A Call to Christian Candor

CANDOR

Candor is an attribute that is not highly valued. Someone who speaks candidly is often brash, too revealing, or forward. We don’t like being invited to show some candor. For many, the fear of exposing who they really are is entirely crippling. At other times, candor can be healthy. Business meetings often require candor, or in sensitive conversations candor must be shown. Often, candor is a refreshing quality in relationships when we are so often surrounded by people tirelessly working to keep up their façade.

The evangelical environment is rarely known for its candor. Quite the opposite is actually true, we are often known for our lack of candor. This lack of candor is revealed in the secrecy of financial decisions, in how seldom leaders admit mistake or failure, and particularly in legalism and judgmentalism. There are stories upon stories of high profile Christian leaders covering up their sin, and asking other leaders to help. Many Christians attend churches where candor about your sin is a threat to your status or position.  Many churches are full of sinners trying to fool all of the other sinners in the room that they aren’t actually sinners. Personally, I think many churches could use a large dose candor.

As we examine the gospels we find a much different approach to candor. I’ve been particularly fascinated with how the disciples who wrote portions of the New Testament candidly faced and recounted their own flaws.

MATTHEW THE TAX COLLECTOR

The first gospel that is in the New Testament is attributed to Matthew. Anytime that Matthew refers to himself he adds some sort of information about his previous employment – tax collector. In Matthew 9, when Jesus calls him, Matthew is sitting behind the tax booth. Tax collectors were notorious thieves, and the Jewish tax collectors were particularly hated because they would prey on and profit off of their own people, for the benefit and authority of the Roman government. Being a tax collector was not a point of pride. In the verses following Matthew 9, people are appalled that Jesus would spend time with “tax collectors and sinners.” Matthew is penning this entire story and has the opportunity to edit out his previous employment, but instead Matthew highlights it. He emphasizes that he previously was part of this sickening class of tax collectors. Candor.

PETER THE DEVIL

There is another scene in the gospel of Mark that is equally candid. Peter is dictating the gospel to John Mark who is writing it all down. In chapter 8, Peter has a big moment with Jesus. Jesus asks the disciples who people think that he is, and Peter responds “you are the Christ.” For the first time, there is a recognition that Jesus is the Messiah. However, moments later Jesus is explaining to the disciples that he has to die and be raised again. Peter immediately pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him, to which Jesus responds, “get behind me, satan.” Ultimately, the point is that it is utterly diabolical to try to divert Jesus from the cross. Again, if I were Peter dictating this story, it would be so tempting to try to polish over this, and at least make it sound a little better, if not exclude it completely. Candor.

CHRISTIAN CANDOR

Both of these stories have candor in common. There is candor for one deeply profound reason – neither of these men’s identity was tied to who they were, rather it was tied to who they are in Christ. Because of what Christ accomplished, they were free to show candor. In Christ, there was no repercussion or consequence to their candor, their past had already been dealt with. Christ was already punished for every past, present, and future sin, freeing the authors of the New Testament to freely discuss their sin and even label themselves sinner.

Christ frees us to show candor. In Christ, our past is not a point of shame, but merely an anecdote revealing just how great God’s grace is. As we grow in understanding the foundation of the Christian life – the gospel – candor should become the norm, not the exception. The Christian community should be able to freely talk about who they once were, recognizing that the gospel has entirely re-formed their identity. As a matter of fact, the presence of shame or fear is often a sign that we haven’t truly understood the gospel.

We should show candor with our present as well. Christ’s sacrifice frees us to shamelessly face our present sin. Christ’s nails didn’t just atone for all of the sins we committed up to the point of faith, it paid for all sins – past, present, and future. As recipients of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, we can freely expose our failures because we are under the banner of Christ’s victory.

This is what makes the gospel good news. After Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden, their first reaction was the opposite of candor – hiding. In Christ, we no longer have to hide or defend ourselves. We can lay down our lawyers briefcase, because the judge has delivered the crimson-stained verdict – innocent…justified…free.

When we know this, candor is possible.

Is a busy Christian an oxymoron?

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Busy is an adjective that most of us love to use. Our American culture idolizes productivity and efficiency. Most of us show how productive we are by talking about how much we have done, or how full our calendars were, how many meetings we had, or how much work we have stacked up on our desk. If we’re honest, most of the time we are merely talking about activity, not productivity.

I’m the first person to respond to a casual “how you doing?” with the easy response “I’m busy, but good.” 

Anytime that I catch myself responding with the phrase “I’m busy”, God, in grace, walks me through the following questions.

Where is your identity?

As Christians, our value and our worth are secured in the person of Jesus Christ. We are not more valuable or more important if we do more than others. As a matter of fact, to attach our value and our worth to what we do is toeing the line of legalism. Our value is in our identity as people who have been rescued, redeemed, and adopted into God’s family. My heavenly Father approves of me and is proud of me because I’m wearing Christ’s perfection, not because I’m flying around my office answering phone calls and responding to e-mails.

Allowing our identity to be formed by what we do is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is vanity. And, it is like dish washing – you always have to do it again. You may fall asleep feeling important after a “productive” day, but tomorrow is another dirty dish. The slippery slope of building our identity on what we do is that what we built today will be torn down tomorrow.

As God’s children, we don’t have to do a bunch of things to win God’s approval. God paid the higest price to secure out identity in Him – his own shed blood. Knowing that you have been purchased by Christ’s blood is of far greater value than whatever deals you can close, or whatever sales you can make. 

Where are your priorities?

Busyness isn’t often a matter of busyness, but a matter of prioritization. The trouble is that many of us have gotten ourselves buried into patterns that are nearly impossible to escape. Our schedule has become our figurative boss, rather than us being the boss of our own schedule.

Busyness, for a period, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so long as we are doing the right things. The Bible is clear that work is not a bad thing, and that hard work is encouraged. The challenge is that modern culture has limited hard work to employment.

God’s Word demands that we be hard workers in all areas of our life, not just our employment. We should work hard at caring for our bodies, we should work hard at growing in our knowledge of God, and we should work hard at being good husbands and fathers and mothers and sisters etc. And we can do so joyfully, when we are confident in who we are in Christ.

The deeper issue is the tyranny of the urgent. The Bible’s authors didn’t have smart phones constantly beeping, chirping, and ringing. They didn’t have cars that got them to places more quickly. They didn’t have email, or airplanes, or televisions, and so forth. The task of prioritizing in 2015 is extremely complex. However, excessive busyness will follow those who don’t prioritize.

I think that Francis Chan best describes the tension of prioritization in his book Crazy Love when he says, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” The matter of prioritizing, for me, comes down to asking myself big questions of purpose. What legacy do I want to leave behind? What do I want to be known for? As we prayerfully ask those questions, we are enabled to prioritize our lives around those things which matter, rather than busying ourselves with and failing at things that don’t.

Where is your faith?

When we really start to peel back the layers, most of our busyness is a matter of faith. Many of us can’t stop being busy because we are convinced that we are essential for the world’s progress and sustenance. We are firmly convinced that if we were to stop being busy, the world would rip apart at the seams. Being brutally honest, many of us trust God only while we are paying attention. Busyness is often an idol of control, and an idol of control is a lack of faith.

Our rhythmic need for stopping and resting was not an accident on God’s part. As a matter of fact, God designed us to sleep for nearly a third of our life. Every single day, most of us stop being busy for a recommended 6-8 hours. God designed our bodies to have to shut down for a time every single day. Sleep is a parable reminding us that God wasn’t concerned with designing us for maximum impact and efficiency. God designed us to be intimately connected to Him, dependent upon Him, and trusting in Him. Busyness is often the result of an inability to trust God.

A biblical response to busyness: Sabbath

Even though the authors of the Bible didn’t have the technological advances that we have, God, the supreme author, sovereingly ordered His revelation with every era in mind. God built into the fiber of His creation a natural rhythm to ward off pesky, meaningless busyness – Sabbath.

God wants us to rest. God designed us to stop and rest. We must, proactively, stop what we do to recognize and worship God, enjoy His creation, and be renewed. Learning to stop and rest is one of the most difficult lessons to learn. For many of us, it is hard enough to leave the office on time, let alone take a whole day off. However, God’s Word is hardly irrelevant. As we root our identity in who we are in Christ, as we learn to prioritize and work on those weightier matters, as we learn to trust that God is in control, Sabbath becomes easier.

I’m still bad at it. It’s hard for me to leave my phone on my dresser for a few hours on my day off. It’s hard for me to not write a couple of quick emails, or make a couple of quick phone calls. However, it is a matter of recognizing that my identity isn’t secured by what I do. It is a matter of priority, investing in rest and investing in my family. It is a matter of faith, trusting that God is God and I’m not.

When we take time to answer these questions, and take Sabbath seriously, I’m convinced that, in most of our lives, ‘busy Christian’ is an oxymoron.

God’s Promises → God’s Commands

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One of the more interesting studies in the Bible is to look at the context that surrounds commands. If you observe closely, there is a pretty clear pattern that emerges.

The pattern that emerges is that most commands are rooted in a promise or action taken by God. The reason that this pattern is important is for the sake of obedience to these commands. Many times, we look at the commands as this long list of to-do’s. We often have the pattern backwards. If we obey the commands, then we receive the blessing of God’s promises, or God’s love, or God’s acceptance. When, in reality, our obedience flows from God’s love, acceptance, and promises in Christ. Continue reading

The Painful Path of Forgiveness

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All of us have been faced by a situation that required our forgiveness. Some of us have been in much more difficult situations than others. Maybe you have been faced with an abusive parent. Maybe you been betrayed by your spouse. Maybe you found out a close friend was gossiping about you behind your back, or plotting your demise. Maybe you were wrongly fired, maligned, or misrepresented. Whatever the situation, when we feel like we have been wronged, forgiveness is virtually impossible.

In situations where we have been betrayed, stabbed in the back, cheated on, abused, belittled, mocked and so forth, our human heart jumps at the opportunity for justice. We want to see those who have caused our pain, have equal or more pain inflicted upon them. Our desire for justice is a beautiful thing designed by God, that we have hijacked for our own purposes. Justice is a funny thing. Most humans want justice when they’ve been wronged, and want mercy when they have wronged someone else. Continue reading