01-20-2020: Second Week after Epiphany

For those of you who have the day off, I hope it’s a restful one. Evelyn and I will be leaving for Adrian soon. I’m giving a speech at the Right to Life march happening there. With Jen out of town until tonight, I’m keeping Evelyn close by. But she’s an ultra-pro-lifer, anyway, and she wants to go. I’ll bet as we’re about to get into the car, she’ll say something like, “Let’s go save some babies, dad.”

She’s like that. And I enjoy it.

Now it may be somewhat of a stranger way to transition to another topic, but I’ve discovered three things in life in general that I do not enjoy.

The first is when a snowflake, having twisted and twirled its way from the lofty heavens above, brings its lengthy journey to an end right inside my ear canal.

Pop! it goes, driven in on the breath of a wintry wind. Absolutely startling and really quite unpleasant.

The second is attempting to eat a frozen Cobb salad. Stiffly cold chunks of ham; two halves of a hard boiled egg crunchy with frost; tasteless cheese cubes turned orange; lettuce that’s a much deeper green, almost blackened by a glacial layer stealing away each leaf’s gentleness. And then finally, in an attempt to mask the meal’s unpleasantness, it’s made worse by a warm coating of ranch dressing poured from a bottle discovered a moment too late to have passed its expiration date.

But when a man is in between getting his kids home from school and an early evening meeting, he will do what he needs to do to survive. This leads me to the third thing I do not enjoy.

People will do what they need to do to preserve themselves, and they’ll do it in some pretty dark ways. One of these is by lying.

I do not appreciate deception. Yes, we are all guilty of such things. And yet, just as certain sins are particularly easier to certain individuals, lying has its happiest employers.

In my opinion, of all sins, dishonesty, no matter how slight, is one of the worst. When a man tells a lie, he sets the timer on a neutron bomb strapped to his integrity. When it does finally detonate, his respectability is vaporized, and it’s very hard to reassemble something that’s been turned to ash. As we’ve all learned, you’ll need six Infinity Stones to do that. Interestingly, the cruelest devastation isn’t necessarily found in the words a liar speaks. The words are often pleasant enough to endure. But rather the wreckage becomes real when the one deceived realizes the perpetrator’s deliberate scheme to trick a trusting neighbor for personal gain or glory.

As a pastor, I’m getting pretty good at telling when people are lying to me. It’s not because the stories being shared aren’t well told. They are. It’s because the stories are rarely original and I’ve heard them before. For as radically unique as the world tells us we are, human beings aren’t all that creative. They all tell the same stories.

For example, in my years, the man who says he’s tired with his marriage, saying his wife is unbearably dreadful to him, quite often has another woman on the side, or at a minimum, is in pursuit of one. I wish it wasn’t this way, but sadly, too often it’s true.

Another example…

In my experience, when a person stops by the church asking for money, as she’s crafting her fiction, I’m listening carefully and wrestling with the silent urge to finish her sentences. And why? Because I’ve already heard the story about how she lost her job, her car is on empty, and she’s trying to get to a job opportunity in Grand Rapids. I’ve already heard the same saga that if I give her $50, when she gets her first paycheck, she’ll send the cash right back to me. Unfortunately, more often than not, these folks go from church to church doing this, and after a full day of it, if they’re persistent, they can make quite a bit of money from such deceit.

So why share this? Because there’s a worse kind of deceitfulness that’s becoming quite prevalent in our society—a paralyzing kind. People are believing their own lies. In fact, this is happening on a massive scale. Entire populations are telling and believing their own lies. People want a way out of the suddenness of unexpected parenthood, and so they tell themselves the unborn child isn’t a person. Someone feels emotionally conflicted, and as a result, he or she works to convince the “self” that perhaps the wrong gender was assigned at birth. In the wake of these lies, those around them heralding objective truth—believing the premise that an unborn baby as a person worthy of life, believing that Natural Law cannot be broken and that people with mental illness need help not excuses—these people are being framed by the lies as the real deceivers. With this, they’re labeled as wanting to impose upon women’s rights, or they’re branded as unenlightened bigots. In some cases, they’re forced into re-education efforts (diversity training) lest they find themselves fined, in litigation, and ultimately attacked by a media set on decimating their reputation.

The only real remedy to all of this, firstly, is the faithful preaching, teaching, and emitting of the Gospel—the powerful message of God’s grace for sinners. Christians know that the power for repentance and faith comes by the Holy Spirit at work through this wonderful message. By it, we are converted and convinced to be ones with hearts born from divine honesty. Divine honesty has an authentic grip not only on the world around us, but on Mankind’s truest condition in Sin and his real need for rescue in Jesus Christ.

In other words, Christians know the truth. Better still, they’re equipped to know when they’re lying to themselves. It doesn’t mean they won’t. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It’s easy to slip into the foolish ways of the flesh. But the Gospel is there to retool us for honesty with the “self.”

Additionally, I’d say Christians find this honesty has a strangely insatiable appetite for that which gives truth—real truth. Inevitably, the Word of God becomes the most precious source for the Christian spirit’s nutrition. It’s by God’s Word that human beings can know that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16), and that even as we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). It’s by the Word of God we can know this loving kindness as sourced from the same wellspring for setting Natural Law into order. It’s by the Word of God that we meet with the One who said so generously at the beginning of time, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth’” (Genesis 1:27-28). It’s by the Word of God, we meet with the One who said so kindly, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). It’s by the Word of God we draw near to hear the One who said with passion, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14).

With this sail catching the winds, Christians have the momentum for steering boldly and truthfully into topics of gender, the personhood and value of the unborn, mankind’s role in relation to the environment, and so many other popular topics that seem to be turning actuality upside down.

I suppose my prayer for all of you is that while you navigate this messy world, you’d cling as tightly to the Word of God as you can. There will always be fresh versions of various lies, but in the end, a Christian knows they all tell the same story. As it was in the Garden of Eden with the first liar, the devil, all deceptions are aimed at separating us from divine truth. All are in place to divide us from the only One who can save us when all of this—everything you see around you—eventually comes undone.

Trust the Word. It’s there you’ll discover the real truth, namely your sinful condition and the Christ who can save you. As an added benefit, you’ll be armed for dealing with liars—especially when that liar is you and the believing listener is yourself. The Word never makes its way through the untilled field of falsehood without a plow and seed planter in tow. It has the muscle for digging into the heart’s impenetrable soil. It’s reliably unequivocal, never withholding what the good crops need to grow up with a faith that lasts for eternity even as everything else in the world’s field is spoiling.