Sunday, 20 December 2015

Get real

When I was applying to be a Methodist minister I had to attend a weekend away.  Part of this weekend away involved two psychological tests.  To my great embarrassment I failed them both.  I believe that I failed one because I did not listen well to the instructions, but the other failed test revealed something very serious. 
The test I failed was filled with subtle questions to reveal if you were being honest with people.  Although I convinced myself that I was answering truthfully, I was not.  The heart is so deceitful that often can fool our own selves.  The truth is that I was not willing to be vulnerable because I feared that I would be rejected if these people knew what I was really like.    
How real are you with people?  Are you willing to be vulnerable?  Do you feel free to ask for help?  This morning we are looking at the topic of transparency.  To be transparent is to be humble, honest and real with God and people.  Transparency is a key to experiencing spiritual renewal and to being a blessing to those around you.

  1.  Transparency reveals that we understand the gospel
King Saul and King David both failed big time.  But the difference between these two men was not that they sinned but how they responded to being confronted with their sin.  Saul was confronted by the prophet Samuel and he made excuses.  He was caught red-handed and said, ‘please don’t tell the people’ (1 Samuel 15:30).  David wouldn’t face up to the magnitude of his sin for a whole year, but eventually the prophet Nathan got him to admit his wickedness, and he wrote two great Psalms of confession (32 and 51).  David knew that every time we read those two psalms we would be reminded of the awful things he had done.  Yet true repentance is not into saving face.

Transparency reveals that we get the gospel.  God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.  The gospel says that we are not only saved by grace, we are kept in grace.  The blood of Jesus not only cleansed us from past sin, it goes on cleansing us from current sin (1 John 1:5).  Indeed, the apostle John says that if we say that we do have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).  The gospel not only allowed the apostle Paul admit that he had been the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) but that at times he still felt that he was a hopeless wretch (Romans 7:13-25).  Transparent people admit that they struggle with temptations, sin and weakness.
Jesus was the only person who has had no sins to confess, yet he did experience many other weaknesses.  He was transparent! He got tired, thirsty and hungry. He wept.  He was willing to ask people for help.  In the Garden of Gethsemane he was open about his agony.   I find it amazing that the gospel writers include the fact that Jesus became so weak after his flogging that he was too weak to carry the beam of his cross.  The creator of the universe experienced what it was to be physically and emotionally broken.  He offered prayers with loud cries and tears (Heb. 5:11).  He made himself utterly dependant on the Father.  Because of Jesus we know that it is safe to be transparent with God.  He knows our hearts better than we do.  He has forgiven our sin.  He wants to help us in our temptations.  ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy in our time of need (4:15-16).
2. Transparency reveals that we care about the church and its people

‘When we refuse to shed that hard, outer shell called “self,” no one can get close to us; no one can penetrate or enter into our life.  Just as pride repulses God, so pride keeps others from getting close to us.’ (Nancy Leigh DeMoss).
My guess is it that for many of you it is a lot easier to be transparent with God than it is to be transparent with his people.  We know that God is gracious, but his people can be harsh and judgemental.  Maybe you have opened up to people only to find that they failed to understand you, did not seem to care about your pain, gave you lousy advice or ended up gossiping about you.  Nevertheless we are commanded to be transparent.  James writes, ‘confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed’ (James 5:16).
Your vulnerability will bless the church and impact the world.  It is only when we are transparent with each other that we can truly live out the gospel together.  Without vulnerability there can be no intimacy.  The church can’t enjoy real fellowship it we keep each other at arm’s length.  Jesus prayed that we might be one ‘so that the world may know that you sent me’ (John 17:23).  The world will know God is with us when it sees broken people accepting other broken people for the sake of Jesus.  Are there people in this church who really know you?  Are you willing to join the apostle Paul in boasting of the things that show your weakness (2 Cor. 11:30)?  Do you come to these meetings with a willingness to be vulnerable?
Not only will other people be blessed if you are transparent, you need to be transparent for the good of your soul.  The masks we wear are a symptom of our pride.  The image we carefully project reveals hardness in our heart.  Pretending to be strong will leave you weak.   This is pride that robs us of intimacy with God.  ‘Though the Lord is on high, yet He regards the lowly; but the proud he knows from afar’ (Psalm 138:6).  ‘Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up’ (James 4:10).
Transparency blesses us by increasing your intimacy with people.  We need fellowship with God’s people.  God saw Adam and saw that it was not good for him to be alone.  We were made as relational beings.  His people are God’s gift to us.  When we confess our sins to each other we can encourage each other by reminding them of the infinite grace that flows from the cross and seek to strengthen them. 
We are actually to be transparent so that we can invite correction.  ‘Reprove a wise man and he will love you’ (Proverbs 9:8).  ‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend’ (Proverbs 27:6).  Those who take holiness seriously will seek out accountability partners.  They will lift the phone and call for help, or text, when facing times of specific temptation.  They won’t talk about their struggles in vague terms.   They will be specific, because they are seeking specific prayers for help. 
What joy can you take from your carefully crafted image?  What delight can you have in not truly being known?  What support can you receive if you will not be vulnerable?  Be open and real.  Let your life display confidence in our gracious, kind and loving Saviour.
The opposite of transparency is pretence, which is pride.  Being real is an act of humility.  It may cost you to be honest.  Immature people may judge you.  Unloving people may slander you.  Self-righteous people will rejoice to look down on you.  But they don’t understand the gospel.  It may even hurt when the faithful challenge you with truth spoken in love.
The transparent people enable people by transparent in return.  The transparent person does not fear the skeletons in their closet because they know that they are forgiven.  They know that it magnifies the grace of God to reveal some of what they have been forgiven from.  They are willing to share their weaknesses and struggles because they always acknowledge their dependence on God.  God is the one who gets the glory!  Transparent people grow in your faith.  They come to know the encouragement of fellow strugglers.  They will be open to the transforming grace that is given to the humble.  Charles Spurgeon said, ‘he that humbles himself under the hand of God shall not fail to be enriched, uplifted, sustained, and comforted by the ever-gracious One.  It is a habit of Jehovah to cast down the proud, and lift up the lowly.’  Be transparent and you will be free!  ‘In reality brokenness brings a release, which produces a deep sense of joy and peace’ (Nancy Leigh DeMoss).

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