The World Is Crying Out for Authenticity. Let’s Give It to Them.

I watched the first 40 minutes or so of the GOP debate last night and wasn’t surprised by anything. By the time you get to the fifth of these things, there’s not much new to be had.

But as I pondered the debate this morning, I was struck by the fact that I wasn’t surprised. Candidates took shots at each other, at Barack and Hillary, at ISIS, just about everything imaginable. It was like they were reading from a script every time they talked.

I understand that’s kind of what you want in a debate. You prep for weeks before, getting your answers straight and formulated so you don’t embarrass yourself on national television. I totally get it.

But what you’re left wondering with all those scripted answers is this: “What do they really think? Who are they really? What will they really do when they get in office?”

We perceive that they’re missing a certain amount of authenticity. We’re afraid we’re not seeing who they really are. That’s why Donald Trump is doing so well – he’s being himself, saying what he really thinks, not crafting an answer to fit some party line or politically-correct stance. As crazy as some of his thoughts may be, he’s the real deal.

And that authenticity – as his poll numbers show – is what people crave.

Let’s look at two of the most popular musicians of this era – Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber – as examples.

Swift is known for her very personal songwriting, with tracks that seem to match up perfectly with her many public relationships. These tracks hit people hard because they can relate. It’s not a stale retread of the typical break-up song. It’s a fresh perspective, and she never seems to fail. That’s why she has over 67.6 million Twitter followers and each of her five studio albums have sold at least four million copies in the United States. Many musicians have taken to that style of being personal and vulnerable on their records.

If you know me, you know I’m a huge Bieber fan. That fandom took a boost with the release of his most recent album, Purpose. His first few releases were typical, cheesy, stereotypical pop music standards. But with Purpose, he turned a corner, quickly striking platinum with first-week sales of 649,000. And it’s not shocking. Yes, the production is vastly improved, constantly playing on the EDM movement of the current music scene. But his lyricism has grown significantly. He comes across as the real thing instead of some pop puppet with a pretty face. He’s credited as a writer on each of the tracks, and songs like “Purpose” and “Life Is Worth Living” get down deep and dirty into life.

People in my generation especially are tired of the phonies and the fakes and the liars. We’re tired of people who don’t tell the whole truth, who just stick to the status quo, who don’t take any risks. That’s why we love musicians like Swift and Bieber, politicians like Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Authenticity is the character trait that my generation respects and values the most. It says that you’re OK with people knowing who you are, you’re OK with sharing yourself, the real you, with the world.

Oh Christians, we have an amazing opportunity.

We have an amazing opportunity to be ourselves and win hearts for the Gospel. Jesus was Himself. God was Himself. Paul was himself.

Paul is my favorite example. Romans 7:15-19.

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

Paul shows us exactly how we pursue displaying authenticity. He doesn’t necessarily have to give specifics of everything he does, but he’s honest about the fact that he’s fallen short and does things he doesn’t want to do and doesn’t do things he wants to do.

This has always made Paul the most relatable of all the biblical figures to me. He doesn’t hide the fact that, well, he sucks at following God. “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh,” he says. Not only is that theologically-correct, it also takes a serious amount of authenticity to just be straightforward with it.

The ability to be authentic with God is something that attracts me to following Christ. Paul could write and say things like that and knew that it wouldn’t shut him out of being loved and used by God. The grace of God opens us up to be truly authentic with Him, with ourselves and with each other. If the worst response to our authenticity is people not liking us, we’ve still got the love of God.

So Christians, let’s be authentic. Let’s be ourselves. Let’s be honest. Let’s not hide things that don’t need hiding. What you share is up to you, but let’s think about how we can be more authentic and more honest with people.

Who knows how much further the Gospel can go when we’re honest about how much we need it, how much we are lost without it?

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The Need for Transparency within Christianity.

Hey guys! Hope you’ve been enjoying the stuff I’ve been writing. There’s a book I’ve been working on that is tentatively titled Transparent: Be Vulnerable. Especially When It Hurts. This is the rough draft of the introduction. I’d love your feedback on it. Check it out below:

I don’t know if you, reader, have ever listened to the Backstreet Boys, but there’s a song they put out called “Shape of My Heart.” It might be my favorite one. I even sang it as part of a five-piece group at a church talent show during my sophomore year of college. I sang one-time-CCM-singer Brian Littrell’s opening verse. My performance was just OK, I think it’s on YouTube somewhere. I haven’t looked too hard to find it.

The chorus goes: “Lookin’ back on the things I’ve done, I was trying to be someone. I played my part, kept you in the dark. Now let me show you the shape of my heart.”

First, what does that even mean? Even in the context of the song, it’s a bit confusing. It makes no sense. But a lot of the Backstreet Boys’ lyrics don’t really make much sense. However, that doesn’t prevent me from thinking some of their songs – including “Shape of My Heart” – are awesome.

Anyways, back to that chorus. The singer talks about how he was trying to be someone before, he played his part and kept his lady in the dark. He prevented his lady, apparently, from seeing the true shape of his heart. But now he’s done with that, he’s realized he was hiding, and he wants to show her the true shape of his heart.

As a general rule, and the reason why I’m writing this: sometimes in the church, we don’t like being ourselves. We don’t like exposing the true shapes of our hearts. We don’t want people to see the “real” us.

Now, before you come at me and say, “No, I know PLENTY of people who are ‘themselves.’ Sometimes I’m even myself before others!” Maybe you are. Maybe you aren’t. But I’m going to make a statement that might surprise you. As a body of Christ, we would be much more reflective of what God wants of us if we were honest about everything in our lives.

Honest about everything? Everything? Every little detail?

Yup.

Jesus was honest about everything. Paul was honest about everything. Yet we want to be the people that hide our flaws and hide our thoughts about others, ourselves, the world, etc., and therefore we misrepresent ourselves. We put on masks. We put on disguises. We go to church and act like everything is OK, but we go home and look at pornography because we’re longing for satisfaction. We lie to our spouses because we don’t want them to know the truth. We cheat on our taxes because we want to save money for that toy. We force ourselves to puke after meals because we don’t want to be fat. We misrepresent ourselves every day because we’re afraid that people might not like who we actually are.

I could write the umpteenth thousandth book on not being two-faced, but that wouldn’t do us any good. If you’ve been in a church in the last x number of years, you’ve probably heard a pastor or Sunday school teacher or somebody else talk about the importance of being who you say you are, a Christian. And I agree! If we’re Christians, we should pursue obedience and holiness because our actions are a reflection of the status of our faith.

But when they don’t match up, which is going to happen all the time, we hide it.

Some of us are pretty good at being “vulnerable,” being honest about our sins. But even sometimes in our sins we qualify our confession with, “But I’m getting better!” Even if we really aren’t. Sometimes we don’t tell the whole truth.

We’re afraid to be honest because we don’t want people to think we’re weak. That’s a universal thing, I think, but I think it’s even more of a problem in the church.

I write this because you can replace “we” with “I” and “us” with “me” in pretty much every sentence and it describes me to a T. I’ve spent the majority of my life as a Christian thinking that my faith was defined by how good I was at being obedient, how good I was at studying the Bible, at praying, at sharing the gospel, at living in community, at seeking ministry opportunities. I didn’t want other believers to know that I was struggling with hidden, debilitating sin or feeling like I was worthless as a Christian and as a person. Sometimes I would be open and honest with people. And sometimes what I heard back was encouraging.

But I think sometimes my well-meaning brothers in Christ wouldn’t know what to do with that level of honesty and transparency, maybe because we’ve been trained to put on a face and a smile. I think of the penguins in the Madagascar movies. The moment that was the funniest when I first saw the first movie was when they were standing in the zoo being watched by the crowd. The lead penguin instructs the others, “Smile and wave, boys, smile and wave.” Then he turns around and talks to the penguin named Kowalski who was working under a manhole cover covered by fish, planning an escape. That line has always stuck with me and sometimes I’ll insert it in conversation when I’m with people and we’re taking a picture because it’s kind of funny.

But how often do we take that very same attitude to church with us? To conversations with believers outside of church? We smile and wave, putting on a front that everything is OK, that nothing is wrong or nothing is fishy behind the scenes. We hide what’s actually going on in our lives.

Sometimes, nothing is good. Nothing is OK. Everything is terrible. Everything is awful. Everything is going wrong. We feel terrible about ourselves and our sin, the way we look, the way we speak, our grades, our work performance, our friendships, how we handle situations x, y and z. So we hide.

It’s a perfectly natural human reaction, foreshadowed by our forefather Adam in the garden. What was the first thing he and his wife Eve did when they discovered their sinfulness? They hid. They were naked and ashamed. Thing is, God still saw them. He saw their insufficiencies and their failures. He saw their shame.

However, God gave them the opportunity to have their shame covered. It’s a foreshadowing of the shame-covering we get from the blood of Christ. And it’s the same thing we can take into opening our relationships with other people.