Wesley’s Questions: “Am I Honest?”

 

Wesley’s Questions: “Am I Honest?”

A Message on Colossians 3:8-10

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

March 17, 2019

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Colossians 3:8-10 (NRSV)

 

But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.

 

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Years ago in my life prior to going into the ministry I worked in public relations at Kilgore College. One of the instructors there was Bettye Craddock, the journalism instructor.

 

Mrs. Craddock was and is a legend. She’s retired now, but she loved her job, she loved her students, and she did a great job teaching them journalism. They always won the Sweepstakes award at the annual statewide student newspaper competition and The Flare (which was the name of the student newspaper) was much, much better than many newspapers from four-year institutions.

 

Mrs. Craddock was known for her sayings that she would repeat to her students. One of them was “Always take a pencil in case it rains.” This is because a pen won’t write on wet paper, but a pencil will.

 

Another was this: “Tell the truth and shame the devil.” She was instilling into her students to be truthful in their reporting and not to show bias. (Something a lot of the national news reporters need a lesson in nowadays.)

 

“Tell the truth and shame the devil.” That actually is pretty good advice for us as Christians today as well.

 

Today we are going to explore the topic of truth and honesty as we continue our sermon series on the 22 questions the members of John Wesley’s small groups asked themselves daily. Today we focus on question number two: “Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?”

 

Now you would think that being a Christian means being honest, right? And it should. But we are also worldly beings and thus are subject to one of the devil’s most effective tools: lying and exaggerating. And it happens to Christians. It happens to us.

 

It’s nothing new. Even Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, the one which Jesus said would be the rock of the church (and thus his name), succumbed to not telling the truth.

 

Remember when Jesus and the disciples were having the last supper in the Upper Room? Jesus was explaining to them what was about to happen, that he would be arrested and killed, and that the disciples would desert him. Peter, full of bravado, proclaimed “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” (Matthew 26:33)

 

Jesus told Peter that yes, he would desert him, and that before the rooster crowed the next morning that Peter would have denied him three times. Again, Peter proclaimed that it would not happen, getting even bolder this time: “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” (Matthew 26:35)

 

Such strong words. And yet we know what happened. Peter lied, big time. Peter did in fact, deny Jesus. And he did it three times, just as Jesus said he would.

 

Peter lied. And not just a little bit, either. Later on, in verse 74, when questioned a third time if he knew Jesus, Peter “… began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know the man!’”

 

Peter, Peter, Peter. Tell the truth and shame the devil.

 

It’s so easy to lie, to not tell the truth, isn’t it?

 

Income Tax season is upon us. If we haven’t done so already we will be filling out all those forms with figures and calculations to see how much in taxes we need to pay, or, in some cases, how much of our own money we paid in that we will be getting back.

 

We are supposed to be honest on our tax returns, aren’t we? Yes, we take the deductions that we legally qualify for but are we completely honest on our income? Do we “fudge” a little bit? If someone pays us cash for something do we just “forget” to put that on our tax return?

 

One survey found that 86 percent of Americans believe that it is not acceptable to cheat on their taxes. That means 14 percent think it’s okay. Another survey I saw said 24 percent believe it’s okay to cheat on your taxes. That’s almost one in four!

 

What about using someone else’s password to access a Netflix or Amazon Prime account? What about trying to use a coupon that you know is expired but try to pass it off as good anyway?

 

Or what if your spouse asks you, does this outfit make me look fat? (Be very careful how you answer this question, by the way.)

 

Pam and I are fans of the tv show “Lone Star Law.” It’s a show about game wardens in Texas. It always amazes me how people will lie when the Game Warden shows up. If they are falling down drunk they will say they have only had two beers. They’ll say they don’t have any undersize or illegal fish when they do. They will deny shooting at a deer from the roadway even though the deer was a decoy set out by the wardens and they saw the person actually do it! I just want to tell them, “Tell the truth and shame the devil.”

 

Today we have access to more information than at any point in history. We can take our cell phones, push a button, ask a question, and get an answer. It is incredibly amazing.

 

One of those things we can access is history. I love history. Instead of watching television, I get on YouTube and watch history documentaries, among other things.

 

There are programs about past American presidents. President Abraham Lincoln received the nickname “Honest Abe” because of his honesty, in spite of him being a politician. There’s even a meme of Honest Abe out there on the internet today. It’s a photo of Abe with text that reads, “The problem with quotes found on the internet is that they often are not true.” (Show meme)

 

The challenge of the Internet is trying to sift the truth from fiction. This is especially true with social media, and especially true around political posts.

 

It’s hard to be honest today. The temptation to lie, or just to exaggerate, is strong in our world.

 

And yet as Christians, as followers and disciples of Jesus Christ, telling the truth is not an option. It is the way we should be. To quote Yoda from the Internet (so you know it’s gotta be true, right?), “Be honest, you will.”

 

I think that is the reason Wesley had it as one of his 22 questions. “Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?”

 

I like that Wesley includes exaggeration in with honesty. I really do. Raise your hand if you know someone who exaggerates. Now, raise your hand if you are a person who exaggerates.

 

As a fisherman I know we have a reputation for stretching the truth and exaggerating. We will describe the fish we caught as being “that big” when the reality is that it was only “that big.” (Demonstrate). We will even do it with photos. Here’s a photo of a bass I caught on Lake Jacksonville this past week. If you take it up close it looks bigger than it really is. Here is that same fish that gives you a better idea of just how big–or in this case, small–it is.

 

As Christians we are tempted to exaggerate as well. Even us pastors are not immune. I know one pastor who was serving a small church years ago who kept talking about how many people he had attending worship services since he got there. He was saying they were averaging 80 people in worship. But the truth was it was less than 30.

 

So why did he exaggerate? Why not just tell the truth and shame the devil? In a word, pride. He wanted to be seen by other pastors as a very successful pastor, as better than other pastors. And I’m sure he put the inflated numbers down on the reports we send to the conference office so that he could impress the higher-ups in the church as well.

 

Such exaggeration is sin, plain and simple. And usually people exaggerate because of pride. And such pride is sin.

 

Sometimes the truth hurts. It is the painful one of the two options to tell the truth or to tell a lie.

 

The late comedian Justin Wilson tells about a group of four friends who go duck hunting down in south Louisiana. It was a great day for them and ducks were everywhere. They shot and shot until they ran out of shells. One of them said, “Well, let’s get all these ducks picked up and we’ll head home.”

 

Well, they get all the ducks picked up and counted and there are 250 of them, which is way over the legal limit. About that time two game wardens show up and notice all the ducks. They ask the first hunter, “Well, how many of dem ducks is yours, hah?” The first hunter says, “Oh, I got my limit. So 10 of those are mine.” They ask the second hunter and he says the same thing, “I got my limit. So 10 of those are mine.” The third hunter says the same thing, “I got my limit. So 10 of those are mine.” When they get to the fourth hunter, he looks at the other hunters and says, “Well, I’ll be. I guess the rest of dem is mine, I gar-on-tee!”

 

Years ago the comedian Henny Youngman told about a disagreement he and his wife were having. His wife told him, “I want an explanation and I want the truth.” Henny replied, “Make up your mind.”

 

Mark Twain once said, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

 

While those are humorous, honesty is a positive attribute we should strive for. William Shakespeare wrote that “No legacy is so rich as honesty.”

 

Paul, in writing to the church at Colossae, gives us the scripture we read today. He says, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”

 

The “old self” he speaks of is our lives before we accepted Jesus Christ as our savior. Before Jesus Christ we have a different attitude than what we have after we become Christians.  Our “old self” has a “me first” attitude, a sense that it’s okay to lie, to cheat, to do whatever is necessary in order to get ahead.

 

But when we receive Jesus Christ as our savior, the “old self” passes away. The “new self,” according to Paul, is “renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.

 

Eugene Peterson paraphrases verses 9 through 10 this way: “Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it.”

 

Jesus, of course, gives us the best example of honesty. Jesus didn’t lie. Even when it would have benefited him greatly, Jesus didn’t lie. And we should be like Jesus, right? Therefore we, also, should not lie.

 

So my challenge to your this week is to tell the truth. Let us be honest in our work, in our conversations, on our taxes, and in everything we do. Let us be like Jesus, especially when we are tempted to not tell the truth or to exaggerate.

Let us follow Mrs. Bettye Craddock’s advice to “Tell the truth and shame the devil.” Let’s make Abe Lincoln proud. Who knows, he may even post about it on the Internet.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

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