Tell the Truth and be Transformed

It’s a hard life to live with your secrets. And it’s a hard life to live if you are dishonest with yourself about your secrets. When we hide who we really are we live inside a prison of our own making.

Researcher and Storyteller Brene Brown has written:

If you trade your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.

Telling the truth about yourself—to yourself and others—might just set you free.

It did the woman at the well. She trudged outside her village at noon to get water. This is when the lowest rung of the societal ladder would go. The outcasts. And as a woman she was the oucastiest outcast.

She was used to the whispers. The stares. The glares. So she would walk over half a mile to the well at high noon in the heat of the day to avoid people. It was easier to hide that way.

Problem was when she got there a man was sitting at the well. He wasn’t supposed to be there. Next problem was he spoke to her. He wasn’t supposed to look at her, much less speak to her. Male Jews did not converse with Samaritans. Especially not a Samaritan woman. But Jesus did.

He did because he was Jesus. And Jesus has always cared more about the person than political correctness or prevailing public protocol.

He engaged her in a discussion that moved from well water that refreshes a person physically to living water that refreshes the soul. His conversational skills were so superb he had her asking for the living water in no time.

And then he had to take it too far. “Go, call your husband, and come here.”

Why did he have to go and do that?! For a few moments she had forgotten her secrets. The door to her personal prison was opening. She was letting her deepest desires be known. And with one question all her anxieties came bubbling up inside her again.

Jesus brought her to a transformational moment for her life. She could either be authentic or she could hide. Want to know what she chose?

Authenticity. “I have no husband.”

Jesus responded with grace and truth. There was no condemnation in his words. “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.”

Think about that the next time you want to bury your mistakes. She had gone through five marriages and had finally given up on lasting love. She was living with a man with little hope of commitment. It might make you feel less alone in your humanity.

But the next words from Jesus are the most important. “What you have said is true.” She gathered up all the courage she could muster and she spoke the truth about herself.  I can see Jesus smiling as he said the words.

She probably thought her world would crumble right in front of her eyes. Maybe she thought Jesus would pick up the first stone and start pelting her into oblivion. But he didn’t. He commended her for being truthful about herself.

“True” is an important word in this conversation. It shows up again in a widely quoted verse. Jesus later tells her: “…true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Four times a form of this word is used. And it’s interesting that once the woman was honest about herself and Jesus told her she had answered in truth, the discussion moved to worship. Jesus says the ones the Father is looking for to worship him are those that can do so in truth.

I don’t think “truth” has to do with the form of worship. Jesus had already told her worship wasn’t about where it happened. He is saying worshiping in truth is about being honest about who you are. No more hiding. (And didn’t Adam and Eve teach us you can’t hide from God anyway?)

The result of her truthfulness is freedom. She left her water jar. She went back to her town and told the people there she had found a man who “…told me all that I ever did” and she was excited about that.  Think about that for a moment. Do you want to bump into someone who can tell you all that you ever did?

But something about this encounter had transformed her. She had come alive. She had courageously told the truth about herself and someone still loved her as she was. That love in the face of her truth-telling transformed her. Enough so that “many Samaritans from that town believed in him” also.

If you are stuck in life you are likely hiding your authentic self. Carrying around that “water jar” of secrets is what is wearing you down.

Let me let you in on some good news: you can leave it behind. Dare to tell the truth about yourself. Not to everyone. But to one or a few that you can trust. You might think they will turn on you. And maybe someone will. Truth telling requires courage.

But it’s my experience and that of this woman that when you are vulnerable they will be drawn to you. And then you can help them draw from a well you have discovered.

Question: Is there something you know about yourself that if you could share it would free you? Do you know someone you trust enough to share it with?

A Recipe for When You “Oops!”

Massimo Bottura is an Italian chef and owner of Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. He tells the story of how one of his dessert dishes was created by accident. (You can listen to him here.)

One night at his restaurant it was time to serve the dessert. His Sous-Chef Taka had prepared two lemon tarts. When it was time to serve them Taka dropped one of the two tarts and it broke on the counter.

As Massimo tells the story, Taka was devastated. “He was ready to kill himself!” But Massimo helped him see the broken tart in a new way. He said, “Look at this. It is beautiful!”

They didn’t throw the broken tart away. Instead, they rebuilt it on the plate and took the other one and broke it too to look just like the rebuilt broken one. The new creation was given a title: “Oops! I dropped the Lemon Tart.”

Massimo says, “I think that is the poetry of everyday life. You have to be ready to see things that other’s don’t even imagine.”

If we could only see our lives in the same way he sees his cooking. Ever feel broken? Feel like your life should just be thrown away? Don’t do like Taka and prepare to kill yourself.

Instead, let another Master Chef work with you. That’s what God does. He sees something in you—your broken you—that other’s don’t even imagine. Maybe not even you.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Getting broken is not fun. Harsh relationships can leave us wounded. Angry words can put a dent in the hardest shell. Mistakes can leave us feeling ruined.

But getting remade can be captivating! You can wake up each day and wonder what God will do with you that day.

  • He can take bitterness and transform it into blessing.
  • He can rework sadness into singing.
  • He can heal wounds so that you can bring hope to someone else.

What Massimo did with a tart God can do with your heart. With the joyful love of a Creative Master he can put the pieces back together in a new way. A beautiful way.

You may feel broken and useless because of something in your past. If so, keep this life recipe at your fingertips:

Your “oops!” is not the end of you. In fact, it might just be the beginning of something new.

Question: What do you do with your “Oops!” moments?


Find a Neighbor…and Do Something

Jim Wallis is the founder of the social justice organization Sojourners. In the November 2011 issue of their publication he tells the story of how Sojourners began.

He and a core group met at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the northern suburbs of Chicago in 1971. Wallis says that many of them had decided to attend Trinity to argue with their own evangelical tradition as to what the Bible really says.

One way they did this was by finding every verse they could locate in the Bible about the poor, wealth, poverty, and social justice. They started in Genesis and worked their way through Revelation. Every time they found a passage on one of these topics they took their scissors and cut it out. (That may shock you. Does it help that they used an old Bible?)

They had found over 2,000 texts. After cutting out the passages they were left with a “Bible full of holes.” Wallis would take it with him and show what a Bible looks like without compassion whenever he would go speak. The group’s preaching made people uncomfortable and almost got them expelled from the school.

James 5:1-6 is one of the passages that would have been cut out. It’s the kind we would like to expel from our Bibles. James tells his audience they have “lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence.” They have “murdered the righteous person.” They did it by holding back wages of day laborers while they had so much their treasure was rotting.

I’m glad James berates those rich people and not you and me. But maybe we need to rethink who is rich. If you go to the website you can find a calculator under the heading “How Rich am I?” I took the median household income in America for 2013 which was $51,939. I plugged in two adults and one child since the 2010 Census revealed the average household size to be 2.58 people. (I didn’t know how to put in a .58 people.) And I figured adults might cost more with clothes and food so I gave the extra full person to the adult.

The result says that this person would be in the richest 5.9% of the world’s population. That income is 17.2 times the global average. And if you gave 10% of your income you would still be in the richest 6.9% of the world’s population and still be 15.5 times the global average.

James wants us to understand that “it’s not about us!” What God gives us is to be used for our sustenance but also to bring about his kingdom. Accumulating too much can cause us to believe that the world revolves around us. James wants us to learn to love our neighbor.

When the rich don’t listen to the cries of the poor people die. So find a neighbor and do something.

Find a global need and meet it. There are numerous organizations that you can donate some of your income to that are helping meet the needs of world hunger and water shortage. Just Google “world hunger.” No excuses. You’ll find plenty of ways you can help by giving up a coffee run once a week.

And find a local need and meet it. People are hungry in your community. And those needs will grow as your community grows.

When we do that we will see the Kingdom of God come on earth as it is in heaven. In the meantime, don’t cut out the poor from your Bibles. And don’t cut them out of your life.

Question: Where do you see the poor in your daily routine? How might you help?


Know Your Role in the Game of Life

Andre didn’t have a clue what to do.  Andre was from Bulgaria and had never seen softball before.  Before he knew what was happening he was playing catcher and catch-up at the same time.

Our team needed a tenth player and Andre was a warm body.  We put him at catcher thinking it would simplify things.  “He won’t have to move much.  Just catch the ball and throw it back to the pitcher.”

We stood him behind home plate and left him there.  When we turned around, Andre was still standing where we left him.  We told him to bend down.  He did—like he was touching his toes.  A team member had to run back out and show him how to crouch down behind home plate.

Andre was listed as #10 in the batting line-up.  We thought he’d have time to get the idea of hitting the ball.  He did.  On the second pitch Andre hit the ball!  It wasn’t great, but it was worth a run to first.  Andre just stood there watching the ball.  We all yelled at him to run.  He did.  Towards third base.  (I’m not making this up!)

I had a little visit with Andre on the bench.  (That’s where you could usually find me in a softball game.)  I showed him where first base was and explained to him how he needed to run like the wind toward it if he hit the ball.  Next time up he connected again.  This time he ran.  As hard as he could.  To first base.  He kept running and didn’t stop.  Not even at first base!  Next thing we knew, Andre was in right field yelling, “Touchdown!”

You’ve been there too, haven’t you?  In a strange world wondering what you were supposed to be doing?  Remember the first day on the job?  You interviewed well.  Showed them how confident you were.  Then suddenly there you were: a new desk, a new computer, and a new realization that you didn’t have a clue how to get started.

Life can be like that sometimes.  We’re put in strange situations and don’t know how to respond.  We run in wrong directions.  We find ourselves out in right field.  We need a job description to tell us what we are supposed to be doing in life.

Surprisingly, even followers of Jesus seem to need a job description for life.  A large-scale survey conducted by the Barna Research group revealed some startling information.  When Christian adults were asked to identify their most important goal for their life, not a single person said it was to be a committed follower of Jesus.  Less than one out of every five had any specific and measurable goals related to their personal spiritual development.

Jesus’ invitation is “follow me.”  That’s the job description: to follow him and learn from him to do what he would do in your shoes.  And Jesus basically did two things: he had something to say and something to do.

Jesus proclaimed good news.  He told people that God had done something for them they could not do for themselves, that through Jesus he had made right their relationship with him.

And Jesus served people.  Although God incarnate, he did not come to be served but to serve.  He listened, healed, encouraged, taught, and loved those he encountered.

That’s it.  When you follow Jesus you’ll find yourself giving good news to others you are serving and helping.  Just keep following him and someday you’ll find yourself rounding third and heading for home.

Hang With People You Want to be Like

Have you noticed that you tend to become like the people you hang around?

In college several of us hung out together quite a bit. One of our friends named Larry had a unique laugh. I have no idea how to imitate it in writing but I can tell you this: I noticed that several of us started laughing like Larry.

Even better, I noticed I started being more at ease with people like Larry. I had been fairly shy and quiet in my teen years and it probably showed up when I was with people. Larry just put people at ease. He was about 6’1” and acted like a big brother to everyone. He’d ease up to you and put his arm around you and make you feel like you were the only person he was concerned about at that moment.

It’s good to pick up good things from people. We tend to become like the people we hang around.

That’s why it disturbs me when people who wear the name “Christian” act in unloving ways towards people who are different from them. Just scour the internet and read reactions to the recent ruling by the Supreme Court and you will see how some from the Christian community have talked about people from the LGBT community. (In fairness, some have talked lovingly and graciously too.)

What disturbs me is that people who supposedly have been hanging around Jesus aren’t acting like Jesus. I don’t have all the answers to some of these societal issues but I do know one thing from my time of hanging around Jesus: he loved people. He treated people with respect and dignity and grace and truth. And the only ones he ever treats with contempt are the religious people.

Jesus had a way to draw all sorts of people into his presence. He had a non-threatening presence. Sinners loved to be around him. I know. I’m one of them and I love to be around him.

One of the reasons people loved to be around Jesus is that he listened to them. Deeply listened to them. He understood what they were afraid of. What they hoped for. Where they had been hurt.

And what I’ve noticed is he listened to them long enough that they eventually started listening to him. And when we begin to listen to him he can calm our fears. Realize our hopes. Heal our hurts.

Only then will any of us be transformed into the people Jesus created us to be.

It won’t come by judging. I haven’t met many people who want to hang around people who are constantly judging them.

It will come by loving. I’ve met many people who want to hang around people who are constantly loving them.

Jesus loved. If you want to be a more loving person a good place to start is to hang around Jesus.

Question: Who are you hanging around with? Are they the kind of people you want to be like?

Three Words to Fear Less

I didn’t know it but apparently I was afraid of bridges.  My sister-in-law was getting married in San Francisco.  I was officiating so we packed up the kids and made our way to the Bay area for a wedding and a short vacation.

After the wedding we went on a tour of San Francisco.  We were driving across the Bay Area Bridge to Oakland and back.  The bridge was a two-story structure.  The bottom section took motorists from San Francisco to Oakland.  The top section took you back from Oakland to San Francisco.

We were making our way smoothly on the bottom section when it happened.  Suddenly my heart was racing.  I felt like everything was closing in around me.  I told Karen we needed to get off as soon as possible.

You may wonder why that drive freaked me out so much.  It was a few years after the 1989 earthquake in the Bay area that happened as game three of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s was about to begin.  Soon pictures of the Bay Bridge collapse and the Cypress Street Viaduct collapse—both two-story structures—were constantly on the news.  Pictures of smashed lower level cars.  Death toll numbers.  Constantly on the news.

And they were constantly in my head on that drive.  “One hard tremor and we could be in big trouble,” was the track looping in my head.  So we took an exit and headed back on the top level, which for some irrational reason, seemed safer to me.

You can laugh.  But a good question to ask yourself is “What are you afraid of?”  According to The Book of Lists the top ten are: Speaking before a Group, Heights, Insects and bugs, Financial problems, Deep water, Sickness, Death, Flying, Loneliness and dogs.  I figure the possibility of three of the ten showing up on the bridge was enough to get to me.

And yet I speak in public.  And I know how to strike some fear in you if you ridicule me for my bridge experience.  I’ll just stick a microphone in your face!

Fear can grip all of us when the threat of storms are near.  It happened to the disciples.  Their boat was “beaten by the waves.”  Literally it is being “tortured” by the waves.  If that wasn’t enough, the wind is “opposing them as an adversary.”  They’re getting ganged up on by the waves and the winds!

You probably know the feeling.  Not just one thing is going wrong.  Multiple things are.  Two unexpected bills hit you at the same time.  The washer breaks and then so does the car.  You get slammed with a project and a stomach bug at the same time.  When we get hit hard we can become fearful quickly.

That’s why Jesus came to them.  This is the story where he walks on the water and they think he’s a ghost.  But he comes to them and gives them three phrases to calm their fears: “Take heart.  It is I.  Do not be afraid.”

Instead of taking fear, take heart.  The word means “good courage.”  Instead of fear we can live lives of good courage even in the middle of our storms.  It’s possible when we believe the next words: “It is I.”  Literally he says, “I am.” When Moses asked for God’s name God replied “I am.” Jesus identifies himself by the same name.  Jesus reminds them that he is the Creator of the universe.    He can handle storms that we can’t.

And because he can, he does not want us to fear.  “Do not fear” is uttered by Jesus about 21 times in some form or fashion.  He knows fear is a part of the human experience.  But he also knows that fear can cripple us and keep us from life.

Learn these three phrases: ““Take heart.  It is I.  Do not be afraid.”  They build a bridge that will take you to a new world of experiences with God.

Question: Is there any fear you are facing right now?