One of these days, I might get it right on Sunday. Then I won’t have to write a follow-up blog about what I messed up during the sermon. But alas, this has not happened. So here I am, yet again, explaining what I meant to say and didn’t quite get it done before the closing hymn.
I closed out the sermon on Sunday talking about how we often use the excuse “That’s just the way I am, that’s the way God made me” as our reason for refusing to change. We take pride in being direct or “telling it like it is” to people with whom we disagree or people that we do not like. You can listen to the sermon here.
In offering this point, I may have come across as being hyper-critical of those who are are honest and direct; and may have sounded as if I was discouraging people from being authentic. To clarify, there is a very fine line between authenticity and stubbornness.
Being authentic does indeed mean that you sometimes say it like it is. It means that you do not deny who you are or try to pretend that you are something other than that.
It also means that you are willing to take an honest look at yourself to reflect on your own flaws. It means that you are not afraid to admit when you need to change—or be changed, by the grace of God. It implies that you are engage in self-reflection in an effort to be better and live out the grace of Jesus Christ. Finally, authenticity means you are willing to think to yourself about what you are saying and why, before you say it.
In terms of God’s grace, authenticity encourages us to appreciate grace by learning to become gracious.
Authentic, honest and direct can be very good, but not if they become an excuse for a lack of spiritual growth and personal development. Honest and direct are not legitimate excuses to berate or insult or treat people badly. If this begins to happen, authenticity has morphed into stubbornness.
Stubbornness is when we use “That’s just the way I am” as an excuse to NOT listen to God or reflect on how God might want us to change. It takes a stance that is not reflective of spiritual direction or personal responsibility.
Stubbornness often causes us to speak or act towards others in a manner that is far from Christ-like. It’s a self-justifying position, using the excuse that “I tell it like it is” and “That’s just the way God made me” as an excuse for hurting others through verbal abuse or gossip or whatever cruelty we feel like cooking up on a given day.
It allows us to justify ourselves for treating others as the object of our anger or frustration, while ignoring the leadership of the Holy Spirit about who or what we are supposed to be. We can excuse anything from gossip to road rage to bitterness towards others to talking with malice to any human being that just doesn’t like “the way God made me”.
You can be direct, straightforward and tell-it-like-it-is with either an authentic or a stubborn perspective. The difference is that stubbornness is stagnant and disinterest in personal or spiritual growth, becoming an excuse for negative behavior.
Authenticity is definitively dynamic, and allows us to be ourselves while growing ourselves. Grace requires us to change if we truly understand its meaning and implication in the person of Jesus Christ. By practicing authenticity, we permit ourselves to be real while we become better people for Christ.
In Sunday’s sermon, I most definitely didn’t mean to criticize anyone for being straightforward and direct. But I do think that Jesus challenges us to a be authentic with others while also being authentic about our own faults and what we need to change.
We must learn to be authentic in our relationship with God, and ourselves, just as we are with others. Grace compels us to do no less. If we use God as an excuse to not change our behavior, attitudes and actions towards others, then we are in dangerous spiritual territory; and we have a long way to go to reach an understanding of the power of God’s grace.
Now, if I could just get all of this said on Sunday DURING the sermon…