I am a huge fan of The Three Stooges. I have been my whole life. I celebrate their entire catalog on DVD and I know many – way too many – of the 3 Stooges shorts by heart… (Don’t judge me. They are hilarious and actually a very good social commentary if you give them a chance.) One of my favorite shorts of all time is Disorder In The Court… You can watch it here. (Yes – that was a frivolous exercise – but hopefully you appreciate my beloved Stooges!!) In one of the scenes Curly is about to be sworn in to testify and the court bailiff asks him – “do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?” – his eventual answer is – “certainly, what do I have to lose?” Of course nothing on The Three Stooges ever gets done quickly or smoothly – you have to watch the clip for the true comedic brilliance of who they were … But Curly’s is answer really true? Sometimes – truth costs a lot. Sometimes telling it can cost you dearly – and hearing it – can hurt like crazy. And sometimes – we just flat misuse it.
We tend to think of “truth” as very black and white. Like – the answer to the simple math equation: 1 + 1 = … The answer is always 2. That is simple truth. Or even if you are in court – as Curly found himself – and you are asked if you witnessed such and such event on such and such date – the answer is either yes or no. You can’t give a maybe on the witness stand. You either saw it or you didn’t. And that is the lens that a lot of us tend to look at the world through. It’s black or white, yes or no, 1 + 1 = 2. Period. Truth is universal. Simple.
And actually – I agree with that, partly. I agree that truth is universal – but it’s not always so simple. Sometimes it’s very complicated… and the complication comes in – in both the telling of it and the receiving of it. And for us as Christ followers – sometimes it gets ridiculously complicated. Here’s what I mean: Telling the truth is not enough … we have to live it as well. Not so simple
Stop for just a second and think through this example with me… Let’s say there is a father of a teenage daughter and she comes home and says “dad? my boyfriend and I want to move in together because we are in love and we are ready to take this step together.” Now – after you imagine yourself probably being peeled down off of the ceiling – your response would probably be something like “NO!” Rightly so – I mean we know God’s plan is for us to fall in love and marry and become one in His eyes. That is very simple truth. But what if that teenage daughter knows that her dad is in a sexual relationship with his own girlfriend. Maybe they don’t “live together” because they still have their own homes but is dad both telling truth and living in truth? What if the example isn’t as morally cut and dry? What if the example is a friend you have that loves to point out every single thing wrong they see in the world, in the lives of their friends and family, in their church… and they seem to enjoy pointing them out to you. Maybe even scripturally – the wrongs they point out are accurate. Maybe according to God’s plan – the wrongs they are pointing out are reallllllly really wrong. But – this very person is also doing something very much outside of God’s plan and you know about it… maybe you know they cheat on their taxes, or they speed like a maniac on the highway, maybe they treat their spouse terribly, maybe their kids are completely out of control, maybe they are selfish and won’t even as much as tip a waiter or waitress… You probably already have someone in mind right now – don’t you? It’s ok. I have about 17 of them in mind myself. Hearing simple truth from them is not so simple. In fact – you probably don’t want to hear it from them at all.
See that’s where it gets complicated. You can hear that certain someone – like you are picturing in your mind right now – speak simple, Biblical, truths – but it rings so hollow because they don’t live out what they are saying. They tell truth – but it’s pointless! As a pastor it is a really hard thing to take sometimes. You find yourself criticized for even the smallest decisions … and then you see some of the life choices of the people who are criticizing you are making and you just want to hammer back with ” OH YEAH… WELL WHAT ABOUT WHEN YOU…?” But of course it’s not helpful for any of us to ever do that. Arguing with someone’s head is a fruitless proposition. You throw back “hard cold truth” at a Truth Sayer who isn’t also Living In Truth and they will not hear it… In fact they will just dig harder to uncover some other issue that also needs to have light shed on it. It is a head argument that never stops. As Christ followers – we really should stay in our hearts. It’s just hard to do that sometimes. I know it is for me… because I think I have at least a halfway decent brain and it gets anxious sometimes to get into a scrap. And so I have to fight – at times – to keep my heart in charge.
So what to do with the Truth Tellers Who Aren’t Truth Livers of the world? Love them anyway. My grandma had a phrase – “love the meanness out of someone” … And really that is what is happening sometimes… truth is being spoken not from love – but from meanness, from bitterness… from a desire to focus on anything except what might really be a root issue of that person’s own life. It is so much easier to point out the sins and the mistakes and wrongs of everyone else than it might be to deal with their own hurts and disappointments and mistakes. As humans – we can easily fool ourselves into believing that the everyone but ourselves has all the issues… Because our brains are wired to solve problems… Just usually not our own.
I found myself one time dealing with a situation where someone came to me with an issue they felt that, I, as the pastor should be aware of and deal with. They had heard that someone who volunteered for me was in fact not really a Christian because they played in a secular band on the weekends and had on many occasions been seen not just drinking at the bars they played in – but had indeed – been drunk! Gasp! NOw I will tell you – my immediate thought was to blast back at this person that had come to me with this “concern.” I wanted to ask them – when was the last time you ever showed anyone one ounce of love. When is the last time you ever went and asked this person you are skewering here if they needed a friend or someone to talk to. When was the last time you you volunteered a minute of your time to help others in need. I wanted to scream at them – are you kidding me?!?! Your idea of being a “good Christian” is the fact that you are here every Sunday and you help serve communion! Really?!? You need me to know that this other person drinks alcohol and that I need to deal with them? (Deep Breath.) Which is exactly what I did – I took a deep breath – I didn’t say all of that other stuff – because I wouldn’t have been “loving the meanness out of them” – I would have just been mean back … So instead I took a deep breath and I asked – “What did the other person say when you went to them about this?” They looked at me like they didn’t understand the question. So I asked again – “what did they say?” … The reply – “well I didn’t talk to them directly! That’s your responsibility!” We then talked a little about how – no – in fact that was not the case – but we mostly talked about some additional truths – in love. We talked about the grace and mercy that Jesus showed and shows to all of us. We talked about circumstances that potentially this person hadn’t even thought of – like were the rumors even true since they hadn’t actually seen this themselves, like was it possible this person didn’t need an accuser but maybe needed a friend, like what would Jesus’ response have been to hearing about a brother who was struggling with potentially devastating circumstances that were driving them to drink to excess … We talked about a lot – and honestly I don’t know how much of it they heard. There was still a desire that they had to stay focused on the problems of others. But it wasn’t an argument – and I stayed true to my heart … and really was able to love them through it…
It’s really interesting to me that the one person who had a right to come to Earth and focus on pointing out all of the wrongs, all of the mistakes, all of the evil in our world – instead chose to come to Earth to spread mercy and grace and to not condemn us but to free us… to walk with us… to love us. Truth can’t just be told… it has to be lived out… In love! What if that was how we spread the Simple Truth? Not just in its telling – but in the living of it. What if our words matched our motions all of the time? What if instead of focusing on what’s wrong – we focused more on what’s right and desired for others to see that too? What if we weren’t so worried about what others are doing or are not doing and instead focused on what we ourselves are doing? What if we truly tried to walk in the footsteps of Jesus? What if that was our truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Well… I think Curly’s answer is best… “Certainly… what do we have to lose?”