Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sermon Lessons: Consistency

33-37"And don't say anything you don't mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, 'I'll pray for you,' and never doing it, or saying, 'God be with you,' and not meaning it. You don't make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say 'yes' and 'no.' When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong."
(Matthew 5:33-37)

26-27Anyone who sets himself up as "religious" by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.
(James 1:26-27)

I remember watching James Bond movies as a kid.  Secret Agent 007 would cleverly avoid those pesky pursuers with the such things as trick pens that dispense sleeping gas, or a car equipped with a gadget that emitted a huge billowing smoke screen, causing his car to be able to speed ahead without his enemies knowing he had moved on.  We are sometimes guilty of using these kind of tactics to avoid real disclosure of our true intentions, the hidden secrets of our hearts, or the hurts of our past - sending up smoke screens with our words to attempt to create a "disconnect" between the real us and the image of "reality" that we want to portray.

James puts it that we are really just "setting ourselves up as religious" by talking a good talk!  We have probably heard it said that "talk is cheap" - I think that is what the Lord may have had in mind when he said that we need to be "real" in our walk.  There is no value in "embellishing" our character with talk.  Whenever we do this, we are presenting a false image of who Christ is and what Christ has done.  

I always thought Christians were supposed to act all pious and "in control", never really showing any sign of fear, mistrust, anxiety, etc.  To admit that you struggled with depression, feelings of low self-worth, or even being addicted to something was something we considered a sign of tremendous weakness!  So, for years, we Christians kept things "bottled up", presenting nothing more than "smoke screens" that gave an illusion that kept people from examining us too deeply.  The end result is that we may have "escaped" people knowing us for who we really are, but that "escape" comes at a high cost.

There is nothing more helpful for me than to hear another believer share that they struggle with some of the same things that I do.  The fact is, we are all made of the same material and influenced by much the same influences.  We may not have been raised in the same home environment, faced the same challenges, etc., but we have similar emotional, spiritual, and physical make-up.  So, why do we struggle so hard to be what we are not?  In the removal of the smoke screen, we become who we are, allowing others to see us as the "real" us.

Jesus and James speak of the same idea - we need to say what we mean, means what we say, and live openly.  In so doing, we are not saying one thing, but doing another.  There is no "facade" to our religion - it is genuine.  This is what we could call consistency or congruence.  What is seen is in alignment with what has been said - no smoke screens.  Jesus refers to putting up the "religious facade" as in-genuine - you look good, but if you were examined closely, the image of what was portrayed would not hold the test.

There is something liberating in being the "real" you.  There is also something quite enlightening to others - they see that even Christians struggle with the tough stuff of life.  When faced with cancer, we crumble in fear.  When challenged with debt, we attempt to dig our way out.  When overtaken by temptation, we find ourselves mopping up the damages.  When crushed by criticism, we doubt our value.  We are human!  We struggle with human stuff!  There is no value in putting up a "religious" smoke-screen!  

The sad thing is that when we put up the "religious" smoke-screen, we destroy the other person's ability to see how God's grace counteracts the fear of cancer, improves our financial stewardship, restores what has been damaged by wrong decisions, and builds us up when we are feeling low.  The value of "consistent" or "congruent" living is that others get to see how God answers the basic needs of hurting lives.  So, the next time you are tempted to send out a "smoke-screen" to hide behind, think again!  

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