Steve’s Letter – February 2014
FEBRUARY 2, 2014
As we move into an increasingly hostile culture, it’s becoming more difficult for Christians to speak their truth without paying a price for it. Because that’s true, there is a question Christians need to consider: How do you keep speaking truth when it seems that nobody wants to hear it? Further, how do you keep speaking truth when those who hear it are angry because we spoke it?
Have you been keeping up with Duck Dynasty?
I have and if you say I said that, I’ll say you lied.
Actually, that family reminds me of home. I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina and those are “my people.” In one episode, when they tried to create a “redneck water park,” everybody laughed. I said, “But, of course.”
The fun turned dark of late, though, when A&E decided to remove Phil Robertson (the head of the clan) from the television show because of his comments on homosexuality. They said that he was a “hater” and they (A&E) weren’t, so he was taken off the show. Being the cynical, old preacher I am, I knew it was really about self-righteousness and money. While self-righteousness can be a powerful motivation, it’s always trumped by money. So Phil is back on, the Duck clan say they have learned a lot, and A&E has to eat a bit of crow. They’ve kissed and made up, and are now holding hands and singing Kum Ba Yah around the campfire.
Speaking the truth
Frankly, I’m tired of the subject, but just can’t let this pass without saying something important. As we move into an increasingly hostile culture, it’s becoming more difficult for Christians to speak their truth without paying a price for it. Because that’s true, there is a question Christians need to consider: How do you keep speaking truth when it seems that nobody wants to hear it? Further, how do you keep speaking truth when those who hear it are angry because we spoke it?
And no, I’m not just talking about truth on the subject of sex…but Christian truth that speaks to all of life and which is, by its very nature, exclusive of all other truth that contradicts it. Jesus said, “I am the truth,” but he wasn’t just the truth; he also spoke truth. In fact, some 78 times in the gospels, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth.”
In Calvin Miller’s Singer Trilogy, the Singer (i.e. Jesus) encounters the anger of World Hater (i.e. Satan) and his followers. Miller writes this, “It is always much more difficult to sing when the audience has turned its back.” It is, you know? The “audience” once cheered our truth and we were rewarded for speaking it. We had political power, money and prestige. If you haven’t noticed, that’s no longer true.
Now that we no longer have the leverage and cultural approval, how are we going to speak our truth? Maybe we have to do it the way Jesus—who had no power, no money and no leverage—did it. You think?
There’s an interesting incident in which the apostles are arrested. God used them in some miraculous ways and a whole lot of people came to Christ which didn’t make “the powers” very happy. During the night, an angel released them from the prison and told them to go back to the temple and do the same thing that got them arrested in the first place. As to be expected, they were arrested again and brought before the leaders.
Peter “spoke truth to power” with this: “‘We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him’” (Acts 5:29-32).
Let me give you some facts that help me focus on what every Christian is called to do. We’re called to speak truth. We aren’t called to change it, fix it or use it…just speak it as clearly and as plainly as we can. We have been given a precious gift in the truth that God has revealed and we must never compromise it.
Truth is about Jesus
But it’s important we remember that the truth we speak isn’t about us; it’s about Jesus. Note that Peter made the main thing, the main thing. He said that Jesus was “Leader and Savior,” and God exalted Jesus to give repentance and forgiveness.
The late Grady Wilson, Billy Graham’s longtime associate, was a friend of mine and often preached at a church I served in the Miami area. I loved him and loved his preaching. We sometimes forget that Grady was an effective evangelist and preacher in his own right who gave up his own career to “hold up the arms” of Mr. Graham. Grady used to pray, “Lord, you make Billy strong and I’ll keep him humble.”
At any rate, sometimes Grady would say something controversial in the pulpit. Then he would pause, hold up his Bible, and say, “I didn’t say it, God said it.” Using his example, I’ve often added, “And not only that, I don’t like it much more than you do, but I don’t get a vote.”
It’s good to remember that the truth we speak isn’t about us but about Jesus. It’s also good to remember that our truth includes not only the truth about sin, God and salvation…it also includes the truth about us.
God was so gracious in the Bible to remind us of the neediness and sin of our “heroes” in general and of Peter in particular. When Peter gave his speech before the court in Jerusalem, I want to be his cheerleader. “You go, bro!” I want to shout. But if I turn to Galatians, I wince when Paul describes Peter’s duplicity and hypocrisy. Paul’s amazing confession in Romans 7 of his own sin (his present sin) is a gift that God gave to his people and the gift that we give to others when we speak the truth we’ve been given.
Those who don’t like our truth still won’t like it. But they’ll listen to the bad news about them if we make it clear that the bad news is about us too. There is great power in saying, “You’re sinful and needy, and in serious trouble with a holy God. I would try to fix you but I can’t because I can’t fix myself and I’m probably worse than you are. But run to Jesus. For some strange and crazy reason, he likes people like us.”
Speaking the truth is about love
Another thing to remember in speaking truth is that it’s not about judgment; it’s about love. I suspect Peter wasn’t altogether happy about going to jail…twice. Why would he do it? Peter wrote, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
I’ve told you before how my friend, Tony Campolo, received a standing ovation at a gay and lesbian convention. He didn’t compromise the truth he had been given. Tony said, “I wish I could say that what you’re doing is okay…but it isn’t. It’s going to kill you and I love you and…” Then Tony broke down and wept. Maybe they didn’t hear all his words, but they saw his heart.
John the apostle said that we love because he first loved us. That is the mark of Christian truth. Love without truth is, of course, shallow, warm and fuzzy drivel. But truth without love isn’t true; it’s just arrogance.
There’s one other thing (actually there are a lot more but I’m running out of space here) I want you to notice. When truth is spoken one doesn’t use the power; one observes it. This is a great description of the power of truth to accomplish the purposes of God: “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:12-14).
I once heard Jim Kennedy answer a question about how to speak biblical truth if the ones to whom we spoke it didn’t believe the Bible. He said, “If a thief breaks into your home and you have a gun pointed at him, what would you do if the thief said he didn’t believe in guns? Would you put your gun away? Of course not. You would pull the trigger.” God’s truth, even when it’s spoken by sinners like us, is a powerful “two-edged” sword. It’s important—to mix the metaphor—that we “pull the trigger.”
When the apostles were released the second time from jail, they returned to their brothers and sisters. Luke wrote, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:41-42).
If we do it right, will we then be loved and accepted, and regain our prestige and power? Are you crazy? Jesus spoke his truth and they hung him on a cross.
We have a long way to go yet!
He asked me to remind you and he said not to shilly-shally.
In His Grip,