Real or Right?

During the Billy Graham era, while the evangelical movement retained the flavor of modernism, the preaching emphasis seemed to my young adult mind to be “getting right” with God. During that time I became a Christian and then a Seventh-day Adventist. Everything felt right. I got right with God, began worshipping on the right day, and believing the right doctrines.*

As the decades rolled along I saw a shift in evangelicalism (my larger religious sphere), which affected Adventism (my smaller religious sphere). Adventism tends to track with Protestant culture in many areas, but at a safe distance so we can’t be accused of copying the “worldly churches.” We allow these mainstream churches to road-test for us things like contemporary music, relational preaching, and church growth programs. When they seem to work, we cautiously adopt them, carefully molding them around our cherished belief system, so as not to disturb anything central to our identity.

Thus the current trend of “getting real.”

The “getting real” phenomenon voices itself through the postmodern buzz words “authentic,” “passion,” “chill,” “sharing,” “praxis,” and, not surprisingly, “real.” It expresses itself in trends like casual attire at church, paraphrased Bible versions, and guitars instead of organs. It fuels much of the current boom in Christian counseling and paves the way for Every Man’s Battle-type books which admit the horrors of the heretofore unmentionable sin of pornography. It at times makes it okay for a pastor to admit before his entire congregation, including bewildered children and grossed-out teens, a litany of moral infractions that would make the Mafia blush.

At its worst, “getting real” places “getting right” at too low a rung of the priority ladder, in many cases entirely out of sight. Then, “getting real” seems to say that obeying God is optional as long as we’re honest about disobeying Him.

But in spite of all the baggage “getting real” brings, I’m committed to it.

You and I know that social trends over-correct one another, creating a self-perpetuating, reactive, pendulum swing. “Getting real” has over-corrected the excesses of “getting right.” But lets back up our pendulum a few miles to the center—which “getting real” blew right past in its flight from “getting right”—and see what “getting real and getting right” look like as a pair.

Getting real/right means swearing off, for once and for all, hypocrisy, which is neither real nor right. A double life projects a false image, of which God said, “You shall not make for yourself an idol,” Ex. 20:4. Don’t make an idol for yourself, especially not one of yourself, dismantled from your real self. You’ll wind up with an adoring public who doesn’t even know you. You’ll be lonely as hell, smiling for the camera.

Aren’t some things private? Yes. But ideally, nothing is secret. With the grossed-out teens listening to the pornography confession, I reject undiscriminating, thoughtless “getting real.” Sin and failure should be confessed selectively, first and foremost to those affected by it.

Okay, lecture over. Assignment time. Whatever your struggle, whatever your wound, write three versions of it: the one sentence version, the one paragraph version, and the one page version. The one sentence version you share with acquaintances—“Life is a struggle right now, please pray for me!” The one paragraph version goes out to friends and the one page version to loved ones. The book version share with God and anyone besides Him who would want to stay awake for that long. Always express your hope alongside pain, so as not to make honest disclosure a downer for you and others: “I’ll get through this with God, but right now I don’t see how. . . “ In this way the real you and the projected you begin to match one another. The gap between the two closes, and you know you’re “getting real.” Which is, after all, right.

Oh, and you can turn in the assignment here- http://jennpen.com/ Just go to the bottom of this post and hit the “comments” button.

Happy Holidays!
*I’m still there, 36 years later.

Just two gigs this month:

Dec. 22- with Alison Brook, Clearwater, Florida

Dec. 29- with Alison Brook, Cocoa, Florida

CHRISTMAS PROMOTIONAL OFFER! Buy $25 or more off my website and I will include a free book or CD of your choice. Simply return this email with your selection, then go on the website and make the offer.

14 thoughts on “Real or Right?

  1. Trudy Morgan-Cole

    I really love this post! For many years my goal has been to live as honestly as possible and make the gap between the “real me” and the self I project to the world, as small as possible. This can be uncomfortable sometimes, and I still have a long way to go, but I am a great believer in the power of honesty. I think it’s devastating how many people are deeply hurt by their own, and others’, inability to admit to the struggles and pain they’re really experiencing. That need to seem like we have it all together can be so destructive.

  2. Trudy Morgan-Cole

    Although, admittedly, I haven’t really done the assignment in leaving that comment, just said that I believe in honesty without being honest. Hmm.

  3. Jennifer Jill Schwirzer Post author

    Trudy, thanks for the encouragement. In light of certain recent events I thought it would be helpful for us to review the fact that a false projection of ourselves is not only a form of dishonesty and therefore a sin, but is psychologically unsustainable and unhealthy.

  4. Trudy Morgan-Cole

    I wonder if we have been inspired by any of the same recent events? Check out my blog on Friday for a more thoughtful post than today’s (with no bellydancing).

    All right, I’ve done the assignment. Clearly I’m your best student since I handed it in first. My one sentence version:

    “I love God and my church but I have so many doubts and questions sometimes I don’t know what I believe; pray that I’ll hold onto my connection with Jesus no matter what.”

  5. Jane Sirignano

    Thanks Jen. Really appreciate this post. I find many actors in the church and some honest people too. I don’t think everyone is going to become honest. Too much at stake.
    Here’s my struggle:
    I want to write a handbook about healthy eating, not another cookbook. People come to my classes and still don’t get what to do. I just need the energy and motivation and have to get back to walking which I haven’t done in a while.

  6. Jack Marti

    I am a real true believer who has been and wants to be made right. I have lived with crippling shame for most of my life because of a 44-year addiction to pornography that I could never talk to anyone about, least of all fellow church members. I can now say I am more free from shame than I’ve ever been in my life because I now know that God loves me in spite of my sin and wants to work with me to set me free from not just the symptom of pornography addiction, but the root of what caused that addiction, namely, the belief that I am a defeated, guilty, and unworthy sinner.

  7. Jane Sirignano

    Dear Jack,

    I understand how you feel. I was an unwed mother 34 years ago which caused me great shame. Then I learned that we were made right in Christ at the cross. He took our sinful natures and our sins and crucified them at the cross. He looks at us as beloved and God sees Jesus when He looks at us. Keep the faith. My broken brain was healed not too long ago about this. Give Him your whole heart and life and read healing promises. Forsake the sin and anthing about it. God loves you and will heal you if you let Him.

  8. Tommy Lane

    When I have done something wrong that I’m ashamed of, and can’t portray myself honestly, I run away and hide, like Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden after they fell. When it’s comfortable for me to face reality, admit my sin and make it public, I come out of hiding. I don’t like the thought of being hypocritical, I prefer the “what you see is what you get” model. I have trouble pretending to be what I’m not.

    After being alone for a long time, I got involved in a relationship with a woman sexually that resulted in the birth of a child out of wedlock. It caused me great shame, pain and embarrassment. I should have taken the counsel of God’s Word but I weakened and fell into sin because I loved the woman. Now, I have a beautiful little girl with a woman who chose to be a single mother instead of marrying me. It’s a difficult situation at best, but I know God forgives me for what I have done. I know He loves the woman and the baby, too. I know God can turn situations like this into a blessing. I realize Jesus sacrificed himself for people like me. We are all afflicted with sinful natures and need our Savior. That’s something Satan wants us to forget and sometimes he’s successful at it. We just need to let Jesus pick us up and heal us. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Thank God for that.

  9. Nicole Parker

    I love this post! I have shared a sermon in which I talked about the three circles of Jesus’ relationships. He had an outer circle (anyone who came in contact with Him–Pharisees, publicans, etc.), a second circle of people who He actively cultivated and discipled (the 12, perhaps the 70, quite a few women, etc.) and the inner circle (7 people we know: Lazarus, Mary and Martha his sisters, Peter, James and John, and His mother Mary). The inner circle were people who not only leaned on Him (like His disciples in general), but who He actually also leaned on for support. He was vulnerable with these 7, and they helped carry Him through the cross. I believe that to live well, we should follow His example and have 3 such circles of relationships as well. There should be people who see Jesus in us even through casual contact, people who we actively disciple, and people with whom we are vulnerable enough that they can encourage us and also confront us with our sin problems when necessary.

    And for the record, I struggle to believe that I am loved and lovable. 🙂 When my eyes are not on the cross, I begin automatically to resort to accomplishments to measure my worth and lovability. This is a battle I believe I will fight all of my life, but praise God it is nothing like it used to be! Onward and upward. 🙂

  10. Ryan

    I see your point of counseling so-called Christians whom veered off into the path of claiming to be real, yet not being real in the context of a Christian. I believe acknowledging your wrongs and admitting that it’s a struggle for you to be right is the place to start to turn around on the right path as you are saying. If your wrongs need to be confess to people who are offended by them, then do so, but it is also critical to open your heart to God about this and express to him your issues and need for his help so that you can be on the right path of being a real Christan. These our some good thoughts on this because I think those seeking to be Christians can rationalize what it is to be christian and not even know that there missing the mark or be influence by the world around them and becoming adjusted to it to appeal to unbelievers to follow the faith or appease their flesh, so it’s good that your giving counsel and may God bless it. I think for me, I let the pendulum swing right into “getting wrong” out of compromising and misconception of sin. Hopefully as I seek God’s help, I too may get on the right path of being a real Christan.

  11. Jennifer Schwirzer

    Dear folks, my wordpress settings got messed with and I didn’t see these great posts until now! Thanks for your thoughtfulness and transparency. For some of you it was hard to admit, but I think all the disclosures were appropriate–real and also right. Praise God for all of you.

  12. Yvonne Davis-Read

    Thank you for your thoughtful commentary and insight. I have been struggling with my compartmentalized life. Church and church friends on Sabbath and the rest of my week with work friends and secular friends. I can’t seem to be a strong enough witness to attract my secular friends to come to have an interest in spiritual things. I am praying to become a better witness even in my family for starters as my husband is an atheist. You have hit the nail on the head in your analysis of the pendulum swing and I do want to be able to balance the “getting right” with God with “getting real” in my life. I was raised in a very authoritarian home where we all had to tow the line and there was no room or discussion about getting real. So of course I rebelled. I’m slowly finding my way back, but it is a very lonely road. Thankfully my parents are still there to support me and I do have wonderful church friends.
    May God continue to bless you in your ministry. I love your take on issues.

  13. Janean

    Hi Jennifer,
    Found your link through Trudy’s from Facebook. Interesting thoughts, thank you both for sharing. I have had an issue with being authentic for a long time. I was raised in the same church you joined and it seems we, as a people, think we have to look good or we are ‘sinners’. I was part of another Christian denominations Bible study group for a time and greatly appreciated the authenticity and transparency. How can we see God working in our lives if we act like we have it all together? I’m not for pining and complaining at every little thing, my husband knows I do that enough at home to him, but I’m talking about sharing real needs to receive prayers together and see how God works. I get so frustrated with the ‘fake’ lives I see at church. Anyways… God is working and as Jane posted, not all will be honest because there is too much at stake.
    My struggle is accepting the fact, barring a miracle of God like Elizabeth, that I cannot have children of my own. God has been good to provide us with girls from around the world to host in our home for 3 school years so far. Fear is a big thing for many of us and if we will just let others know we can talk and be encouraged to step out even with the fears, knowing God is with us and others are praying for us.
    I too know the person you are talking about. When I read about the death, prior to the facts coming out as to how he died, I sensed it was suicide. My husband and I had a few encounters with him over the years. My husband is struggling with this now. I think I will share your blog with him, as well as Trudy’s.
    God bless and thanks again!

  14. Mike Bender

    I have always admired pastors, elders, and other speakers who address the congregation and admit they sometimes have a struggle with sin. That helps the members feel as if they are not the only ones struggling. However, I am NOT comfortable with the speaker getting descriptive of sin problems they experience themselves.

    Instead of talking about themselves, perhaps they should speak of a “third person” who has a sin problem and how they are dealing with it. Talk about what they have done to open the door for God to remove that temptation from them.

    I understand we should not be hypocritical by pretending we do not sin, and it would appear from what Paul wrote that even he struggled with the doing of that which he should not. I can’t for the life of me remember the text but the message was, I ignore the things I should do and do the things I should not. He explained it as being a slave to sin. A person with a will to be righteous trapped in a sin afflicted body.

    1 Cor. 15:52 tells us, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” Taking that exactly as written, we will not become incorruptible in this life. Only after we are raised to meet Jesus. Unfortunately we are slaves to sin.

    Perfection should be our goal, but we must not fall into Satan’s trap of feeling like failures when we fall short of perfection. Personally, I prefer to envision the leaders as saintly types who may have a slightly tilted crown. I really don’t want to hear from the pulpit all their failures. If one of them wishes to come to me privately and request prayer for a sin problem, I would view that as the biblical answer to sin. But for me, privately works the best.

    Most of the members who I have ever spoken with desire leaders they can look to as an inspiration.

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