There’s an old Billy Joel song for which the lyrics of the chorus go like this: “Honesty is such a lonely word/Everyone is so untrue/Honesty is hardly ever heard/And mostly what I need from you.” SO true, right? In an agreeable society like ours, honesty can be a rarity. On the positive side, it’s good that we’re paying attention to the lessons of our history, lest we doom ourselves to repeat them. The story of God’s people is littered with chapters and whole volumes in which our spiritual ancestors exchanged the beauty of a relationship with God for a counterfeit identity. Jesus saw it in the fanatical devotion of the Pharisees to the temple and the Sabbath. The Crusades were a dark blot of misdirected religious fervor toward geographic expansion instead of fishing for people’s hearts. Luther and other reformers had to valiantly oppose the economic machine of the medieval church/state that ran roughshod over the Gospel on its way into people’s pockets. Yes, the story of God’s people has its dark chapters of misfires and failures. Not much better can be said for the broader society in general, either, if we’re being honest. We all struggle with honesty, whether it’s as blatant as actively promoting lies in court or fudging our age or the speed we were driving. And heaven help the husband whose wife asks him, “Honey, do I look fat in this?"
So honesty is NOT generally very popular. It can be rather painful to be brutally honest. But we have to be honest with God and ourselves to admit when we’re wrong, and taking an honest look at our own lives can be mighty uncomfortable. If we say we have no sin, we’re fooling ourselves and not allowing the truth to lead us to a right relationship with God; only in honesty and through contrition can we find forgiveness and restoration (see 1 John 1:8-9). Looking at the lives of those around us with a gracious but appraising eye is a dangerous enterprise, and even with pure motives of helping another grow in faith and love, our ability to communicate it with the right balance of grace and truth is near-impossible to get right. And while we DO live in an amazingly good society that provides us with manifold benefits, it has its issues. That’s the truth. But are we willing to address those issues honestly and openly?
When we are willing to start an honest conversation about the current state of the church, one of the easiest things to do is to criticize the wider society. “The reason the church has seen such a precipitous downturn in our time is the shift of culture away from Judeo-Christian values, or a prosperity that keeps people from spiritual pursuits, or the breakneck speed of our society…take your pick.” And while each of those concerns could be accurately described as a legitimate factors the church must address, it doesn’t get at the heart of the matter, the disease that is underlying it all: a slow but steady abandonment of biblical, relational discipleship, the kind of spiritual formation Jesus practiced.
I know I must be honest about what I’m seeing and experiencing. It may not be popular. It may provoke some frustration or anger. It may break some hearts (as it has mine, on occasion). So here’s my moment of honesty: sometimes God’s people have lost their collective focus on the things that really matter, and start chasing after things that are poor replicas of the life He longs to give them. I don’t think it’s often intentional; in fact, most of the time I believe it’s done with the best of intentions. I have participated in some of these misguided efforts myself, as I’m guessing you have as well, and found myself just as frustrated and empty at the end as you may have felt. It doesn’t feel good. It feels a lot like failure. If we’re all honest, we have fallen into patterns in which it was easier to simply go with flow than fight for something meaningful or valuable. And yet, I cling to the promise that God doesn’t allow His Word, sown in the hearts of people, amount to nothing (see Isaiah 55:9-11). I am confident that by the power of Jesus’ Spirit that still lives on in each of us, we can reclaim the healthy patterns of biblical, relational discipleship that Jesus modeled for us. I know it’s going to take some work. It won’t always be easy. But I am confident that with some intentional shifts in our focus, being willing to allow God to shape our lives so that they reflect both the character and competencies of Jesus, the tide will turn. But we can’t do it alone. We have to be on the same page…all of us.
These simple but powerful shifts will be part of the conversation at the Church Chat 2.0 on February 22. I really hope to see you there because we’ve got some important, life-giving things to talk about, and there’s a seat at the table for you. It’s about being ready to go where Jesus calls us, to take on the adventure of spreading the story that He’s already won the victory for us. And that’s some beautiful honesty that is hardly ever heard in this world, but mostly what we need from God, what we need to hear from one another, and what a broken world is dying to hear. Good honesty. Life-giving honesty. Good news!
Adventure is out there! Pastor Aaron