Saturday, February 14, 2009

Being a Real Christian Means Being Honest

If my female readers would forgive me for beginning this blog (which addresses how being a real Christian requires honesty) by addressing a few books written with the Christian male in mind, I would like to discuss the points in these books that come from the male perspective but in the end certainly apply to both genders.

One of the shared themes of the books addresses how men in our day have experienced a certain emasculation and even feminization by our ever increasingly politically correct society, due in large part to the effects of the women's liberation movement as well as the softening of men in our culture.

While these books did not begrudge women the freedom to be who they are in Christ, they exposed the fact that certain worldly aspects of the movement have caused men and boys to shrink back into themselves, to feel unneeded by women and to actually be ashamed of the more aggressive, no-nonsense masculine side of their nature. According to these books, this phenomenon has caused many men, often without realizing, to forsake the correct aspects of masculinity that God created in us.

One way the books exposed a symptom of this repression was through examples of men being less than honest in communicating the stronger emotions like righteous anger or even outrage because doing so in a strong masculine way has engendered responses that have led Christian men to believe that these natural reactions are a fleshly, ungodly response.

While there is certainly a fleshly anger that almost always leads to some sort of emotional and destructive violence or abuse (this is wrong!), there is a righteous anger that our Lord Jesus even expressed during His ministry and this type of masculine anger is a righteous one which we are not to avoid expressing. This type of expression of anger can produce good fruit as it causes the recipient(s) of this emotion to stop and really think about what he or she has done or said. Consider this proverb,

“The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue” (Proverbs 25:23).

While there are many proverbs against anger, especially unrighteous anger, if a person is indeed in the right and is angry for a righteous cause, the anger is justified from God’s perspective. The important thing about anger is to not let it lead to violence or unforgiveness. Be outraged, yes. Express that outrage, sure. But do not let it come with any hint of unforgiveness or vengeance or then you, too, can be swallowed up in sin.

As the books pointed out, repression of the proper expression of anger is in fact harmful, for both men and women. Righteous indignation has every right to be expressed in both genders, but it seems when men do so these days that they very quickly are accused of being out of control, perhaps because many men having taken outrage too far, but nevertheless, proper outrage is still, well, proper. The baby should not be thrown out with the bath water.

A couple of these books I merely skimmed, particularly "Wild at Heart" by John Eldredge and another called the "The Barbarian Way: Unleash the Untamed Faith Within" by Erwin Raphael McManus. I did not give either full attention because as I read I found a lot of what I thought was pop-psychology as they addressed changing behaviors and attitudes in a way that I felt was worldly while also lacking a Biblical foundation for many of their ideas.

"Wild at Heart," in particular troubled me because it seemed to quote movies as much or more than the Bible. For example, Eldredge often sites the movie “Legends of the Fall” in comparing the wilder character played by Brad Pitt to his more modern and culturally controlled older brother, implying we need to be more like Brad Pitt's character. Well, Pitt's character is not exactly the vision of Christian living we should emulate. I’ve seen this movie and he a) leaves his wife, b) murders out of vengeance, and c) basically lives like a savage. I'm pretty sure this is not the fictional character we should be emulating when we have plenty of examples of strong male archetypes in the Bible to learn from, either through their correctly following the Lord or for repenting for mistakes (no such repentance found in Pitt’s character). I mean, let’s look at Joseph, David, Daniel or Jeremiah. How about Jesus?!

Nevertheless, there were some interesting insights about men expressing honesty, but this good information seemed like repeats of the first book I read which actually was the most enlightening, called "No More Christian Nice Guy: How Being Nice - Instead of Good - Hurts Men, Women, and Children" (NMCNG) by Paul Coughlin.

And while no book is perfect, and NMCNG is certainly not so when Coughlin, in promoting the idea that Jesus used sarcasm, said that Jesus was actually doing so when He said,"...Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matthew 5:18). In reading that passage many times I never once thought it was one of sarcasm but rather of prophecy, and I have never heard anyone say or infer Jesus was expressing sarcasm with that scripture until the day I read NMCNG.

But even with this error, I found the book in most part to be extremely helpful in the sense that it well communicates how the feminization of men in our society has worked against not only men, but the women and children whose lives with which they intertwine. I could relate to many of his anecdotes either in my own life or in the lives of EVERY SINGLE ONE OF MY MALE FRIENDS (that means you dear reader).

For me, particularly, I saw how this feminization had caused me either to feel shame for becoming angry – even when it was justified – or had caused me to bite my tongue, or to feel ashamed even after I said something calmly in truth but was offensive to the hearer, especially when the recipient voiced a negative reaction or when others retreated and discontinued speaking to me without even addressing the truth presented.

As most of you know, in the ministry God has given me, I have often felt compelled to deliver messages or speak words to people that weren't necessarily what they were looking to hear. That doesn't mean I have always been perfect in doing so, but I've tried as the Lord led me to at least be honest.

Even after praying and trying to be 100% sure that what I was about to communicate was right, in many instances the “Jonah” in me procrastinated this sharing because I knew there could be negative consequences.

At other times when I would speak out, the doubter in me would second-guess what I had communicated after saying my peace. But here’s where No More Christian Nice Guy came in and encouraged me as it confirmed for me that being a real Christian man (or woman) often meant saying what needed to be said no matter the outcome. This book confirmed for me that men, men like Jesus, tell the truth no matter the perceived consequences to self. Jesus, of course, did this without wavering all the way to the cross because He is in fact THE TRUTH (John 14:6).

Though it is never easy to tell people information they don't want to hear, at least I know now that if I (or anyone else) pray it through, I mean really pray and ask God's help in the matter, that when speaking the truth from a position of love for the truth, that this truth will go forth and produce fruit. I also know that if I remain prayerful God will also, by His precious Holy Spirit, stop me from speaking when the timing is not right.

All that any of us need concern ourselves with is pleasing the Lord, and if we will live our lives His way and do as He leads us, no matter how people respond to what the Lord gives us to say, we will remain in fellowship with Him and that's worth more than any number of friendships or alliances. While we are called to love others, this does not mean being disingenuous to make others feel good, especially when God wants to use the truth He gives you to help expedite change in others.

As already pointed out, we all know that even truth spoken with the greatest expression of sweet kindness can engender angry and even violent responses. One only need read the gospels to see Jesus crucified for speaking the truth and He was actually the love of God personified, and yet His words led to violence being meted out against Him.

Yes, Jesus, the personification of love, actually called the Pharisees and Saducees some harsh names such as "hypocrites," "serpents" and "vipers” (Matthew 23). He turned over tables and chairs of the moneychangers and sacrificial animal sellers (Matthew 21). And when very disciple he named Peter (rock) for his faith tried to get Jesus to turn from the cross He said, "Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me” (Matthew 16:23).

These expressions of hardness were all love, because they were soaked in TRUTH. Seems harsh, huh? But as Coughlin pointed out in NMCNG, Jesus would be run out of most of today’s Churches on a rail for being so “harsh.” But His words, actions and His complete demeanor were LOVE PERSONFIED, LOVE PERFECTED, because they were bound in truth. It's time we stop ridiculing people, males and females included, for expressing true emotions, especially when those emotions come from a place of truth and rightness.

As NMCNG also pointed out, the feminization of our society has caused modern Christianity’s interpretation of love to drip with syrupy sweetness that encourages us to lie to one another in order to make each other feel good.

But love isn't always about feeling good; it's often about making changes in our lives, changes which are not easy, in order to please God. Love is really about laying down our lives (John 15:13), not about phony smiles and constantly "encouraging" words that are never "negative."

Sometimes love requires iron to sharpen iron (Proverbs 27:17) and doing so creates sparks that create change. Love isn't always pats on the back and "way to go's!" Sometimes love is saying to a friend, "Man, I can't believe you did that!" or "What on earth were you thinking?!"

Love is expressed when you genuinely feel grieved that one of your brothers and sisters in Christ is doing something to offend your shared Lord and you feel compelled and even pressed to tell them they're doing so because you love God so much and you hate to see others who say they love Him doing Him wrong.

This is true love for God as well as for the offending person. How you ask? Because the person sharing correction greatly risks being ostracized or rejected for that correction. Being rejected is never easy and can be very painful. Worse still, being a corrective voice can result in violence against you (see Moses, Jeremiah, Elijah, Jesus, Peter, Stephen, Paul, Barnabas, etc. and etc.)

As we all know, probably the most quoted scripture in the Bible comes from John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son," but this same Bible that speaks of God's love requires that we live holy lives and when we do wrong, it endeavors to tells us so, to correct us not only in love, but in truth. What we need to understand as a people of the one true faith who are trying to love God and each other is that without truth there is no real love.

Truthless love is empty and superficial. It's like a candy-coated apple but with no apple. The apple itself is no longer there and all you’re left with is the candy: syrupy sweet, but in the end, not only bad for your teeth, but bad for your overall health.

Men or women faking their God given emotions, trying to cover what they are really experiencing in order to, in a phony way, try to hide how they are really feeling, are NOT being truthful and this needs to stop. No one is condoning violent anger here or any over-the-top screaming, but when something isn't right, we all need to stand up against it, and as the books pointed out, the men in the Church need to do this more than ever.

Consider this: if Jesus had been afraid to stand up for truth, but rather kept his mouth shut so He could avoid all of the horrible suffering set before Him, He wouldn't have fulfilled God's plan for salvation. He couldn't avoid saying the Truth because LOVE itself compelled Him to speak so that we could be saved. Like us when we speak truth, in so doing He risked offending every member of His creation, and believe me when I say it is true that a MAJORITY of His creation has been offended by His truth, but nevertheless He has presented it so that those who would embrace it could know the truth and the truth could set them free (John 8:32).

Without that truth that Jesus brought there would have been no shedding of His blood and no reconciliation for us with the Father. Without His truth and the resulting suffering and death He would endure, there would be no remission of sins and no plan of eternal salvation. God bless the many instances in which Jesus spoke the truth to people in love (and at times, with harshness) in spite of the fact that He was rewarded with evil for His good.

No More Christian Nice Guy encouraged me not to fear or second guess honesty and to not to let the feminization of our society cause me to repress righteous anger and/or proper outrage at the evil in the world, and even as I write this I think of Peter who told Ananias and Sapphira that they would die for their lie about the property they had sold. That certainly wasn't a moment of syrupy sweet understanding, and yet the fate he spoke befell them instantly, God had backed the righteous indignation Peter expressed because Peter’s emotion was led by the Holy Spirit who was in Peter.

So let us leave with this knowledge, Christian love, masculine or feminine, is NOT a popularity contest, nor does it always come with syrupy sweetness, and neither is it going to always engender a positive response from the person receiving the expression of the truthful emotions God gave you. While we must be careful to pray about what we say to people and not let the devil ensnare us in unforgiving anger or any type of anger that produces violence, I feel most Christians in these politically correct and overly inoffensive days in which we live on many occasions err on the side of the being sickeningly sweet (while what’s in their hearts tells another story!), too worried about what other people think. As a result truth is sacrificed on the altar of seeking honor from men, which means love is being sacrificed as well, because again there is no love without truth.

So, my dear friends, I am encouraging you to be prayerfully truthful at all times and not to worry about offending others or losing friends when you know God is leading you to respond in a certain way. If God is compelling you to speak up, you had better do so, for the consequences of not speaking the truth when God has asked you to will not be good (see the book of Jonah) and you ARE NOT LOVING THE PERSON YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO TELL THE TRUTH TO by keeping truth from him or her.

You may prolong the superficial kindness between the two of you, but that's all you're doing. There is no love in deception or keeping back the truth when God is leading you to share it. That right there is what Satan and his demons want you to do, not God. Don't let a need to be perceived as a kind person take away your ability to minister truth to others, and men, don't let the feminization of our society cause you to fall in that category.


1 comment:

  1. I have to say that though your post focuses heavily on how men should respond, the meat of the message is good for women, as well.

    Two comments:
    First, I think that many people think of Christ's suffering as a horrible thing, but that since He knew the end of it with certainty, then it was somehow easier for Him to plow on through it and fight the good fight than it would be for any of us. That is, not just the physical pain, but the ridicule and ostracism you mentioned above. However, while listening to a program on the radio the other day, it struck me... It was when they were talking about the Trinity and how hard a concept that is to understand (and how we don't really "understand" it so much as "accept" it as truth because we have no reference for it in our present life). The speaker mentioned that Christ was fully God, and everyone focusses on that, but to remember that He was also FULLY MAN. (And for math people...two "wholes" don't make one "whole" except in a divine instance, a normal person cannot be "fully" two different things in our understanding, so just stop thinking about the "how" of that or your head will hurt. It just IS.) Applying that to the material in this post, that meant that though yes, He did divinely know the outcome, He was still human, and would still have the desire to fit in, not be ostracized, and certainly the desire to avoid the pain that would go with the ridicule. (The Bible even says He was tempted in every way like we are and yet didn't sin.) So consider that if you fall into the pattern of thinking that "oh, it was easier for Him...He is God, after all".

    Second, a completely different train. If you love someone, and you tell them the truth, they may get mad, leave, assault you verbally back. But, if they also love you, then they will either accept the advice they see as good...or they'll calm down later and see the wisdom of it and accept it later...or even if they don't accept the advice itself, they will accept the spirit in which it was given, once they think about it and about what it meant to you to tell them. (Now, if you're snotty or self-righteous or yelling about it...that is, you are expressing even righteous anger in an unrighteous or violent way or a spirit of pride, they are unlikely to see that you had their good at heart.)

    I had an experience like this just the other day. One of my friends was taking out their anger verbally on someone who totally did not deserve it...just wrong place, wrong time to get the brunt of my friend's anger due to other circumstances. I said so, and pointed out the real reason for my friend's anger, and told them bluntly that they were doing wrong to take it out on what amounted to an innocent bystander. My friend was already in an angry mood, and he looked at me threateningly and even went so far as to shake his finger in my face as if to say "you're next on my mad list", and he gave me a look like if this person HAD been the type to hit someone, their fist would be headed right for my face. Of course, my friend is NOT the hitting kind of person, but I certainly think they would have LIKED to at that point. But then, it was like a light bulb went on and they saw that they were doing something unjust and that I was saying truly what I saw, and they backed off. And from then on, the relationship was healed.
    (On a side note: This is a good friend who is also unafraid to tell me when I am doing something unbecoming or wrong. I hope I am as gracious to forgive immediately on seeing that I'm in the wrong...and to notice I'm in the wrong at all when he is.)