Accepting the True Self

walking with a cane

I live with chronic low back issues.  Twelve years ago I was in a car accident, and my back has never quite been the same.  On most days I can function well enough to do most of the things I need to do.  The pain is typically minimal.  But there are days when the pain spikes and my mobility is so limited that I can barely walk across the room.  After my initial injury, the stubborn German heritage thing kicked-in to my inner dialogue and I refused to admit how debilitated I really was.  One day, in a determination to go shopping at Target with my wife, I opted for not using a cane to walk because, dad gum it, “I’m not an invalid.”  But I could barely walk from the car into the store.  Walking very slowly, some obnoxious dude in his car became impatient with my parking lot slowness and honked, yelled at me to hurry the f**k up, and angrily flipped the bird at me when he was able to finally get moving.

In such situations it is more than tempting to just focus on the jerks around us and, so, never take a look at ourselves.  Although Mr. Jerk was a first-class detriment to me and his behavior cannot be excused, he obviously did not know that I was only moving as fast as I could, which was a snail’s pace.  He did not know my situation, and maybe he wouldn’t have cared.  Yet, here is my takeaway from the experience, because I can’t change Mr. Jerk; I can only change myself:  I was not accepting my real condition and was not being true to who I was.  I was posturing and pretending to be okay when I was not.  And, it turns out, once I embraced my limitations and started using a cane in public, people were quite sympathetic and the parking lot jerks disappeared.  In fact, I noticed parents instructing their kids to be careful around me, cars began patiently waiting, and I even had lots of interesting conversations with other hurting people – all because I stopped putting up a false image of myself.

Most people are just trying to do the best they can under the circumstances they find themselves in.  They want to carry their own weight without being dependent on others.  They desire to contribute, and not to leech off others.  Yes, there are real jerks out there; we all know a few.  But we’re all in this human condition together, and must learn to negotiate our relations with each other based on truth, not falsehood.  I was doing no one any favors, especially my own self, by putting up a faux exterior on how I was really doing.  I drove my poor wife nuts.  She shares neither my gender nor my barbarian ancestry and had no sympathy for my denial of disability.  I wasn’t winning any Academy Awards for my portrayal of a got-it-all-under-control-don’t-need-anybody’s-help Mr. Macho Healthy Guy.  By the way, just so you know, Chuck Norris has never won an Academy Award, because the dude wasn’t acting.  No false front, man.  I don’t think anybody else could be Walker, Texas Ranger.  Stare down.  Roundhouse kick.  Badass.  It’s not really a character.  It’s Chuck Norris just being Chuck Norris.  If I tried to be Chuck Norris I would probably look like my sister’s pathetic attempts at being Billy Jack when we were kids.  Not gonna work.

Chuck Norris

We have a word for people who try to act one way but are really another:  hypocrite.  This is exactly why the Pharisees in the New Testament Gospels were vilified by Jesus.  They put up a plastic image of themselves.  They did not take a good hard look at their insides.  They kept up appearances, kind of like when families pull into the church parking lot fighting like cats and dogs, but enter the church building all smiles and looking fine.  That kind of stuff is soul-draining and keeps us at arms-length from people who could accept us for who we really are, warts and all.  Maybe I have a thing about parking lots, or maybe parking lots just end up being dens of iniquity for all the pretenders of the world.  Anyway, whatever the case, I think you get my drift.  Mr. Jerk isn’t always the insensitive guy freely exposing his middle finger.  Whenever we deny our authentic and real selves and try to hide from others through air-brushing our weaknesses and sins, we become what we most hate in other people.

So, keep it real, man.  Use the cane, for God’s sake.  Let’s stop trying to be someone we are not, and discover the person God created us to be.  The best people to be around are the people who are the most comfortable in their own skin, kind of like Chuck Norris.  Give that false self a roundhouse kick.

Luke 20:45-21:4

While everyone was listening to Jesus, he said to his disciples:
Guard against the teachers of the Law of Moses! They love to walk around in long robes, and they like to be greeted in the market. They want the front seats in the meeting places and the best seats at banquets.  But they cheat widows out of their homes and then pray long prayers just to show off. These teachers will be punished most of all.
Jesus looked up and saw some rich people tossing their gifts into the offering box.  He also saw a poor widow putting in two pennies.  And he said, “I tell you that this poor woman has put in more than all the others.  Everyone else gave what they didn’t need. But she is very poor and gave everything she had.”
 
            You often cannot tell a fake by the external appearance.  A pious religious person on the outside may not necessarily be a genuine Christ follower on the inside.  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees in Christ’s day liked to do things for a show, for the attention.  They were important and respected people, desiring and enjoying the accolades of others.  They lived to be noticed.  But it was really all just a façade, a carnival sideshow.  The outside and the inside were not synced together.
 
            There is a marked contrast between the rich Pharisee and the poor widow.  Whereas the rich religious man put a wad of money in the temple offering for everyone to see, the impoverished widow put barely anything in, but it was everything she had to give.  The widow’s outward giving and inward disposition were perfectly matched.  She gave everything out of the abundance of her heart.
 
            The kingdom of God is not a matter of outward eating and drinking and ostentatious displays of spirituality, but is a matter of inner righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Aim for the heart, and the hands will follow.
 

 

            Loving God, my heart longs to worship you with everything I possess.  Transform me from the inside-out so that all my thoughts and motives may humbly express my words and actions.  May Jesus be praised.  Amen.

Galatians 2:11-14

            “When Peter came to Antioch, I told him face to face that he was wrong… I corrected Peter in front of everyone.”  The Apostle Paul confronted the Apostle Peter on a matter of hypocrisy.  This was not just any run-of-the-mill hypocrisy.  What Peter was doing was totally out of sync with the gospel that they both proclaimed:  that forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ is for all people, Jew and Gentile, whom both together make up Christ’s Church.  Out of fear of his fellow Jews, Peter began withdrawing from his Gentile brothers in Christ.  That stinking fear will get us every time.  At the heart of every hypocrite is a spirit of fear that keeps him/her in bondage to the wishes of others.
 
            Whereas Peter was deepening into the world of learned helplessness and terminal niceness, Paul chose to operate in the world of seeing all things through the lenses of the gospel and confronting that which had nothing to do with it.  Please note that Paul rebuked Peter, and not every single person who came along who didn’t agree with him.  They were both part of the apostles’ fraternity, and each had both a right and responsibility to confront and rebuke when needed within that fellowship.
 
            I live in Mid-West America.  We, like Peter, suffer from the malady of sometimes being too nice for our own good.  If we aren’t careful, we can be pleasant and affable to people to their face, but then turn around and speak ugly words and do our own thing behind someone’s back.  Our hypocrisy is born of the fear that we might hurt someone’s feelings.  But we need to grab ahold of the fact that our hypocrisy hurts God’s feelings, and he will call us to account for our fearful ways.  God does not want us hiding our true feelings, but bringing them into the light of the gospel so that the church can be built up and thrive in grace.
 

 

            Holy God, you desire grace and truth in all relationships.  Help me to speak with boldness, in a spirit of mercy and integrity, so that there will be growth and spiritual fruit in all of my relationships through Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen.

Ezekiel 14:1-11

            “One day, some of Israel’s leaders came to me and asked for a message from the LORD.  While they were there, the LORD said:  Ezekiel, son of man, these men have started worshiping idols, though they know it will cause them to sin even more.  So I refuse to give them a message!”
 
            Just because someone asks or inquires what the Bible says, does not necessarily mean that person intends on living according to it.  It just might be that the opposite is true.  We can, of course, see and sniff out hypocrisy in others, but might be blind to it in our own lives.  Whenever we go to church and sit under the preaching of God’s Word but have no intention of really doing anything but getting spiritual brownie points through attendance, we must locate ourselves along with the hypocritical men who came to Ezekiel.
 
            Listening to God’s Word, reading it on a daily basis, and even talking about it really means nothing unless we take a humble posture of intending to do what it says.  So, what are the idols in our lives?  What things hinder us from doing what the Bible says to do?  What will we do about it?  God is looking for repentance and faith in Jesus, and not us keeping up appearances to righteousness.
 

 

            Holy God, you desire a penitent heart, sincere faith, and an obedient life.  May it be so in my life to the glory of Jesus through the energy of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Authentic, Not Hypocritical

 
 
            “You can be certain that in the last days there will be some very hard times. People will love only themselves and money. They will be proud, stuck-up, rude, and disobedient to their parents. They will also be ungrateful, godless, heartless, and hateful. Their words will be cruel, and they will have no self-control or pity. These people will hate everything that is good. They will be sneaky, reckless, and puffed up with pride. Instead of loving God, they will love pleasure. Even though they will make a show of being religious, their religion won’t be real. Don’t have anything to do with such people” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, CEV).
 
The church is meant to be authentic, not hypocritical.
 
            Paul was talking to his young protégé Timothy.  He was not talking about unchurched people, but churched people.  If we miss that point, we miss the whole point of the book of 2 Timothy.  The bad stuff is all church crud.  This is why, when I was a teenager, I was so sour on the church.  My Dad was an elder and served in every capacity within our local congregation.  Even though he wisely did not talk about all the crud at the dinner table, occasionally someone would drop by and talk about the pastor to him, or about another member.  It was always negative.  No church member ever came to our home to encourage my Dad or my family, or to talk about how they might pray for the pastor.  They just belly-ached and made crazy accusations.  And all the while I knew what was going on in their lives (which was more messed-up than anything they were talking about to my Dad).
 
The church is meant to be a place where real people can share real hurts, real joys, real pain, real answers to prayer, real thoughts and feelings, so that they might find grace and healing for their lives. 
 
The church is meant to be authentic.  While Jesus was ministering on this earth, he was constantly chided for spending time with real people sharing real hurts because the religious folks did not want problem messy people around their religious establishment.
 
            If we keep hiding our emptiness and our pain, then pretense is always the result; this is just another way of saying “hypocrisy.”  Yes, when we pretend to be one thing on the outside but on the inside are another thing, then we are wearing a mask and playing the hypocrite.
 
            Let me be real with you:  I actually cry every day for the church.  I carry the weight of the souls of my own congregation on my shoulders.  I admit to you that Christ’s easy yoke doesn’t seem so light on many days for me.  I admit that there are times I grow tired and weary of the pretense, the negativity, and the lack of grace that so many believers today exhibit, especially on social media.  Today there needs to be repentance, revival, a commitment to biblical renewal, and loads of authenticity.  Today is the day to be real.
 
            People are messy, both physically and spiritually.  If there aren’t any cows in the barn, there’s no manure to shovel.  Dealing with messes means there is life happening.  Everything that is always nice and clean has no life happening.  Hospitality is messy.  Church ministry is messy.  When people share real feelings, it often is not pretty.  But the alternative is making a pretense and show of religion to appear we are upstanding Christian citizens.
 

 

            The church is the hope of the world when it is authentic, not hypocritical.  Growing up as a kid in my church I thought religious activity and right belief were the important things.  But I came to the point in my life at age seventeen recognizing that I did not have a real relationship with Jesus Christ.  I only attended church, and was not committed to knowing Jesus.  I was only a fan of Jesus, not a follower.  I wore a mask, and God had to unmask me.  I had to see that the Bible was relevant.  I had to repent and believe the gospel:  I needed to know that I was lost and that Jesus gives me forgiveness and new life.  That is the church’s message:  Forgiveness and new life in Jesus.  It comes through real genuine authenticity.  Hypocrites need not apply.

Spiritual Blindness


Jesus had a lot to say about spiritual blindness.  He didn’t like it.  Some of his harshest words were reserved for those who should know better, those persons for whom the light of God’s truth ought to be clear and present.  Yet they are in darkness.  Having spiritual blindness is terrible to Jesus because it not only keeps the blind person in the dark, but slams the door of God’s kingdom in other people’s faces.
Many of the Pharisees of the New Testament, most of the heretics in the early church, and some of the spiritual phonies of today are actually not charlatans, that is, they are not deliberately trying to deceive or lead others astray; they are not trying to keep people out of God’s kingdom – they think they are doing the right thing when they are actually doing the wrong thing.  One of the eye-opening realities I learned when I first started studying church history is that the early heresies that were condemned at the church councils were doctrines promoted and put forth by men who were not evil bad people – they were just sincerely misguided.  They thought they were helping the church better understand the nature of God and Christ when in fact they were teaching really bad doctrine.  They were unintentionally slamming the door of God’s kingdom in the faces of ordinary people.  And later when I worked on my master’s thesis in 19th century American Religious History, I read hundreds of sermons from southern preachers before the American Civil War.  I learned that they had a biblical defense of the institution of black chattel slavery.  Many of them were pastors of large churches and led many people to Christ, that is, white people.  They were super-slamming the door of God’s kingdom right in faces of African-Americans, and teaching others to do the same.
            We can unwittingly super-slam the door of God’s kingdom in the faces of people when we say God’s grace is for all, and turn around and avoid certain people; when we have explicit written statements or rules that exclude people from service; and, when we bind people to human traditions and practices instead of Holy Scripture.  The seven deadly words of the Church that slam the door of God’s kingdom in people’s faces is:  “we’ve never done it that way before.”  Never mind that there are people trying to enter the kingdom of God – that is against our tradition!  However well-meaning and sincere that might be, it is sincerely wrong because it leaves people who need to be saved by God’s grace on the outside and unsaved.  And that kind of practice will bring the condemnation of Jesus every time.
Jesus gave us some telltale signs of spiritual blindness, which he calls “hypocrisy” (Matthew 23):  hypocrites don’t practice what they preach; they keep other people out of God’s kingdom with their burdensome legalism; they focus on externals and ignore the inner sanctum of the heart; and, they major on the minors.
            But condemnation and warning is never the last word.  The last word to everything is God’s grace.  At the end of his tirade of pronouncing woes on the Pharisees and those like them, Jesus did something that we would do well to follow:  he broke into a tear-filled, heart-rending love song for his wayward people.  Christ was not just concerned to blast the bad guys; he has a deep pastoral sensitivity to people, all people, so that they will come back to the true worship of God.  May it be so, Lord Jesus.