Psalm 39 – Being Honest with God

I promised I would watch my steps
    so as not to sin with my tongue;
    promised to keep my mouth shut
    as long as the wicked were in my presence.
So I was completely quiet, silent.
    I kept my peace, but it did no good.
    My pain got worse.
My heart got hot inside me;
    while stewing over it, the fire burned.
Then I spoke out with my tongue:
    “Let me know my end, Lord.
    How many days do I have left?
    I want to know how brief my time is.”
You’ve made my days so short;
    my lifetime is like nothing in your eyes.
        Yes, a human life is nothing but a puff of air! Selah

Yes, people wander around like shadows;
    yes, they hustle and bustle, but pointlessly;
        they don’t even know who will get the wealth they’ve amassed.
So now, Lord, what should I be waiting for?
        My hope is set on you.
Deliver me from all my sins;
    don’t make me some foolish person’s joke.
I am completely silent; I won’t open my mouth
    because you have acted.
Get this plague of yours off me!
    I’m being destroyed by the blows from your fist.
You discipline people for their sin, punishing them;
    like a moth, you ruin what they treasure.
        Yes, a human life is just a puff of air! Selah

Hear my prayer, Lord!
    Listen closely to my cry for help!
Please don’t ignore my tears!
    I’m just a foreigner—
        an immigrant staying with you,
        just like all my ancestors were.
Look away from me
    so I can be happy again
    before I pass away and am gone. (Common English Bible)

God is big. The Lord is big enough to hear whatever is on our hearts. It really does no one any good to have pretense with God. The psalmist initially thought he had to hold back in speaking with God:  He was silent and held his peace with God. However, his distress grew worse.

The psalmist, David, finally opened up. He went on to speak openly and honestly to God, with flavorful expression, about what was really on his heart and mind.

Sometimes we may mistakenly believe we need to be guarded with God – that somehow we should treat the Lord of the universe like we do with other people – coy, hesitant, keeping a respectable distance in conversation.  Maybe that ought to occasionally happen with other people, but it is silly to approach God in such a manner. With God, we ought to be brutally honest about how we are really doing and how we are actually feeling. 

If we desire to move mountains and have God work powerfully in and through us, then we need to acknowledge and admit there is a mountain smack in front of our faces.

I’m quite sure God has heard it all from people in the long millennia of human existence. The Lord isn’t going to be surprised by any of our thoughts and words. So, why hide them? 

It may be a radical thought for some that we can say anything to God and express our deepest emotions to the Lord who desires to listen. God wants to help us journey in this pilgrimage of faith we are on. For that to happen, we must be up front about our current location and how we are doing.

Like everything in life, honesty is a skill to be developed and utilized. Being honest with ourselves and the Lord involves the following:

Acknowledging both the good and the bad.

Shying away from the shadowy places of our hearts will never resolve the icky-ness we may feel inside. Neither will peace come only by focusing on our screw-ups and bad traits. There is both bad and good within us all, and so, we need to hold them both together, recognizing the tension. The better we accept this reality, the sooner we can walk the path of faith with patience and confidence. Both prayers of confession and praise help us keep the good and the bad in mind.

Giving some time and space, daily, to reflect.

Debrief with yourself about your day or events within the day. What did you do well? What could you have improved? Is there anything you will do differently next time? How might you engraft this kind of reflection into your daily prayers?

Admitting your mistakes and when you need help.

Only a person who admits their mistakes can learn from them and correct them. This is a necessary part of spiritual growth and development. Faith cannot be properly formed if we don’t face up to our own reality. Blaming others only causes us to take the focus off our own needs. Failure and admitting need is to be human. Asking for assistance requires humility and courage – qualities we all possess if we will access them.

Paying attention to your emotions.

David, the psalmist, did it. He was aware of his emotions, acknowledged them, and expressed them to God. Our feelings are not some necessary evil. Rather, they are important to our faith and well-being. All emotions exist as signs for us to pay attention to something, whatever it is.

Listening to the gut.

You and I can learn the difference between an impulsive reaction and an intuitive response. The gut level instinct we possess is our conscience giving us insight. Avoiding this important epistemic ally usually results in a lack of self-awareness and poor decision-making. However, listening to the spiritual whispers within can serve us well.

Reading a psalm every day.

The psalms are emotional. They are also, obviously, biblical. Therefore, emotions are godly. A daily regimen of reading at least one psalm out loud can have the effect of bringing our mind, spirit, and emotions into alignment so that they are not disparate parts inside us.

God of the Ages, you are above all and know all things. Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; hold not your peace at my tears.  I am a sojourner with you, a guest, like all my forefathers. Look away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more!  My hope is in you; without your abiding presence I am nothing. Maranatha, come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Titus 1:1-9 – Effective Spiritual Leaders

From Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. I’m sent to bring about the faith of God’s chosen people and a knowledge of the truth that agrees with godliness.

Their faith and this knowledge are based on the hope of eternal life that God, who doesn’t lie, promised before time began. God revealed his message at the appropriate time through preaching, and I was trusted with preaching this message by the command of God our savior.

To Titus, my true child in a common faith.

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our savior.

The reason I left you behind in Crete was to organize whatever needs to be done and to appoint elders in each city, as I told you. Elders should be without fault. They should be faithful to their spouse and have faithful children who can’t be accused of self-indulgence or rebelliousness. This is because supervisors should be without fault as God’s managers: they shouldn’t be stubborn, irritable, addicted to alcohol, a bully, or greedy. Instead, they should show hospitality, love what is good, and be reasonable, ethical, godly, and self-controlled. They must pay attention to the reliable message as it has been taught to them so that they can encourage people with healthy instruction and refute those who speak against it. (Common English Bible)

Paul wrote his letter to Titus so that spiritually solid competent virtuous leaders might be appointed to guide the church on the island of Crete (located in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Greece). 

There was no ambiguity with Paul about the importance of leadership. The Apostle clearly laid out his expectations that church officials must have a good reputation – not bossy, quick-tempered, heavy drinkers, bullies, or dishonest in business. Instead, they must be friendly to strangers and enjoy doing good things. They must also be sensible, fair, pure, and self-controlled.  They must stick to the true message they were taught, so that their good teaching can help others and correct everyone who opposes it.

I find it interesting that very few biblical scholars view this teaching as an ideal to aspire – while many churches and believers think this is the case. There is neither any indication nor reason within the biblical text to think that Paul presented his expectations for the ideal leader, as if no one could really be this way. 

Furthermore, Paul did not provide his instruction as a strategy for getting apathetic people off their butts and into some form of service. No, it’s best to understand that Paul meant what he said. He knew that compromising on the character of leadership would erode and destroy the church.

“True leadership is found in giving yourself in service to others, not in coaxing or inducing others to serve you.”

J. Oswald Sanders

The selection of church leaders is important because just one bad belly-aching non-virtuous apple can upset the entire apple cart. Good people provide good teaching and good wisdom. Selfish people with a self-centered agenda find ways to subvert or manipulate sound instruction to get what they want. 

Everyone in the Body of Christ is to grow in the wisdom and knowledge of God. They are to be wise to all the shenanigans of myopic persons through understanding the commands and instruction of Holy Scripture. This is yet another reason to immerse ourselves in the Bible so that we will lead with confidence.

If a church or faith community feels the need to overlook character defects to fill empty leadership seats, then Houston, we have a problem. Any short order cook worth his salt would never crack open a rotten egg and mix it in with the rest to make an omelet. And any group of people who throw a bad egg into their leadership team had better be ready to get sick and vomit when meetings are called to order.

It is imperative that spiritual leaders possess the following:

  • A good reputation
  • Faithfulness and fidelity to their families.
  • A clear-mind and consistent good behavior.
  • Self-control
  • The moral courage to speak truth with grace.
  • A spirit and practice of hospitality.
  • An ability to communicate well so that people are built up in their faith.
  • Sobriety
  • Humility
  • Respectability
  • Gentleness
  • Patience
  • Generosity
  • Compassion
  • Maturity
  • Sincerity
  • Honesty
  • Empathy
  • Purity

All these traits are needed for effective and godly spiritual leadership. Compromising on virtue will never end well. Upholding moral character brings blessing.

“The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.” 

John R.W. Stott

God calls and sets apart individuals for service. The Lord desires to reveal and manifest the divine presence among people through leaders who reflect God’s good attributes. Jesus Christ wants his church to be built up through faithful service. The Spirit seeks to sanctify and empower for effective ministry.

Nowhere do we find in Scripture that a leader’s main job is listening to complaints. That’s because God has a zero tolerance policy toward murmuring, grumbling, and ingratitude. In fact, the New Testament clearly says to do everything without complaining or arguing. (Philippians 2:14)

Neither will you find the church is supposed to operate just like an American form of democracy. Spiritual leaders are not representatives of the people to do their will. Instead, they are representatives of God to the people so that God’s will is done in all things. 

That all means prayer to God and outreach to the world is the major work for spiritual leaders. And it takes virtuous and ethical persons leading to realize love to all kinds of people. So, feel free to exercise leadership. Just make sure that leadership is grounded in the God of integrity and the Word of grace and truth.

Almighty God, the One who gives good gifts to people, may every grace of ministry rest on divinely appointed leaders. Keep them strong and faithful so that your church may prosper in peace. Grant leaders wisdom, courage, discretion, and benevolence so that they may fulfill their charge to the glory of Jesus Christ and in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

John 12:1-11 – Broken and Poured Out

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So, the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him. (NIV)

Jack Klugman as Quincy, M.E. (1976-1983)

When I was a kid there was a show on TV called “Quincy.” Quincy was a coroner. Every episode was him performing an autopsy on someone who appeared to have a rather normal death. But Quincy always found something suspicious and spent his time prying into people’s lives to confirm his investigation. His boss and the police chief would chide and warn him saying, “Leave it alone, Quincy.” Quincy’s typical response was: “But I can’t leave it alone. There’s more here than what meets the eye!”

Indeed, the Apostle John was the Quincy of his ancient generation. In his gospel there is always more going on than what meets the eye. There are double-meanings, sometimes even triple-meanings to the events unfolding.  There are deeply symbolic encounters, as well as tangible events serving as almost metaphors pointing to the spiritual.

Mary, a woman with a sordid background, had her life transformed through meeting Jesus.

Near the end of Christ’s life, as he was about to enter Jerusalem and be arrested, tried, tortured, and killed, Mary sensed what was happening. In fact, she was aware of what was happening when others did not. Mary’s own brokenness cracked open to her the true reality of life.

The surface event itself is a touching and tender moment in history. This woman, whom everyone knew as a damaged person, took a high-end perfume, and broke the entire thing open. She then proceeded to anoint Christ’s feet with it. You can imagine the aroma filling the house with an expensive perfume for all to smell.  Giving what she had to Jesus, Mary demonstrated the path of true discipleship.

But there’s more here than what meets the eye. Let’s observe some of John’s expert autopsy work:

  • The broken jar of perfume shows us the brokenness of Mary and our need to be broken. (Matthew 5:3-4)
  • Mary used an extraordinary amount of perfume, picturing her overflowing love for Jesus. (John 20:1-18)
  • Mary applied the perfume to Jesus with her hair; hair is culturally symbolic for submission and respect. (1 Corinthians 11:14)
  • The perfume directs us to the death of Jesus. (John 19:38-42)
  • The perfume highlights for us the aroma of Christ to the world. (2 Corinthians 2:15-17)
  • There is more to Judas than his words about perfume; he is not actually concerned for the poor. (Matthew 26:15)
  • Judas and Mary serve as spiritual contrasts: Mary opens herself to the sweet aroma of Christ; Judas just plain stinks.
  • The perfume presents a powerful picture of the upcoming death of Christ, for those with eyes to see; he was broken and poured out for our salvation. (Luke 23:26-27:12)

Christianity was never meant to be a surface religion which merely runs skin deep. The follower of Christ is meant for deep personal transformation, inside and out, so that there is genuine healing, spiritual health, and authentic concern for the poor and needy. 

Keeping up appearances is what the Judas’s of this world do. But the Mary’s among us dramatically point others to Jesus with their tears, humility, openness, and love.

In our social landscape of fragmented human ecology, our first step toward wholeness and integrity begins with a posture of giving everything we have – body, soul, and spirit – to the Lord Jesus. Methinks Quincy was on to something.

Loving Lord Jesus, my Savior, and my friend, you have gone before us and pioneered deliverance from an empty way of life and into a life of grace and gratitude. May I and all your followers emulate the path of Mary and realize the true freedom which comes from emptying oneself out for you. Amen.

Speaking Truthfully to One Another

When we go to the doctor, we want he/she to be honest with us about our true condition and health.  If we have a clean bill of health, we are glad for that truth.  If, however, we have something wrong, we would like to know what it is and how to deal with it rather than have the doctor avoid the truth so as to not make us feel bad or hurt our feelings.
 
            In many ways pastors are spiritual doctors; it is their job to deal in the care of souls.  In order to care for those souls, telling the truth to parishioners can not only be comforting, but it can also be painful.  Pastor John Ortberg once said that “Trying to grow spiritually without hearing the truth about yourself from somebody else is like trying to do brain surgery on yourself without a mirror.”
 
            The truth will set you free.  But before it will free you, it will make you uncomfortable.  We all have a real need to hear the truth spoken in love.  And here is the truth that we must get a hold of:  we are to be open, honest, and real with each other in the church because we belong to one another (Ephesians 4:25).  We are to stop being dishonest, and start being truthful.
 
            What is truth?  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  Our lives together as a community of believers are to be shaped around the person and finished work of Jesus Christ.  Since Christians share a common confession of Jesus together, we are to share a common life together.  That life is to revolve around the truth of Jesus.  That means we will put off non-Christian ways of relating to each other, and put on a Christian way of relating to each other.  We will speak truthfully.  And we will do it because we belong to each other.  Just as Jesus closely identified with us in his life, death, and resurrection, so we are to so closely identify with each other that we take responsibility for each other.  My problems are your problems – your issues are my issues.
 
            We are to put off bad habits, and put on good habits.  We are to put off lying, and put on truth.  Let’s be honest:  we are in the habit of not being truthful.  We are in the habit of being liars.  We are in the habit of pretending and being plastic – and what we need to see is that, in the Body of Christ, pretending that you are okay when you are not, or even acting like your life is hard when it is really not, is presenting yourself in an untruthful way.  Secrecy and deception are tools of Satan, not God.  Therefore, we must put off the bad habit of pretension, and put on the good habit of speaking truthfully to each other. 
 
 
 
            Why do we lie and not speak the truth?  We are in the habit of lying because we have bought into the lie from the enemy of our souls that being truthful and transparent is too traumatic for us – we believe we can’t do it.  The truth is that many Christians don’t think being open, honest, real, vulnerable, and genuine is worth the risk.  We have believed the lie that we will not be accepted, that we will lose face with others, or that people will just gossip about me if they really knew about me.  In other words, we let shame call the shots instead of speaking truthfully to one another.  So, we simply avoid the truth and, so, end up avoiding others.
 
            A lie is like a knife stabbed into the bowels of Christ’s Body, the Church.  We are not to hide in the shadows and live in the dark.  We are to step into the light and forsake all fakery and be truthful.  Ephesians 5:8-11 says: For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 
 
            When Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Apostle Peter, they were judged severely because they betrayed the community.  Lying undermines community and erodes the church.  If we cannot be truthful to each other in the church, then we are living in the darkness and have need of coming into the light of truth. 
 
            How do we speak truthfully?  We speak truthfully by making and keeping promises to each other because that is what God does with us.  Churches that love truth will make a safe place for the awkwardness of confession, forgiveness, and healing.  There must be assurance that members won’t abandon one another as they reveal their sins and weaknesses and fumble forward toward maturity and holiness.  Truthful churches are communities of encouragement and hospitality where we are safe to be real.  No one in the Body of Christ should ever have to suffer in silence, cry alone, or wonder whether the church will forsake them.  The Church of Jesus Christ is to have a refreshing openness with each other, since we belong to one another.  To have union with Christ is to have union with one another; you can’t have one without the other.
 
            We must love one another enough to both speak and listen to the truth.  Author Lewis Smedes has said in his book The Power of Promises:  “Yes, somewhere people still make and keep promises. They choose not to quit when the going gets rough because they promised once to see it through. They stick to lost causes. They hold on to a love grown cold. They stay with people who have become pains in the neck. They still dare to make promises and care enough to keep the promises they make. I want to say to you that if you have a ship you will not desert, if you have people you will not forsake, if you have causes you will not abandon, then you are like God.
 
What a marvelous thing a promise is! When a person makes a promise, she reaches out into an unpredictable future and makes one thing predictable: she will be there even when being there costs her more than she wants to pay. When a person makes a promise, he stretches himself out into circumstances that no one can control and controls at least one thing: he will be there no matter what the circumstances turn out to be. With one simple word of promise, a person creates an island of certainty in a sea of uncertainty.”
 
            I am harboring no illusions or ideals here: being transparent and real is both scary and traumatic, but if we are to be the church we will speak truthfully and not put up a false front.  We will neither hide nor hurl.  We will neither pretend everything is okay when it is not, nor will we project our problems onto others by hurling untruthful accusations.  Instead, we will learn to communicate to each other by speaking the truth in love. 
 
            There are two tendencies that may plague us going forward from here:  complacency and mediocrity.  When it comes to having healthy relationships, we are too easily satisfied with a minimum amount of effort, words, and commitment.  We are to live into our baptisms; we are to renew our covenant of care and commitment to each other.  That means we will let the Word of God invade our hearts to the point of being willing to say what needs to be said and to be open enough to let others into our lives. 
 
            Some of us have putrid spiritual abscesses in our lives from either hiding the truth or hurling truth without love.  Spiritual healing does not come apart from spiritual surgery.  We must let God’s ordained means of bringing health and healing into our lives today.  God the Father sent God the Son to die on a cruel cross for all of our unhealthy and sinful ways of relating to each other.  God the Father and God the Son sent God the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to form a new community of believers in Jesus around truth.
 
            I’m not talking out of the side of my neck when I speak about these things.  I did not grow up in a family that was safe to have truthful communication.  As a result, I learned very early in life to hide.  My learned habits of communication were untruthful.  It took years of painful spiritual surgery to become a person who could swim in the truth of deep relationships instead of superficial ones.  It pains me, I think more than others, to see people settle for mediocre relationships in their families, with their friends, and especially with their church.
 
 
 
It only seems reasonable to me that churches need small groups of people who come together with the expressed purpose of sharing life together through being real and working out our salvation together.  When Paul wrote his epistles, he wasn’t writing to a large building with hundreds of people in it; he was writing to small gatherings of believers throughout the city or region.  If we lose our first love of Jesus we will see no need for sharing life together in such a way.  You cannot have a robust relationship with Jesus Christ without having an equally robust relationship with others in Christ’s Church.  The first step of real spiritual growth, after professing Christ as Savior and Lord, is allowing Christ’s Church to take responsibility for you, and for you to take responsibility for the Church because we belong to one another.
 

 

Will you let a trusted layperson or pastor into your life?  Is there anything hindering you from doing so?  Do you settle for superficial relationships?  Why, or why not?  What do you think God would like to do through you and your church when it comes to genuine community?  Go for it.