The Lynches have a nice backyard. It used to be crab grass mixed with dirt and a rusted swing set. Over the years we’ve added a pool and some dear friends surprised me one birthday with a giant, tiled “grilling center” and glorious fireplace. Wealthy and famous people come by just to gawk. I am the envy of nearly every man, everywhere.
The only drawback is we have two neighbor women with two incessantly barking dogs. Any hint of activity from our yard and they start yapping. My nearly perfect dog, Bali, is tempted to want to bark back. I’m sure they’re saying:
“What’s your problem? Master won’t let you bark? Bummer. It’s a lot of fun. You ought to try it.”
I’ve tried reasoning with the dogs: “Hey, big fella, what’s all the racket? We’re nice people over here…There’s no need to yell.” I’ve yelled back at them. I’ve barked at them like a big, scary dog. Nothing works.
Recently, I was cleaning our pool’s leaf basket with the garden hose. The dogs were out and barking. In a moment’s decision I aimed the garden hose over the fence and sprayed where I thought they might be. To my great delight, they stopped! It took only a few seconds to do the trick. After a minute they started barking again. So I fired another round over the fence. This time I heard: “What is going on!” Then a scream. Then, all within about a half second, “Who is doing this? Stop it! Oh, the nerve. I can’t believe-Who is spraying me?! Were you spraying my dogs?!” Then more shrieks of moral indignation.
I panicked. I had to make a quick decision. What do I do? I could hide, but the water clearly came from my yard. I could tell her the truth and apologize. Nope. I’m a pastor and they’re not apparently Christian folk. So I called back over the fence. “Hello, it’s John, your neighbor. I’m so sorry. I’m cleaning my leaf basket and well, I must have missed with the hose while I was cleaning out some of the debris. I’m so sorry.” She looked over the fence at me standing there with the hose and leaf basket, corroborating my story. She quickly responded, “Oh, I am so sorry for over-reacting. I thought, for a moment, someone was spraying my dogs. Will you forgive me?”
Magnanimously, I responded, “Not to worry. It was my fault. I’m sure sorry.”
“No,” she answered back, “I’m sorry for my rudeness.”
Whew! Dodged that bullet. It was several hours later before I reflected upon my deed. Here’s the problem. Not that I lied. Yes, that, but more, that I thought I must lie, must hide. That somehow I must cover for God, to prove, especially to “outsiders”, that I am above the ability to wrong others for my good. At it’s source is this thought:
“God, I’m not sure you’d take care of me when I get in a mess like this, so I’ll just take things into my own hands and get out of it on my own.”
It is the same logic that allows me to lie about other things. It is a fear based, shame based expediency overintegrity. Among fifty other problems, it leaves others not sure they can trust me. Yes, I’ve got the alibi, but I’m not sure everyone’s always convinced. That’s not great for a man who wants to be trusted on a Sunday morning and every other hour of the week.
If you asked my neighbor today if I was telling the truth I think she might say,
“Well, I’m not sure. He did have the evidence. But it sure seemed like there was a lot of wet patio for just a moment’s miss-aim. But what am I gonna do? I’m already in enough trouble with God without calling His preachers liars.”
This truth will never change: the more influence, position or audience we have to lose, the more susceptible we are to being dishonest or disingenuous.
What if I had told her the truth?
“Hey, I’m sure sorry. I didn’t mean to get you wet. I was just trying to get your dogs to stop barking. That was wrong for me to do. Will you please forgive me? I don’t have the right to do that.”
What would have happened? She might have been outraged in the moment. But she would’ve known I was authentic. “That religious guy may be a jerk, but he’s at least an authentic jerk!”
Then I could have gone over later with a peace offering, maybe some dog bones and had a great conversation. Eventually we’d probably laugh about it, both better friends. Maybe she’d even be more sensitive to her dog’s barking. Most importantly, I might not be another installment of “those religious hypocrites. They’re no different than anyone else.”
To do that, I must continue to grow in trusting God that His arm is around me, that He has already seen every knucklehead thing I will do in this lifetime and chooses still to adore me as much as His only Son. I must believe that He is able to convince that dear woman that He is real and good, even when His servants aren’t. I must believe that I don’t have to cover for God with a lie.
I preach and teach and write about these truths of authenticity. But, as Paul says in Philippians 3:12, (Lynch paraphrase)
“I teach all these things, but I haven’t yet got it all down. I still fail, a lot. I still am not fully mature. But I can only go on, trusting Him more, until I convince my own heart that I can live alive and authentically in His righteousness. And so I keep pursuing Christ. I don’t beat myself up for my past, I don’t pretend to be doing it all right in the present. But this I do: I keep reaching forward, in this moment. I want to know what life feels like, looks like when I apprehend the full experience of the Beautiful One who apprehended me.”
Who God seems to enjoy most (David, Moses, Paul, Peter, Rachael, Jacob) are real people who fail real often, in real time. People who need a present Savior, not those who bluff like they don’t. God is not angry, God is not disgusted. God just continues to invite us closer, so that we are free to live, free to be free, free to stop hiding, free to be authentic.