Welcome to my first guest writer
[Note: The following article was written and presented as an email devotional to my local congregation, Grace Church, by my friend, Keisha. It ties in well with my last blog post but is more extensive and instructive given her perspective as a Christian woman, wife, and mother. I appreciate her willingness to be my first guest writer and to let me republish it here. ]
Hypocrisy and the Fear of God
By Keisha Graziadei-Shup
I was heartbroken and nauseated this past weekend to hear about yet another leader, well known in Christendom and respected by so many, who was caught in sexual misconduct. Jon and I have books of his on our bookshelf. I’ve quoted him and referred resources of his to my own friends. It was devastating to learn to what great lengths he went to cover up the tracks of his seedy, hidden life. This one was close to home.
When outsiders of the faith do these things, it’s not as distressing because they adhere to a different set of morals and so it's somewhat to be expected. But when they are the teachers and discerners of the word of God, it’s a special brand of horrifying and a particularly glaring form of hypocrisy.
Events like these call me to remember the words of Christ who called out the hypocrisy of the Jewish religious leaders. He called them snakes and said, “You travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matt 23:15).
I’ve seen enough in the news and had enough personal experience that, if I were thinking like the world, I would have plenty of reason to ditch church for good. Many of my peers have done so, citing these types of things. When it happens, it’s helpful for me to review the reasons I continue to associate myself as a Christian and keep going to church, not reluctantly or shamefully but with confidence, joy and love for the work and people of God:
The hypocrisy of these great leaders doesn’t delegitimize biblical truth, but confirms it.
As my pastor reminded us recently, sin is a matter of the heart, not the intellect (Mark 7). No amount of biblical knowledge makes our hearts right, but rather, being born of the Spirit into a life characterized by repentance and walking in the light. Jesus didn’t ditch the scriptures because of religious hypocrisy, but rather brought hypocrisy to light and corrected it by appealing to the scriptures. We can't ultimately make appeals to what's right without divine revelation. We're otherwise just left with a bunch of people's conflicting, prejudiced opinions.
Human capacity for self-deception is infinite and alarming.
I need to remember that I’m not immune to this reality. None of us are. Spontaneously fabricating lies and smokescreens to excuse and hide our sins comes quite naturally to us -- Christian or not. These deceptions start small, in the mind. We need to step out of our thoughts regularly to examine them, and speak truth to ourselves to end our bad thought patterns (Rom 12:12, Matt 5:27-30, John 2:24-25).
Humility is a prerequisite for repentance.
Recently, I read an article called #MeToo Story: Bathsheba about the great lengths David went to cover up his tracks in his scandal with Bathsheba, and his gross abuse of power in doing so. And look, his abuses were published in the world’s bestselling book (the Bible). God is in the business of bringing sin to light as well as forgiving it when there’s genuine repentance. When I see these kinds of headlines, I can remember that people are depraved without exclusion, and God, in both his justice for victims and mercy for the aggressor, has exposed them. Humility is the right kind of soil for the fruit of repentance, if there’s going to be any (Ps. 51:16-17). We become what we worship.
No one just wakes up one day and decides to be a monster. It is a slow transformation; a thousand tiny decisions. As my associate pastor explained three Sundays ago, we can follow our emotions to discover the gods we truly worship. I find that fear is a good one for me to track. When I trace my fear to its roots, I see both what I worship and the monster/freak show/slave I may become if I don't stop.
The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. (Prov 9:10)
One of the first things I thought upon hearing this recent news was, Has this man no fear of God? Generally, Christians are probably not people who go about, grimacing at the sky, and shrinking back for fear that God will smite us at any moment. Rather, fear usually functions more subtly than that: We may fear missing out or what people think of or say about us. We fear losing time, money, or opportunities. We fear being low on the social hierarchy, sexually repressed, undesirable, left out, ill, a political minority. We dread death, losing sociopolitical freedoms, or a hundred other things. Fear underlies our deepest (often subconscious) motivations.
We are truly anxious creatures, if we're honest. Some level of concern about many of these things may be reasonable, but they cannot be primary, or they will make monsters of us.
It’s easy to say that we “fear God” because we’re Christians and go to church every Sunday. But I know that if I’m honest, I don’t fear God very well most of the time. My true fears rarely bubble up to a level of conscious consideration. The consequence of choosing something over God doesn’t always feel very eminent, and then one day our rotting soul is sniffed out and our name gets plastered on a headline somewhere and we’re the shame of our family, community, or worse: the world. That’s an unfortunate time to remember to fear the Lord. So let’s do it now, starting today. Let’s go to God, then our spouse, children, parents, friends, classmates, colleagues, church, or whoever it may be, and step into the light. Let’s do it right now: Confess the smallest, tiniest sins, and the greatest ones. Repent. Flee from it, without delay. In our humility, we make God great, attesting to his power to save.
Lord God, you are perfectly good, wise, beautiful, powerful -- our first love. Show us what it means right now to walk in the light so that we don’t ever have to be made an object lesson. Help us to live a life above reproach. Help us to see that when we fear you -- you who loves and forgives and is on our side -- that it’s the only way to live a life that is truly free and without any fear at all. Amen.