Sunday 10th May

In His Steps – Honest

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:21

Today we are carrying on with our series “In his steps”. This week we are looking at honesty.

This is easy – surely we are always honest, aren’t we? It is all wrapped up in the commandments after all. Have a look at this:

Thank you to Charles for supplying the notes this week, before we look at these lets start with a prayer.

Heavenly Father, you are the source of all true and lasting joy. We praise you for your power which is beyond compare. We worship you for your wisdom which is beyond understanding. You can meet all our needs. You restore the broken hearted and heal the wounded. You have revealed yourself to your people and are building your church, against which the gates of hell can not prevail. How great you are Lord! Fill our hearts with love as we respond by singing praises to you.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Song: Blessed be your name

In His Steps

To learn more about Jesus so we can be more like him
Honesty: being honest about feelings

Reading: Mark 15:34; Acts 5:1-11

Jesus – honest with God about what he was feeling:

“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

Being honest in our feelings and our dealings with each other:

“Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”

“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” (Acts 5:1-11)

Of course, we would always be truthful…

But do we lie to each other?

I once read a book by a Christian author who suggested that many if not most Christians regularly lied to one another. By way of example, he suggested that on every occasion when someone greeted us with, “Good morning, how are you?” and our reply was, “Fine!” we were, in actual fact, lying, since most of us are not fine at least some of the time.

Perhaps he had a point.

However, I think we can differentiate between a greeting, “And how are you?” that is simply a warm-hearted way of saying “Hello” (the equivalent of the formal greeting, “How do you do?” to which the formal reply is, “How do you do?”); and the enquiry, “And tell me, how are you?” which is a genuine request to hear how someone is doing.

The first requires no more than a general reply, “Fine, thanks!” (indeed, the enquirer might well be taken aback if we responded with a list of ailments!); while the second is looking for a more measured and thoughtful response perhaps along the lines of, “Thank you for asking. Have you a few minutes to chat, because I would value talking through with you something I am struggling with?”

But I think we can all agree that truthfulness lies at the heart of every healthy and thriving relationship, while lying corrodes and destroys the trust essential to human flourishing.

When reflecting on any passage in the Bible it is helpful to keep in mind God’s plan

Human flourishing is what lies at the heart of God’s plan for humankind.

God promised to Abraham and his descendants that he would bless them and make them a blessing so that all the nations on earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:2-3).

Paul wrote that,

“…no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

“The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham, ‘All nations will be blessed through you’.” (Galatians 3:8).

He is clear that Jesus was the one through whom this promise to Abraham would be fulfilled.

The ministry of Jesus can be summarised in a variety of ways, but here is one of the ways Jesus himself described it,

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10).

And what is this life to the full?

Jesus again, praying to his Father,

“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3).

Jesus’ first followers understood the implications of what he had done in this way,

“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Peter 3:18).

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 John 3:8).

Jesus explained that,

“…the devil…was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44).

Putting all this together we see that God’s intention has always been for all of humankind to live under his blessing and flourish, and to that end he offers deliverance from enslavement to the devil, healing from the ravages and brokenness of sin, and freedom and flourishing in Christ.

There are a number of things that mark a child of God which reflect that we are meant to be like our Father. One of those is honesty, truthfulness, integrity.

  • Honesty about everything in our relationship with God (illustrated by Jesus on the Cross in Mark 15:34).
  • Honesty about everything in our relationships with one another (the contrary illustrated by Ananias and Sapphire in Acts 5:1-11).

We need to be and can be honest in our relationship with God

Song: Man of sorrows

Mark 15:34.

The Bible gives us the words we might not otherwise dare to use

In absolute agony on the cross Jesus quotes from Psalm 22:1.

It is clear that Psalm 22 prophetically anticipates Jesus’ crucifixion. But when it was written by David hundreds of years before, he wasn’t simply writing prophecy in his study. This Psalm captured at that moment what David felt as he experienced faith-testing times. Reading his story in the books of Samuel we can readily imagine occasions when God must have felt very far away indeed.

The Psalms were part of the Bible Jesus read and he would have learned great sections of it off by heart.

What the Psalms add to the mix is that they give us the language to speak to God in any and every condition we might experience. When those Psalms (and other parts of Scripture) are known by heart it is no surprise that they are the words that gush forth in times of joy or sorrow, despair or elation, “For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

We might not always be honest with God if we felt that we must always speak politely and with measured reverence. But knowing the Scriptures, and using the language of, for example, the Psalms, we can learn to express ourselves to God in the clear and unequivocal language of our hearts, without fearing that we are offending God. For, if the psalmists could say this, then it is perfectly okay for me too.

Quote:

“[The Psalmists] do not rationalise anger away or give abstract advice about pain; rather, they express emotions vividly and loudly, directing their feelings primarily at God.

The 150 Psalms present a mosaic of spiritual therapy in process. Doubt, paranoia, giddiness, meanness, delight, hatred, joy, praise, vengefulness, betrayal, you can find it all in Psalms…From Psalms I have learned that I can rightfully bring to God whatever I feel about him. I need not paper over my failures and try to clean up my own rottenness; far better to bring those weaknesses to God, who alone has the power to heal.”

Philip Yancey, ‘The Bible Jesus Read’, page 122

We can do this because…

The Bible reveals to us the God we can dare to trust

God be trusted with reality.

Since he is God, omniscience (knowing everything) is one of his characteristics. Jesus warned some of the Pharisees,

“God knows your hearts.” (Luke 16:15).

But this is no more than they would have known from their Scriptures, e.g. Psalm 139:

“You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.” (Psalm 139:1-6).

This is not meant to intimidate us (as a middle-aged woman in one of my Bible Studies once admitted), but to reassure us.

If it is true (and it is!) then it would be foolish to imagine I can hide anything from God, for he is the one who knows everything. And loves me nonetheless. Nothing about my life is unknown to God. He knows the worst about me (which I may not yet know) but has committed himself to me in love, and reassured me that nothing can separate me from his love (Romans 8:38-39).

  • So why would I want to hide my feelings from him? Why would I be dishonest about how I felt when he is the one who can help me, heal me, restore me, save me, even from myself.

When Jesus spoke the words of David’s psalm on the cross he was speaking out of the fulness of his scripturally-informed heart.

  • But note this well: he was speaking to God, not complaining to others about God. There is a difference!
  • Jesus knew, even in the agony and crushing darkness of the cross, that his Father still loved him.

We can and we must always be honest with God.

Song: My soul finds rest in God alone

We need also to be honest about our feelings with others

Acts 5:1-11.

This passage is one which sometimes makes us feel uncomfortable.

  • It seems to be a very heavy-handed way to deal with what we think is a relatively small matter.
  • But that is not to see it from God’s perspective.
  • Remember God’s plan: to destroy the devil’s work, to bring humanity to himself and to pour blessing upon us that we might flourish and grow, knowing life in all its fulness.

But dishonesty, lying, deceitfulness breaks relationships

How can a relationship grow when one party cannot trust what the other party says or does?

The issue here has nothing to do with money or possessions: those are simply the means whereby the underlying issue is revealed:

  • Ananias and Sapphira wanted to be known as something other than their true selves.
  • They craved recognition and appreciation, and were prepared to lie to get it.
  • In short, they wanted a status among the disciples beyond what they perceived they had; they wanted to be more important.

Now how could such an attitude help the community of disciples to thrive and grow?

  • It couldn’t.
  • No one would have known where they stood with this couple and any relationship would not have been based on truth, but on the sinking sand of deception.
  • To have allowed this to pass unchecked would have allowed it to eat away at the core of the early church’s very integrity.
  • And this kind of behaviour is very easy to copy: to pretend to be what we are not, to be dishonest about who we are.

Most of us are wary of advertisements that make bold claims for the products in question; or websites that promote holiday locations, or houses for sale, in glowing terms.

  • That is why we look for the reviews, and become quite adept at reading between the lines.
  • Parents quickly find out the danger of making promises to their children that can’t be kept.
  • As a nation we have become sceptical about pledges made by people in authority: trust in those in authority is, apparently, at a low ebb.

It should not be like that in the church: our word should be our bond.

An elderly friend, now in his early nineties, was a ship-broker in the City of London throughout his working life. He told me that in his early days it was common, indeed the norm, for contracts involving millions of pounds, to be initially agreed on the basis of a handshake, with nothing in writing at that moment. He said that if a broker ever agreed something and then went back on his word, he would never be able to work in that environment again. No-one would trust him.

In this passage we see God’s Holy Spirit give Peter spiritual gifts to deal with the situation, an indication that God took this very seriously indeed.

  • He still does.

Peter makes it clear that at all points that it was entirely up to Ananias and his wife to decide on what they should do. There was no compulsion.

  • His careful questions, prompted no doubt by the Holy Spirit’s information to him supernaturally given, gave both husband and wife the chance to own up and be honest.
  • Neither accepted that opportunity: they were both settled in their deception. And both died.
  • It was a tragedy that could so easily have been avoided. No wonder “great fear seized all who heard what had happened” (Acts 5:5&11).

However, honesty helps a community thrive

Quote:

“No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.”

This expression is a quotation from John Donne’s Devotions (1624).

He was saying that human beings necessarily depend on one another, we cannot manage this all by ourselves; no man is an island.

Whatever else the Covid-19 lockdown has shown, it has revealed how much we need one another.

In the individualistic West, and in the individualistic Western Church, we might think we can manage on our own.

  • But if we do, we would be wrong.
  • Some have learned that truth in all sorts of practical ways during this pandemic.

And it is also true of spiritual growth and development.

  • How can you help me to grow (and Cain was wrong: he WAS his brother’s keeper) if you don’t know who I really am and how I am really doing?

Being honest with each other, about what we feel, or indeed any other matter, requires that both parties are increasingly vulnerable and open to one another.

  • I will not look for help from you if I think you will judge me for not being able to cope/failing/feeling bad/needing help…
  • You won’t be able to help me if I refuse to admit that I am not able to cope/failing/feeling bad/needing help.

But…

  • If I come to you at the end of my rope, admitting I cannot cope, and asking for help, then you have the opportunity to stand by me, supporting and helping me find a way through the crisis or dilemma.
  • We won’t all need to be so vulnerable to everyone else all the time: it is impractical and perhaps even inadvisable.
  • But we all should have those people with whom we feel safe, and to whom we can open our hearts. To those we can be completely honest about our feelings.

Knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses can foster a more caring, supportive and affirming environment where failure is not the end, and human flourishing can happen, where each person is able to enter into and enjoy the life in all its fulness that Jesus came to bring.

It is no mistake on Luke’s part that the account of Ananias and Sapphira is immediately preceded by the introduction of Barnabas to the story.

  • Ananias and his wife wanted what the recognition Barnabas had, but went about the wrong way to get it.
  • They lied and tried to cheat, were found out, and suffered the consequences.
  • He was just being himself: gracious, kind, generous and loving. He earned the nickname ‘Son of Encouragement’ simply because he was the kind of person who enabled others to flourish. He is one of the minor heroes of the book of Acts: a transparent, godly man whose only desire was to see others blossom under the loving gaze of God.
  • He was needed then. Such people are needed now.

The Africans have a proverb:

“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go with others.”

We need one another, and we therefore need to be honest and open with each other, that God’s desire for us to know life in all its fulness might increasingly come true for all.

Blessing us really is what God wants

From the generation rescued in the Exile with Moses onwards, God’s desire for the priests was to speak his blessing over his people:

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
(Numbers 6:24-27).

Listen to this song and think about your own lives. Are you being honest with your own feelings? Are you being honest to those around you?

That is it for this week I hope you are all finding this series useful. This weeks key verse is Mark 15:34.
Next week we will be looking at Gentle.

Song: All I have and all I am

And as a final blessing, here is the song from last week: