pedophiles, and lots of other sinners.  We don’t help sinners – we condemn them.  As a minister told me recently, “This is the consequences of sin.”  Yes, he was actually condoning the refusal to fellowship a disciple who had sinned and repented.  We give the spiritual death penalty to those guilty of certain sins. 

The thing is, we mostly know this and accept it.  And so when the moment comes for us to confess and repent of sin or even confess the temptation to sin, we keep our mouths closed because we know that whereas God may forgive, our “brothers” rarely do.  And so we gloss over the truth to make ourselves look good.

Truth or Consequences

Don’t imagine that you’re able to detect the consequences of your deception.  You are not.  Most deceptions happen from good motives.  We believe that we need to say a certain thing to save a person’s feelings or because we want some lesson told … and we tell ourselves that in this case it’s worth it because the consequences of our deception are good.  This is the moment we reveal to all the hosts of heaven just how foolish we are.  The consequences of deceptions are unknowable.  That’s the problem and the lure of deception.

Consider romantic relationships as an example.  You meet someone you like, and you want them to like you, too.  First there’s personal grooming to cover what your true looks and odor, and then there are your carefully chosen words, and then your behavior changes, and soon you’re doing lots of things to get that person to like you.  The line between grooming, deception and a plain lie – begins to blur.  Soon you’re both so invested – you cannot go back.  Then one day … you discover that the person you’re married to isn’t the person you thought he or she was.  And you’re right!  Because mostly we never told the other person the whole truth. 

I know a man who claims his wife trapped him by “false advertising.”  He’s endured an unhappy marriage for years.  And I know many more marriages where one – or both – partners are in unloving and even un-Christian marriages because they were not fully open. They choose to fail at this teaching of Jesus so they can “obey” the earlier one against divorce.  Better a liar than to be divorced?  Of course – because our religious culture judges them differently. 

We can’t always predict the consequences of deception, but the truth – that’s easy to predict. 

Some people won’t like you because you tell them things they want to pretend aren't true. 
Some won’t like you because they can’t catch you on something. 
Some won’t like you because they just don’t like people like you, and since you’re truthful and not masking your real self, they just won’t like you. 

Bottom line: people won’t like you. 
Almost no one likes a truth-teller. 
It’s a very lonely and unpleasant life. 
 “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.  Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.
For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.  But woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.”  Luke 6:22-26
Truth tellers have a hard life, and they are unpopular.  It has always been thus, and it always will be.  Even our own Lord suffered the same thing.  Jesus not only told the truth, he was the truth, and they murdered him for it.  And they were not content merely to kill him, their hatred was so intense they enjoyed and cheered and mocked him as they spat on him, beat him, and humiliated him.  That is how much people hate the truth. 

Let there be no doubt: truth tellers have an excellent life, amazing peace and astonishing strength.  Better still, they enjoy fellowship with the great prophets, with Jesus, and are truly children of God.  As if that were not enough, truth tellers have hope for eternity.  But it is hard-won.  People will despise you and rejoice when you suffer, while they praise and admire the deceptive ones. 

The question is: Will you trust that Jesus is the way to the Father, and choose that way?  Or – will you choose the way of the world and live in whatever way seems best to you?  Or will you join most “Christians” and try to live in both worlds at the same time?  Most seek the praise of men and of God at the same time.  This is a recipe for disaster. 
“You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you:This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me.  But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’  Matthew 15:7-9

As for me, I will continue to struggle to be a truth teller.  I will fail, but when I do I’ll get back up and try again.  And over time I’ll reduce my failures in severity and frequency.  This is my oath – it is my truth. 

Your Challenge

What will you choose?  Choosing to tell the truth will be hard – but being a truth teller is not optional for a disciple of Jesus.  Failing to devote yourself to pursuit of the truth is a pathway of guaranteed failure – Guaranteed! 

We all stumble in many ways.  When we do, we can tell everyone everything, tell no one anything, or we can find a middle ground.  Most of us will choose the middle ground, and when you do, be aware that what you choose reveals your motives, and motives are matters of the heart.  Again: your motives will be revealed. 

  • If you are “honest” as an excuse for being rude or mean, it reveals your heart.   
  • If you are “honest” in confession … but just to relieve your own guilt or expose or blame another – here’s your heart. 
  • If you say or write things without verifying them, then obviously what’s in your heart is proving yourself or your group to be right – but your commitment to truth is lacking.  Your heart is showing.
  • If you care more about “tone” than truth – your “politeness” reveals your heart. 
  • If you gloss over sins (your own or your brother’s) – then your heart’s faith in the cross of Christ is revealed. 

Nothing is as important as the truth – and only the truth.  Please make your commitment to being a truth teller today … and never ever quit re-committing to the truth. 

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