Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tim Chester on honesty

Honesty seems to be a frequent issue on this blog - something I wasn't expecting when I called it in all honesty, many moons ago!

I chose this name because I was convinced that we need more honesty in the church, reflected on the whys and wherefores of honesty in this interview, and was challenged by various blogging friends to think harder about when honesty helps and when it doesn't.

The issue hasn't gone away. I'm more aware now that honesty can be an excuse or a shield for sin (If I mention my sin first, maybe you won't! If you tell me you're as bad as me, we both feel better!). But I'm still convinced that honesty can be a helpful way to encourage others by showing how grace and growth in godliness work out in practice. I've become more convinced that one of the main ways God helps us to grow is by us confessing our sin to one another and speaking the truth in love into one another's lives.

So I was very excited to come across chapter 9 in Tim Chester's You Can Change about honesty and how it can help us to change. I won't say much about the chapter, as Nicole will be talking about it tomorrow (I think!) on 168hours, but I thought I'd publish some excerpts here. I especially love what Tim says about the pious vs. the messy church!

How our honesty can help others

One way that we can speak the truth into people's lives is by narrating how the truth has affected our own lives. This personalizes the truth and helps people see how it applies today. It's also a good way of speaking truth if we lack the confidence or the opening to do so in more direct ways. If, for example, someone is complaining about ill-health, we might say: 'Yes, sickness can be a real struggle. When I was in hospital last year I had to keep reminding myself that God is with us in our struggles and he uses our suffering for our good. I needed to trust God's fatherly care.'

How to respond when people are honest with us

People bring their deceitful desires to us and we stroke them. They say: 'My boss made me mad today.' And instead of asking whether their anger reflects thwarted or threatened sinful desires, we say: 'He sounds terrible; I'd have done the same.' People brings their moans to us, and we join in. People tell us what they covet and we extol its worth with them, in effect saying, 'Yes, this is an idol worth worshipping.' Instead, the truth we're to speak to one another is 'the truth that is in Jesus'. We're to remind one another of the greatness and goodness of God revealed in Jesus. ...

What should you do if someone confesses their sin to you? Speak the truth in love. Don't tell them their sin is understandable or insignificant. That offers no comfort because it's a lie. But we can speak words of comfort because we can speak words of grace. Call them to repent of their sin and accept by faith the forgiveness that God offers. 'You are guilty, but Christ has born your guilt. You deserve God's judgement, but Christ has borne your judgement.' This is true comfort. Embody that forgiveness in your ongoing acceptance and love. But accept people with Gods' agenda for change. Explore, if you can, the lies and desires that lead to their sinful behaviour. Together you may be able to discern the truth they need to turn to and the idolatrous desires they need to turn from. Be proactive about offering accountability. That means asking the question! Ask them how they're getting on; ask them whether they've sinned again. Be specific: ask when, where, why, how often. Above all, point them to the grace and glory of Christ.

How to encourage honesty

Part of our problem is that we don't rebuke one another day by day. It means that, when we do, it creates or exacerbates a sense of crisis. Rebuke becomes confrontation. That may be needed in some situations, but often it can be avoided is rebuke has become a normal part of the way we disciple one another. I need people who regularly ask me about my walk with God, who readily challenge my behaviour, and know about my temptations. I need my friend Samuel, who often asks: 'What's the question you don't want me to ask you?'

Why honest confession is important

There are some sins that thrive on secrecy. They include sins of escape: things we do when we're feeling under pressure, such as sexual fantasies, pornography, compulsive eating and addictions. They include sins of the mind: things such as bitterness, envy, jealousy and complaining. We can become very adept at hiding them. But hiding them feeds them. You feel bad about yourself, so you eat compulsively. You eat compulsively, so you feel bad about yourself. You feel unable to dope with life so you become a hero in computer games. But your addiction makes the real world seem even harder. The fear of exposure means you withdraw from the Christian community or learn to pretend. But withdrawal and pretence cut you off from the help of the community.

One thing we've learnt in our church is that change takes place only when these sins come out into the open. It's difficult, but confession to another Christian will be a big step forward. You don't need to tell everyone! But do tell someone.

The pious vs the messy (honest!) church

"The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We are not allowed to be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Life Together)

We can be communities of repentance only if we're communities of grace. And this means being honest, open and transparent about our struggles. We see one another as we really are and accept one another just as Christ accepted us. We model grace in our welcome of sinners, just as Jesus did. It means I don't pose as a good person. Instead, I portray myself as I truly am: a sinner who constantly receives grace from Christ. It means we rejoice to be a messy community of broken people.

(At this point Tim Chester quotes from his blog post A messy church or a pretending church. It's well worth a read, including the comments!)

Emphases are mine.

P.S I know I promised you something about the resurrection. But I told Nic I'd post this today! So you'll have to wait till tomorrow ...


Simone R. said...

Sounds like a great chapter! (This topic won't go away, will it?) I'm off on hols for a few days- but will look forward to reading lots of comments and Nicole's post when I get back next week!

Anonymous said...

But hiding them feeds them. You feel bad about yourself, so you eat compulsively. You eat compulsively, so you feel bad about yourself. You feel unable to dope with life so you become a hero in computer games. But your addiction makes the real world seem even harder. The fear of exposure means you withdraw from the Christian community or learn to pretend. But withdrawal and pretence cut you off from the help of the community.Wow... you hit this right on the head for me... this was my life not more than 6 months ago... compulsive eating, World of Warcraft addiction, withdrawaling from my church (attendance-wise and socially). Thank God He showed me before it was too late that it was destroying my family and my marriage.

Since then, I've been Wow-Clean and have lost 85lbs, (so far!), feel so healthy and happy and my marriage and family relationships have never been stronger... it can seem like a vicious circle you get into, but God can extricate even the most hopeless soul.

I blog about my computer addiction recovery and weight-loss over at my blog (http://wrathofnino.wordpress.com) check it out sometime. I'm bookmarking and coming back soon, this was an awesome post!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jean,

Hebrews is great! Thanks for reminding us of this. Before the Throne is one of the songs I sing with my girls at night before they sleep. Yes, all three verses!! It's especially good for me if I don't feel like it when they request it!

I read a great illustration about Jesus suffering temptation and never giving in. Because he was perfect we think that maybe he didn't suffer such strong temptation. It was in Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands by Paul Tripp. He asks you to imagine a strong man bending an iron bar at a fair. The first bar is thin and weak, and he bends it to a ninety degree angle and it breaks. The second bar is much thicker and stronger and even though the strong man exerts all his strength, it bends until the ends touch, but never breaks. Which bar endured more pressure? The second! It absorbed the full force of the man's strength and didn't break. "On earth, Jesus was like that second bar. Because he never gave in, because he did not run away, because he never went where temptation would lead, but stood strong until that moment of temptation was over, he endured the full power of temptation. Christ endured stress, pain, suffering, and sacrifice of an intensity that we will never face because he did not break. He stood strong against sin for us. He endured everything the world could throw against him."

This has been so helpful for me. I have been thinking as well, that although Christ didn't experience the same circumstances of temptation, the underlying sins were the same. For example, I am always tempted to think that God doesn't know best when it comes to my children. Christ didn't have children, but I am sure that in the garden, he was tempted to think that God's way was not best. Do you know what I mean? And because he never gave in to that worry, he experienced the temptation far more strongly than I do!

Thanks for these posts.


Jean said...

Thanks, Jo, what a wonderful, wonderful quote from Tripp! I'm reading that book at the moment, but I haven't got to that bit yet. Thanks.