A Peek inside the Closet

January 10, 2016

Skeletons in God’s Closet, intro

They are lurking in of our closets, things that we wished we
had never done, words we wished we had never spoken.  Families have them, churches have them and
individuals have them.  Because we all make
mistakes.  We all have skeletons in our
closets.  Some are scarier than others
but they are there. 

Skeletons in Closets are defined by IdiomReference.com
this way “To say that someone has skeletons in their closet means
that they have done something in the past that they don’t want other people
knowing about. It does not necessarily mean that what they did was illegal or
immoral, but it could. In general, it is something that would hurt their
reputation. It refers to murdering someone and storing their dead body /
skeletons in your closet.”

The term became a reality for a number of
federal candidates in the election in the fall when the hopes of a seat in
parliament became dashed because something from their past came back to haunt
them.  And we sometimes read stories
where someone’s past has caught up with them, perhaps a criminal or a war
criminal who have quietly lived their lives, sometimes for decades when the
authorities arrive one day to knock on their door and make them accountable for
their past.  And usually all of their
neighbours are shocked.

A number of years ago I was in a meeting
with HC Wilson our district Superintendent and a couple of gentlemen from the
denomination and they told the story of the President of one of our
universities.  Not Kingswood one of the
ones in the States.  This happened back
in the early eighties.  The president had
a very successful nine-year term at the university, he was a sought after
speaker and was considered a forerunner for one of the General Superintendent
positions in the Wesleyan Church.  And he
had an impressive resume, he had been a B-52 bomber pilot during the Korean
war, he had earned his master’s degree from a prestigious seminary and held an earned
doctorate and then one day someone opened the closet door.  He had been in the Air Force, but was a
mechanic, he had attended the seminary, but only for awhile and had never actually
graduated and he had printed the diploma for his PhD himself.  Oops. 

And sometimes the skeleton is never seen by
anyone other than ourselves, we get reflecting on the past and suddenly a boney
hand slips around the closet door and we think, “Did I really say that?  Did I really do that?”    And
then we jam the closet door shut again and hope and pray nobody else opens it.

There is a story told by Mark
Twain, it’s often time attributed to others as an actual event.  But Twain was just being Twain and it was
just satire but it makes a great story, Twain wrote “I once sent a dozen of my friends a telegram saying
‘flee at once – all is discovered.’ They all left town immediately.”

When someone says that their life is an open book there is a
pretty good chance that they’ve omitted a chapter or two to make for better
reading. 

This summer I read an article about a book called “Skeleton’s
in God’s Closet” and I thought that will preach. The book by Joshua Butler is
about some of the issues that we will crack the door on over the next five
weeks and is not to be confused with A Skeleton in God’s Closet which is a
novel along the lines of the DaVinci Code that was written by Paul L. Maier.

How often have you heard people ask questions about the
bible, if God is a loving God why is there war? Or if God is a loving God why
are there starving children? Or if God really loves me than how come my
________ had to die of cancer? 

And we’ve been here before, don’t blame God for those things,
they belong at the feet of mankind.  War
is caused by man’s greed, and if we invested the billions of dollars into
medical research that is spent on military spending that is no limit to the
cures and innovations that we may have discovered. 

As long as millions of tons of food is thrown out every year
we don’t have a food shortage problem we have a food distribution problem. So
many if not most of the problems that God is blamed for could be solved by man
if it wasn’t for sin. 

But that isn’t what we are talking about, instead it goes
back to the questions if God is a loving God why were so many people killed in
the Old Testament? Or how can a loving God send people to hell?  Or what about when Jephthah sacrificed his
daughter to God?  And is there a good
explanation for the story of Ananias and Sapphira who
died because they didn’t give enough to the church? 

And those things aren’t hidden, the great thing about God and
his word is that you don’t have to dig real deep to find things that make us go
Hmmmm?.  The bible and the story of God
really is an open book.  To go back to Mark Twain he once said “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t
understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

And to be truthful, those are the parts of
the bible that bother me as well.  And we
have a couple of different options on how we deal with the parts of the bible
that we have problems with. 

There are some people who would ask us why
we need to open that door at all? After all isn’t it better to let sleeping
dogs lie?  And so they would recommend
that we stuff the bones back in the closet, jam the door shut and ignore
them.  A family we knew owned a home in
Saint John that was built in the late 1800s, a number of years back they were
having electrical work done and one of the workers found a bone inside a wall
cavity.  So they did what any reasonable
person would do, they told the worker to put the bone back in the wall and
patch the hole.  Their rationale was that
they didn’t want the hassle that would result if the authorities’ were called,
and besides maybe it was from an animal.

Jut like the scripture that we started with
they are content to say Job 11:7 “Can
you solve the mysteries of God? Can you discover everything about the Almighty?
 And answer is:
no, so they don’t want to start down that path.

But that doesn’t solve anything, because
eventually some well intentioned or not so well intentioned friend or family
member points out the skeletons in the heavenly closet and we have no answers.  Or the other option is that we can deal with
them and try to understand them, maybe we need to heed George
Bernard Shaw’s advice because he said. “If
you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you’d best teach it to
dance.”

And Tyler Perry reminds
us “Everybody’s got skeletons in the closets. Every
once in a while, you’ve got to open up the closet and the let the skeletons
breathe. Half the time, the very thing you think is gonna destroy you or ruin
you is the very thing that nobody cares about. My advice to people with
skeletons is to dust them off every now and then– as long as your closet’s
aint full of them. It’s not good to have more than two or three.”


Over the next few weeks we are going to
crack open the door on the closet and see what peeks out at us.   And we are going to begin by looking at why
we need to do that, why we can’t just leave the door shut and let the bones continue
to collect dust. 

1) We Need to Do It So We
Can Understand the Story 

Last year Angela discovered Downton Abbey,
and she watched the first five seasons. 
And I didn’t.  But every once in a
while if she had it on and I was there I would glance up from my book and try
to figure out the story line.  And
normally I couldn’t.  I did figure out
that the gentry were terribly spoiled and I was kind of surprised there wasn’t
a revolution, complete with guillotines, but that’s just me.   

But Angela knows the story line and all the characters and
whose done what with who and when. And it just frustrated her when I would ask
questions or make observations that had nothing to do with the story.  And she was right, if I had of watched it
from the beginning I would have known what was going on.

Most of you know that I am a prolific fiction reader, I try
to read at least 500 pages a week, and many of the novels I read are series and
they have the same characters and while you can jump in with most any
particular novel you really don’t know all the story unless you’ve read the
ones that preceded that. 

Most people realize that you won’t understand the last
chapter of Lord of the Rings unless you’ve read the entire story, or watched all
the movie.  Unless you’re like Denn and
slept through the movie, in which case it doesn’t count.

And that’s what too many people do with God’s story, pick a
chapter here and a verse there and then proudly proclaim that they are a person
of the book.  But in reality they are a
person of their book not God’s.

And what happens when we just see some parts of a story?  (Show Scary Mary Video)  Those clips of course come from one of my
favourite movies, but really don’t tell the story of Mary Poppins, do they?  And that’s what we are so often guilty of doing
with God’s story, a snippet here and one there and tack it all together and
call it complete.

Paul told Timothy in 2
Timothy 3:16
 All Scripture is
inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize
what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to
do what is right.  He didn’t say
some scripture is useful, but all scripture is useful.

And if you just cherry pick the sections of
the scripture that you read than you won’t know all the story let alone
understand all the story.

In the book of Joshua we discover that
Moses has passed away and God is instructing Joshua on leading the people of
Israel forward into the promised land and this is part of what Joshua is told Joshua 1:8  Study
this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will
be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed
in all you do.  Joshua isn’t just
told to read the book, he is told to study the book and to mediate on it both
day and night.  Why?  So he would know the story. 

And the problem is that most of us are
sadly ignorant of the story.  We know our
favourite parts but really don’t have a clue about the rest.    And so we settle into our favourite parts
of the bible like a familiar recliner and don’t move.  

The story begins in Genesis when God created the heavens and
the earth and it ends in Revelation with a new heaven and a new earth.  But the story is everything in between. And
while we might have favourite parts of the story, you can’t just ignore the
rest of the story and pretend it doesn’t exist. 

I’m not a big fan of jigsaw puzzles but some people are, and
they know that the puzzle isn’t complete until all the pieces are in place, and
the story of God is not complete unless we use all the pieces, even pieces we
may not understand or that we may not like.

But it’s not just about understanding the story.

Paul wrote to a group of early believers, and in the letter
that we call the book of Colossians, this was the advice he gave them, Colossians
1:10
 Then the way you live will always honour
and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All
the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.

When did Paul say the Colossian Christians
would grow? When they learned to know God better and better.  So the second reason we can’t leave the
closet alone is that We Need to Do It So
We Can Understand God
.   Too often
folks take their favorite attributes of God and instead of having an image of
God they have a caricature of God.  You
know what a caricature is right?  It’s
like a cartoon drawing of a real person. 

But unlike a photograph it doesn’t try to
be completely accurate, instead it will exaggerate some features, and diminish
others.  In a good caricature you should
still be able to tell who the person is, but it’s not a true likeness.  Angela and I are renewing our passports and no
matter how good a caricature that we provided them they would insist on having
a photograph. 

And because I’m a fan of
politics I am a fan of political cartoons and they make good use of
caricatures.  And some are really good,
they nail not only the physical features of the person but often their
character as well.  So here is a recent
caricature of Donald Trump and President Obama. 

Here is a caricature of our
present Prime Minister and his father. 
Now I never felt that the cartoonists did a really good job of Stephen
Harper.  And part of the problem is that
Mr. Harper is pretty ordinary looking. 
And so they emphasized things like his nose, but I never really thought
Stephen Harper had a big nose.

Back when Cornerstone was
young and struggling and couldn’t really afford a pastor I worked as a writer
for several magazine and one of my favourite gigs was a satirical column that I
wrote for Atlantic Boating News called “Aboat Time”  but because my bread and butter were more
serious articles my editor didn’t want my name on “Aboat Time”  so a compromise was caricature that I had
drawn for the magazine.  But I was never
really happy with it, because it emphasized features that weren’t necessarily
my favourite features.

And so what happens when we
exaggerate some features of God and ignore others is that we create a
caricature of God.  Not a true image. And
so we define God by some but not all of his characteristics.

As Christians, if we were asked to define
God we would define him as a Loving God after all we are told in 1
John 4:8
 But anyone who does not love does not
know God, for God is love.   And a forgiving God because
the prophet wrote in Isaiah 55:7  Let
the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let
them turn to the LORD that he may
have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

And we all celebrate the
fact that God is a God of Grace.  And
God’s grace is mentioned more times in the bible than we can count, actually
it’s a 159 times, if you are counting. 

And God is described in the
bible as all of those things, but there are other descriptions of God as
well.  And so what happens when we read
about God’s anger?  Or the fact that God
is a jealous God?  What happens when
those descriptions don’t match up with the image of God that we’ve
constructed?  Do we push the closet door
shut and try to ignore what we’ve discovered? 
Or do we try to get a true picture of God?  Why would God be angry? What would it take to
make God angry?  Why does he call himself
a jealous God?

And it is critical that we
know who God is .  Jesus’s words are
recorded in John’s Gospel, when he is praying to His Father, John 17:3  Jesus prayed “And
this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus
Christ, the one you sent to earth.”

Because if we only know God by the
caricature we have of Him, then we may not recognize him when we actually meet
him.  We read God’s instruction in Psalm
46:10
 “Be still, and know that I am God! I
will be honoured by every nation. I will be honoured throughout the
world.”  

What we are afraid of is
that if we open the door of the closet and take a look that God might not be
the God we think he is.  In Joshua Butler’s book “The Skeleton’s in God’s
Closet” Butler says this, “The irony of our
dilemma?  If we open the closet door, we
might not like what we find out about God. 
If we leave it closed, we might not like what we find out about
ourselves.”

Ephesians
5:1
 Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his
dear children.  And
so the third reason we need to open the closet door is We Need to do it So We Can Understand Ourselves 

Until we know God we can’t know ourselves, or at least
we can’t know what we are supposed to be.

Socrates is
often quoted as saying “Know thyself.”  But for the Christian the truth is
found in 1 Chronicles where we read King David’s dying words to his son
Solomon,  1
Chronicles 28:9
 “And Solomon, my son,
learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Worship and serve him with
your whole heart and a willing mind. For the LORD
sees every heart and knows every plan and thought. If you seek him, you will
find him. But if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.”  Learn to know your God
intimately.  Your relationship with God
shouldn’t just be a casual friendship, and you won’t know Him intimately until
you know His entire story.

At the beginning of the story we read Genesis
1:26
 Then God said, “Let us make human
beings in our image, to be like ourselves. They will reign over the fish in the
sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth,
and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”   But if we have never
discovered the true image of God how can we be true to that image, or are we
willing to allow ourselves to become a caricature of the image of God?

And the Christian who never judges, never
condemns, always loves, regardless of the situation is as much a caricature as
the Christian who is always judging, always condemning and never loving.  Because neither of them truly reflect the
true nature and image of God.

And just because we don’t open the closet door, that doesn’t mean it will
stay closed.  It will be opened by
someone and if you don’t know or understand the why behind what some will
gleefully call skeletons in the God’s Closet, then your faith will be shaken.

And so over the next few weeks we are going to peek inside and see what we
discover.  Do we have all the
answers?  Nope.

But hopefully these messages will allow you
to see God more clearly and that after you open the closet door and that you
will understand God and will truly be able to say with David  Psalm
136:1
 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love
endures forever.