Steve’s Letter – June 2013
JUNE 1, 2013
You know something? Sometimes I’m so phony I can’t stand myself. That could be a terrible confession; but as an old preacher, I know the truth. We are all so phony we shouldn’t be able to stand ourselves.
I’m working on a new book!
Are you going to keep trying until you get it right?
Actually, I’m amazed that I ever wrote a book in the first place.
I almost flunked Spanish in college.
I needed the class to get my degree, so I brought Spanish albums (from the radio station where I worked) to my professor as a bribe. Eventually, I went to him and said, “If you look at my record, you know I’m a good student, but I’m way behind in the vocabulary for your class and I’ll never catch up. If you pass me, I promise to not tell anybody who my professor was and to never serve in a Spanish-speaking country.” The professor listened to my plea, accepted my promises and passed me.
To my surprise, a number of my books have been translated into different languages, a good many of them into Spanish. I often thought I would take one to him, put it on his desk and say, “Just so you know, I wrote that.”
In fact, I would like to take my books to all my teachers. They would be so shocked. I just wouldn’t tell them that it took ten editors to straighten out the manuscripts. And I wouldn’t tell them that the angels laugh every time I come out with a new book.
But I digress.
As I mentioned, I’m working on a new book, Hidden Agendas: How the Masks We Wear Hurt Us and the People We Love. It may not be a great book, but you have to admit it is a wonderful title…almost as good as Three Free Sins.
When I write you, I generally write about what I’m thinking at the time—at least what I’m thinking that is printable. I’ve been thinking about this book for the last few weeks and I have to tell someone. So, you’re it.
You know something? Sometimes I’m so phony I can’t stand myself.
That could be a terrible confession; but as an old preacher, I know the truth. We are all so phony we shouldn’t be able to stand ourselves. I don’t know if I agree with Dr. House that “everybody lies,” but everybody wears a mask and Christians, if they don’t outright lie, often cover the truth so no one can recognize it.
There is an interesting incident in the book of Galatians. Paul is quite upset at the super-religious folks who came into the church and tried to rob the believers of their joy at being unconditionally forgiven and loved. These religious folks said, in essence, that forgiveness and grace were fine, but real Christians needed much more. And then like the Pharisees of every age, they made out a list of what real Christians should do if they really loved Jesus. Paul wrote, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?…Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:1-3).
We’re all hypocrites
Peter was one of the people who really irritated Paul…and Paul called Peter a hypocrite. That’s in Scripture. It means exactly that…Peter was a hypocrite. Everybody knows his failure and sin in denying Jesus right before the crucifixion, but we don’t like to think about Peter still sinning years later. After all, he was a leader and head (“the rock”) of the church.
Then Paul accused Barnabas (his name means “son of encouragement”) of being led astray by the hypocrisy of Peter and the others. In other words, Barnabus was also a hypocrite.
So if Peter and Barnabas wore masks and had hidden agendas, I don’t mind admitting that I’m sometimes phony…and you shouldn’t either. Frankly, we’re in good company.
Shouldn’t surprise us. The Bible is quite clear about us and our neediness, and our struggle with trying to get it right. And therein is the first key to getting better: to recognize there is a problem.
Hypocrisy (wearing a mask) can be defined as not “walking the talk.” It is pretending you’re one thing; but by your actions, showing that you’re not what you pretend to be. When you correctly understand hypocrisy, Christians have received a bum rap.
Let me give you a syllogism.
Premise: The Bible teaches that Christians are sinners.
Premise: The Bible is right.
Conclusion: When Christians are sinners, they are sinners…not hypocrites.
So if I admit to you that I’m so phony I can’t stand myself, I’m speaking a truth that the Bible affirms about me. I’m agreeing with Scripture.
There is an old joke that you’ve probably heard about a man who propositions a woman, offering a million dollars. She says that she might be open to his offer. Then he asks, “How about five dollars?”
The woman is quite offended and says, “Who do you think I am—a prostitute?”
“Oh, we’ve already determined what you are. Now we’re talking about price.”
If the Bible is true (and I believe it is, all of it), we know what we are. It’s now just a matter of price. The price is shame, guilt and fear. The price is sleepless nights and anxious days. The price is a growing dread of being around other Christians. The price is having a lot of acquaintances but very few friends. We are so busy hiding behind our masks, the price is our staying awake at night, worried about what people would say if they knew the truth about us. Preachers preach sermons railing against the sin that is extant in their own lives (I’ve preached a number of those); leaders pretend they are better than they are (I am, after all, ordained); and all of us act as if we’ve reached a level of sanctification that we can’t even see from where we are.
Then maybe more important, we never get better, never are surprised at our obedience, and never dance at the discovery that we are more faithful than we once were. We just pretend, thinking it takes less effort than to discover the real deal.
The Transparent Self
Sidney Jourard’s book, The Transparent Self, is not a Christian book, but it is a good and true one. In that book, Jourard suggests that it isn’t safe to be honest with others because that’s the way we get destroyed. He writes that you have to trade little bits of yourself with a friend to see what he or she will do with them. If the friend doesn’t “stomp that sucker flat,” they may reciprocate and you both may then risk trading off a bit more of your true selves…until bit by bit, you discover a friend with whom you can be transparent and real. It will be, as it were, a safe place that will transform lives.
In Christian circles, it’s called “confessing.” That’s exactly what Paul did in Romans 7 when he took off his armor and confessed his struggle with doing the good he wanted to do and avoiding the evil he didn’t want to do. He even confessed to something more than matters of the heart: “The evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19).
I don’t believe I would have said that, but I’m writing a book about it.
And, oh yes, I’ll be careful. I may not be smart, but I’m not stupid either. I need the job. But I’ll get as close as I can to trading off some bits of my soul.
I’ve always liked and quoted Emily Dickinson:
I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us—don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
Substitute “a sinner” for “nobody,” and it’s profound, biblical truth.
Maybe we could start a movement that would result in radical freedom, infectious joy and surprising faithfulness. That’s what Jesus did.
He asked me to remind you.
In His Grip,