At a staff meeting, Chuck Swindoll once gave us a tip about interviewing for pastoral positions (as many of us were thought to be candidates for other jobs). He said, “When you preach your first sermon during the interview process, don’t give them the best one you’ve got. In other words [and hear his deep preaching voice come in here], don’t put your best foot forward. Otherwise, when you come back or start your job you won’t have anything but your normal self to give them, and you have already prepared them for something different.” (Yes, that was a paraphrase, but it went something like that.)
Unfortunately, we are always (spiritually speaking) trying to put our best foot forward, both to ourselves and others. We are consumed by what we think others think of us and, in turn, what we think of ourselves. Unknown to us, our lives turn into theatrical performances of lies, manipulation, and deception. And the worst part about it is that we hardly even know it. It becomes second nature.
Of course, we don’t really want to throw up on people at every turn. And, more importantly, people don’t really want us to. But that is not what I am talking about. I am talking about learning to be who we really are and being fine with it.
I would like to say that I learned this in some Bible study, class at seminary, or revelation from an angel. However, such is not the case. I began to learn and practice this (and, please note, I am still just beginning to acknowledge the mass amounts of self-deception I have rooted deep in my soul) in my days at the bars, picking up on girls (yes, you heard that right). I had a good friend who could get just about any girl in town (or so we thought). I was so impressed with him. He could not even count the number of girls he had slept with (and at that point in my life, that is where I wanted to be). He began to teach me the tricks of the trade and, for better or worse, one of his “tricks” was brutal honesty. I cringe at trying to give example of what I mean. (I think there is a difference in being wisely transparent and irresponsibly crass!) But this guy showed me that I did not have to put my best foot forward. In fact, I could lead with my weaknesses. Of course, this had an interesting dynamic at 1 a.m. in the bars. The slurring of truth from a guilt-ridden, wayward Christian may not be the best example, but it is my life. Since then, I have always tried to lead with neither my best foot, nor my worst foot (which is just as bad in the opposite direction), but my real foot.
This is not an easy thing to do. Most people, deep down, are not too proud of themselves. Everyone has their issues. Everyone has significant issues. But we grow up in an environment where veneers are easily constructed and passionately defended. We easily become embarrassed when someone accuses us of some personality deformity. Denial comes so easily, especially when the accusation comes from the outside. Excuses and rebuttals are as natural as any reflex. We fail to see that we are protecting the veneer of a person that does not really exist. However,if others think it exists, that is good enough for us.
Martin Luther could not be accused of wearing a veneer. I don’t think he was too concerned about others’ perceptions of him. In fact, he was fed up with the self-righteousness of his day. Everyone covered up their sins with excuses and denials. So much so, you would think there was not a broken person around him. Everyone had it all figured out. Their faith was perfect, as were their thought lives. This is why I think he wrote such controversial statements. He was trying to set an example, helping people realize that it was okay to be who you really are, even if it is wretched. “Be a sinner, and sin boldly.” That is what he told people. He was not trying to get them to sin more, but to take ownership of who they were. The “boldness” had to do with refusing to hide it from the public’s eye.
Now, I am not saying for you to “be yourself” in the sense that so many people say that today. “I am just going to be myself and if he does not like it, he can . . .” When people say that, they are usually expressing a contentment and pride with who they are at that moment. Taking ownership of who you are does not mean being excited about who you are. Sinning boldly does not mean that boldness necessarily justifies sin. We reveal who we are, and we are willing to confess much that needs to be changed (whether or not we are ever able to change it).
I think this is the reason I love country music so much. It is brutally honest about the idiosyncrasies of humanity while attempting to retain some element of dignity in the process.
Well, this was supposed to be an introduction to a more interesting post, but since I have exceeded my word limit, I will have to turn this into its own post. Now I have to change the title. Hmmm…what should I call it? I got it!
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]