The Deadly Consequences Of Mixed Signals
In December of 1944 the eyes of the free world were focused on a strategic battle line, 100 miles inside the border of Belgium. In almost unstoppable fashion, the Allied Forces had rolled across Western Europe. Suddenly, their major offensive seemed to screech to a halt. A counter-strategy by the defenders of the Third Reich nearly succeeded in stopping the progress of the Allied Forces. A few days before the famous “Battle of the Bulge,” German soldiers dressed in American uniforms parachuted in behind American lines. The soldiers carried no weapons. The plan was for them to travel the roads over which reinforcing Allied troops would be advancing. As they did, they changed all the signposts pointing to strategic towns and villages. The consequences of this strategy turned out to be disastrous. The defenders in the “Battle of the Bulge” called for help. However, much of the help never came. Whole battalions were lost trying to find their way across the countryside where all the road signs were either down or wrong. The resulting confusion nearly changed the outcome of World War II!
Inconsistency can be disastrous. It is no wonder that the Pharisees hated Jesus so much. He constantly sought to expose their inconsistencies. In Matthew 23:3, Jesus said, “All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.” Again in Luke 12:1 Jesus said, “Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” Typically, when Jesus addressed this crowd, He did so by calling them, “scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Notice if you will, the punctuation mark used. It was nearly always an exclamation point. Though Jesus could gently take the children on His lap, there was nothing gentle about His dealings with this phony-baloney, fake and artificial crowd of hypocrites. The problem with the Pharisees was that they were creating much confusion because they were unwilling to preach and practice the same truth.
It has been well said that: “Your talk talks, and your walk talks, but your walk talks louder than your talk talks!” In other words, the message of your life has the ability to eliminate the message of your lips. If your walk and your talk, and your life and your lips are not communicating a consistent message — the one supporting the other — then you create a hypocritical appearance, thus making it unclear which direction you are really headed. This becomes even more critical when we are talking about a pastor with a church, or parents with a family, or a Christian college with its students. People or institutions that influence others have the potential to even lead a whole generation in a new or different direction if they are not taking a consistent stand. Church members are looking to their pastors. Children are looking to their parents. Students are looking to their school. When leaders do not maintain consistency in the direction they are seeking to go, they leave their followers to find whatever way seems to work out best or offers the least resistance.
There are several things that result from inconsistency. First of all, there is CONFUSION. Let’s use for an example the young person who is disciplined by dad for cheating on a spelling test. On the other hand, this child has heard dad joke about tax returns or expense reports that he intentionally altered to his advantage. This youngster begins to wonder if honesty is really all that important. Doubts are soon raised and questions are soon asked and the absolutes of truth are soon shaken.
This leads then to COMPLACENCY. Once the cloud of question marks moves in, it is not long until we hear statements like, “It’s no big deal!” or “Let’s not make an issue out of something that really is not an issue.” Matters of great importance to God hold a place of less importance to us. A “who cares” attitude is expressed toward things that we really should care about. Unfortunately, apathy has the ability to weaken our standards in areas as critical as morality, modesty, and integrity.
The next step is CONCESSION. We now concede that maybe we have been too conservative or strict in the positions that we have taken. No longer are we as obvious and distinct in our standards and convictions because we want to be more accommodating. There may be an area like music that we can’t use at church, but we listen to at home. Or it may be a matter like movies we won’t go see in a theater but we will bring home on video. It’s no wonder that many teenagers struggle with standards of godliness. It’s hard to determine the boundaries if the fences keep getting moved!
At this point it becomes necessary to CAMOUFLAGE or subtly cover up our changing positions. It is easy to say “Amen” at the pastor’s conference during a message on the authority of Scripture. Yet there may be an inner struggle regarding what really is God’s Word and whether we are willing to let it have final authority. When certain subjects are brought up we purposely change the subject so that nobody will pin us down on where we really stand. It becomes essential to blend in to avoid confrontation.
Now it is time for COMPROMISE to set in. Instead of just relaxing our position we now change our position. Middle ground seems to be more stable and even provides more security, so we think. It is so sad to see families or ministries taking positions that they outwardly opposed just a short time ago. It seems so much easier to stand for something we opposed and to oppose something we once stood for.
Criticism & Conflict
The immediate results now include CRITICISM and CONFLICT. After all, it is much easier to look down on or even break fellowship with those who continue to hold to a position that we claim to have held at one time. Though we ourselves are now struggling with a sense of direction, it is still easier to blame someone else for causing the problem. The pride of self makes it seem more logical to retaliate when our inconsistency is exposed than to let God change us.
The ultimate result is CHAOS. The Pharisees always had things in a stir and Jesus told them that they were leading folks to hell. It becomes very difficult to be where you are supposed to be when you are not sure where you are or where you are going. Just ask those Allied soldiers who thought they were going to the “Battle of the Bulge.”
Since inconsistency is so harmful, it must be avoided at all cost. Children in a home can easily discern when parents are not doing what they say. Members in a church are concerned when the pastor is not practicing what he is preaching. Students in a Christian school or college can figure it out when things heard in the classroom or on the chapel platform do not line up with the information in the promotional materials. Sadly, we must accept the fact that when leaders become inconsistent, their followers also develop inconsistencies. Unfortunately, a family, a ministry, or even a whole movement can change over a period of time just by allowing simple inconsistencies to exist.
On January 18, 1982, four members of the Air Force Thunderbirds precision flying team flew their jets into the ground. Their “Boss,” Major Nonn Lowery, was leading the team in a move called the Line Abreast Loop. As the four planes turned upside down and began to dive toward the ground, Lowery experienced a mechanical failure that prevented him from pulling his plane out of the dive. Along with their leader, the other three jets crashed into the ground at a speed of 490 mph. Unknown to the other pilots, their leader was unable to lead them properly and because of their determination to follow him, they perished. Knowing right and doing right go hand-in-hand when it comes to maintaining consistency. For the sake of those who are following, it is imperative that leaders remain committed to a consistent sense of direction. When we are uncertain as to what we believe, and where we stand, there is potential for disaster.