Actions Speak Louder than Words (Aka Rocking your Identity)
As presented at CCC 9/25/11
How many times have you heard that phrase? How many times have you USED that phrase? I know I can answer both “A LOT!”. And yet, I feel that God has been showing me this phrase in action, and in different ways, in recent days.
On the one hand, He has taught me in my new “Jesus plus nothing” – grace filled life that I don’t have to PRESENT anything to be His……I don’t need to act or be or look a certain way in order to be a “good Christian”. All things are permissible……and yet, I am the first to share that leading a hypocritical life does nothing to encourage me or others. I Is this where “…..but not all things are beneficial” comes in? Is this where “the fruits of the Spirit” comes in?
Some other ideas about “being a Christian” exist in my life, too. Like the prevailing idea that, as a Christian, my first and biggest focus needs to be on converting others to my faith. On the surface, this is important because – REALLY – we have such freedom in Christ, don’t we? And being saved from eternal damnation is kind of important, too. Even John the Baptist went out on a limb to get the attention of the Jews back in the day – wearing camel cloths and screaming out to anyone who would listen, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” So, often I hear the nagging thoughts that bounce around the back of my head that I am not doing enough to witness to those around me about the Saving Grace found in Jesus Christ Alone.
But THINGS have been shaking up this view of mine lately. First, let me be clear – I am NOT saying we shouldn’t share the love of Christ. But I think I’ve looked at this wrong my entire Christian life!
First of all, I will tell you I weigh too much – if you could see me now, you’d realize this truth without any words coming out of my mouth. I have been this way for a while. So, imagine my reaction if I was sitting having a fabulous lunch and a personal trainer that I didn’t know came up to me and said, “Hey, I noticed from across the room that you are entirely too fat. I am a personal trainer and I would like to help you overcome your gluttony….get you off of your couch, and get you back to living a healthy life!” While his comments would be – let’s be real – 100% accurate, I could tell you will full honesty that after I punched him in the face, I’d tell him off without hesitation! THE NERVE of the man! I mean, he didn’t even KNOW me, and yet you are rude enough to come talk to me that way?!?!? I mean, WE AREN’T EVEN FRIENDS!
Yet, so many of us Christians think it is okay to walk up to people and either say straight out or imply they are going to hell or that their belief system is totally inaccurate! These statements are very accurate, just as my example of me needing a personal trainer was, but are they a good approach? I’m not so sure.
Let me put it this way – imagine a group of Hindus are out and their goal is to teach us “poor Christians” that we are doomed if we don’t convert to their real religion. You and I both know that WE have the truth and their efforts would be wasted. Why do we American Christians expect a different reaction from Hindus (or others – religious or not) when we approach people without any introduction and straight-out say “you’re lost man, you need what I got!”?
“BUT”, I say to myself, “I DO have what they need!”
So, using the tools that have brought me through the steps of The Naked Gospel, I decided to STUDY the life of Jesus and really absorb how He interacted with those around Him. The difference being, of course, that Jesus COULD condemn, COULD judge, COULD direct, etc – while I cannot. You get the drift.
Jesus with the Immoral – the Adulteress (John 8:3-11)
I need to start by saying first that I was always taught and really focused on the end of this story, “Go, and sin no more!” I used to absorb it as Jesus saying, “Hey, I am God and I have given you this chance to clean up your ways, now go do it – you might not be this lucky next time!” Or, when I’d look at the failures and bad decisions of my OWN life, I’d look to this interaction as one to make myself feel better – I don’t deserve to be stoned by others who are just as messed up as me, and now I need to shape up. I have even reminded myself of this story to not judge others who really kind of deserved what they should get……but I would “do what Jesus did” and forgive them. Maybe you can relate to what I am saying, but now I am going to ask you to focus on Jesus and how He was in this story – not the accusers, not even the woman who had committed adultery. Jesus. Period.
Now first, let’s consider some truths about this situation – the Mosaic Law established that this woman who was “caught red handed” should be stoned. Jesus never said this law was wrong, nor did he say He was changing the law. Instead, Jesus asks the accusers to go right ahead, “as long as they were free from sin as well”. They all could say no such thing, and so they left. Agreed?
But let’s get back to our focus – Jesus. He was without sin. He was God and was the only human on the face of the earth who could have applied HIS law to this woman, for His lack of sin provided the right to throw a stone based on His new feedback to those that accused this woman. He also could have turned to the accusers and screamed, “You hypocrites! You bring this woman to me and yet you are lying, cheating, horrible men inside! Further, you are bringing this woman to me not because you love the law, but because you hate me and want to trick me into making a fool out of myself!” Jesus had EVERY right to react that way to all involved. And yet, what did He do?
Verses 6-11 say this:
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
He did not debate, he did not yell, he didn’t even take the stance of power, really. Jesus could have set them straight with who He was! He could have yelled for all to hear the secret and also easily seen sins each of them held in their lives. Yet, in almost a “whatever” way, he stood and spoke the truth. There was NOT anger in His voice towards the accusers, and there certainly was not any hint of condemnation in His voice towards the accused. In fact, His very WORDS removed any condemnation from her!
Jesus with the Hated – Zacchaeus the Tax collector (Luke 19:1-10)
Both Pastor and Shaw have shared this story recently, and shared how society hated the tax collector Zaccheus, and yet Jesus honored him and loved him. Jesus truly came to save the lost, and that is where our hearts should be, too.
Jesus with the Rejected in Society – Foreign, female, Samarian (John 4:5-29)
Again, Christ could have condemned this woman just by the mere fact that she WAS a woman, never mind that she was a Samaritan AND a sinner. And yet their interactions not only shared salvation with the woman, but those she spoke to also believed in Christ. Jesus did NOT denigrate her, did not condemn her!
Jesus with the Political Leader – Roman Governor, Pilate (John 18:33-40)
Jesus spoke truth to Pilate, but He didn’t disrespect him. Instead, he acknowledged Pilate’s position on the earth and noted that His own position was not of the world but of heaven. Even in doing so, Jesus didn’t fight with Pilate or tell him he had no authority over him. After the interaction Pilate found no fault in Jesus.
Jesus with The Condemned – Criminal on the cross (Luke 23:39-43)
Here was a criminal, found guilty by the laws of the land, and yet Jesus clearly shows He was saved when he said “today you will be with me in paradise!” Jesus didn’t preach to this man, He didn’t point out the man’s sins, He didn’t even say ANYTHING to this man before faith was received by him!
So what do we do with this????
I know I am under GRACE and have accepted that I am who I am only because of who Christ is. As such, I need to extend this grace to others, too! Yet I also think I need to be different from the world, heck I even need to be SEPERATED from the world to be a really, really GOOD Christian! The Bible says it man!
2 Cor 6:17 Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”
For years I’ve used this verse and similar ones to justify why I should not associate with sinners, to not attend parties where alcohol is being served, to not go to clubs – you get the idea. I even would ask if what I was doing would please my Lord. And when I would succeed, I would feel pretty good about myself, because after all I am an Ambassador for Christ! But through the months and year I’ve been at Crossroads, I have been compelled to dig deeper into this attitude.
First, I quickly found out that I am not alone in this attitude – today or in the Bible itself! You do a search on Google about “being set apart from the world” and you will quickly see a grocery list of things Christians should not do:
• Do not associate with or be around sinners, relatives or not
• Do not go to parties
• Do not go to movies where the story line is immoral
• Do not be excited about doing worldly things, because you will be an enemy of God
• Being around sinners approves of their sin
When I read this, I kept hearing “what about LOVE?” And you know I love this verse because I reference it almost every time I stand here:
Mark 12:30-31 Amplified
And you shall love the Lord your God out of and with your whole heart and out of and with all your soul (your life) and out of and with all your mind (with your faculty of thought and your moral understanding) and out of and with all your strength. This is the first and principal commandment. The second is like it and is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.
So I began to pray about those around me – everyone – whether or not they LOOKED like a sinner or not. That man in the nice clothes? Probably not a sinner. That thug with the baggy pants, questionable.
Do you believe me? Okay, you know I am making a point! But I do admit that when we were at Gay Pride last week I did think with some sadness, “A lot of this is not how I want the world to think of the LGBT community, it seems so sinful. I mean there is a man with only underwear on. Over there that woman is completely drunk. Some were dancing very suggestively. Maybe I shouldn’t even be here.” And that was wrong of me.
You see, in the Bible we hear a lot about the Pharisees, and they were very “holy”, at least in appearances! The word Pharisees comes from the Hebrew perushim from parush, meaning “set apart”. Did I want to think and act like the Pharisees, being set apart from anyone? When I started thinking about the Pharisees, I couldn’t ignore the following from Matthew, where Jesus is teaching the crowd about the Pharisees:
Matt 23:1-12 NIV
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Then Jesus begins to speak TO the Pharisees in verse 13:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
Jump down to Verse 23-26, where Jesus doesn’t hold back!
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
And then he ends in verse 33:
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
Well I will tell you, that kind of shook up my attitude about those around me whom I felt I needed to separate myself from. I did NOT want to be like the Pharisees!
But what about 2 Cor 6:17?
I stand before you now and contend we DO need to be separated from the world! But it’s not how I’ve been taught my entire life! Instead, I challenge you to consider this:
First, let’s define some worldly attitudes:
First, we have to acknowledge that this world is a kingdom in its own right, and it is influenced by Satan.
• Luke 4:5-6, John 14:30-31, and 1 John 5:19 speak to this.
The dominant values of the world include wealth, power, pleasure, revenge, fame, vanity and status. These things are most important to people who perceive no power or purpose beyond themselves. Worldly values promote jealousies, resentments and conflicts among people in accordance with the purposes of Satan.
Now, I think it’s pretty clear that we, as Christians, should NOT act like what is described here. We should be SEPARATED from these types of behaviors. Does it say to separate from the PEOPLE who do these things? NO!
So, as Christians, how SHOULD we act?
The kingdom of God (also known as the kingdom of heaven) is not a geographic location but rather it exists IN US. It exists within the world among those people who put their faith, trust and loyalty in God.
• Luke 17:20-21 and many other verses speak to this.
The values of the kingdom of God are often the opposite of worldly values: kindness and respect for all people instead of power; humility instead of status, fame and vanity; honesty and generosity instead of wealth; self-control instead of pleasure; forgiveness instead of revenge. Christian values promote peace and good will among ALL people in accordance with the purposes of God.
So how do we accomplish this????
1. Follow the biggest and baddest commandments as noted by Jesus in Mark 12, which we read earlier, and Love God. And if you love God first, it’s hard to act selfishly or focus on silly things that in the end mean nothing to define our identity as Pastor has been teaching us.
• Excessive attention to material things such as houses, cars, clothes, jewelry, physical appearance, entertainment, etc.
• Pursuit of wealth, power, fame, pleasure or status
• Excessive devotion to self, job, hobbies, country, ideologies, heroes, leaders, even family
Not only do these object not define me, but they take my devotion and focus from God and others.
2. Love and respect ALL people.
• The English word “love” has many different meanings, but the Greek word, agape, used in the New Testament, is commonly known as “Christian love.” It means respect, affection, benevolence, good-will and concern for the welfare of the one loved.
• We know from the Parable of the Good Samaritan that Jesus meant EVERYONE regardless of race, religion, nationality or any other artificial distinction. We must even practice that Christian love even toward our enemies as taught in Matthew 5!
Now don’t you agree if more Christians acted THIS way, we truly would be separated from the world? I mean, what does the world expect from Christians anyway? Condemnation, arrogance, religiousity?
So having reviewed this I first replayed our interactions with those we met at the Gay Pride Parade last weekend.
As you know, we had a crew out there handing out stickers using the word GAY to explain God Accepts You. Many have shared on Crossroads Facebook page that people would hunt us down, RUN to us to get those stickers! And there was something amazingly freeing to say to someone “God accepts you right where you are!” and seeing the shock on their face!
I had an interesting conversation with one girl, and it went like this:
“God accepts you right where you are!”
“Do you promise?” she said, and I sensed she really wanted to believe me.
I responded, “Well of course, it’s in the Bible!”
At the word Bible her face fell. “Oh, I have been told my whole life that the Bible says I am going to hell.”
And moved by mercy, because we all have had that feeling before, I said, “The Bible is clear that you are not going to hell if you love Jesus. And He loves you no matter if you’re gay, straight, a cusser…….He loves you right where you are. I promise that.”
I was moved in this interaction, because there is something SO AMAZING about sharing the LOVE and TRUTH that is the grace we have TODAY in Jesus Christ!
And yet, moments later I was seeing what I deemed immoral behavior and questioning my presence at Pride! It should not be so!
So God reminded me of how HE interacted with those that were the biggest sinners when He was on the earth.
• When Jesus called Matthew to be a disciple, he followed him home to have dinner with Matthew, a tax collector, and other “sinners”. When the Pharisees saw this, they could not believe Jesus would stoop so low as to associate with such horrible people, who were otherwise looked down upon. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, rebuked the Pharisees, showing us how we should act with people even today (Matt 9:9-13). Jesus mixed with those deemed “in the world”.
• You know that he hang out with prostitutes, gentiles, and so many others.
• In all cases, Jesus shows us that it is more important to humble ourselves and show kindness, compassion, and love to those our contemporaries might classify as “untouchable”. We must show respect to those that some would deem off limits or beneath us.
So I took these truths a bit further, in conjunction with the Bible Studies on Crazy Love and this journey about witnessing. And God, He is so faithful!
First, at my new job I work with two Indian women; one has interestingly been raised as a born again Christian while the other is Hindu. I had already decided that I would show love to my coworkers, whether I really liked them or not, and not push any agenda on my part (which, really, is not my M.O.). One day Hema, the Hindu, mentioned she was fasting for the day. This is when I was deep in the Jesus Plus Nothing review when I was finding areas of my life where law really did rule me – be it Biblical law or the laws I created in my life to define what a “good Christian” was. I commiserated with her a bit and asked her why she was fasting. She shared that it was for religious reasons as it was supposed to bring her to a stronger spiritual focus, but all she really was thinking about was food! I shared that I had done similar things in my own faith and that often what turned out to be arrogant works drew my focus from where it should be. It was a casual conversation – there was really no condemnation, just sharing of feelings.
Suddenly she said to me, “I really can’t believe you’re a Christian!”
That statement shocked me, and honestly kind of hurt, and I replied, “Why would you say that?”
She answered, “Well, you’re the first Christian who hasn’t told me I am going to hell.”
That broke my heart! And she also shared she had never spoken to a Christian so long about religion without being shut down and pretty much wanted to leave! To this day, she has sought me out at least 3 times a week to speak about my religion in a very casual way and I have been blessed beyond measure!
So I ask you – is my choice to not condemn Hema wrong as a Christian? I don’t think so!
So going back to the Pride Parade and those who I resented in my heart for being immoral; being there does not condone activities that I am uncomfortable with. And I have been reminded by Paul that it is not fair to put the yolk of laws on these people!
So let’s discuss this 2 Cor 6:17 in context.
A misunderstanding of this command, “Come out from them and be separate,” has spawned (6:17a) a kind of holier-than-thou brand of separatism in certain sectors of the Christian church. Let me clarify what this command does not mean and what it does mean.
First, our passage isn’t talking about separation from believers, but about separation from the idolatry and sexual immorality of the pagans in Corinth. There is a time, of course, to separate from believers. In an earlier letter to the Corinthian church, Paul clarified his teaching as recorded in 1 Cor 5:9-11:
“I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.”
In the 1 Corinthians 5 passage, Paul says clearly that we aren’t to associate with believers who continue to practice immorality. Elsewhere, the New Testament teaches to separate ourselves from divisive people (Romans 16:17), idle brothers (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14), and false teachers (2 John 10).
Some Christians are so separatist that they refuse to associate with Billy Graham because he cooperated with liberal Christian churches. This is known as “second-degree separation” – that is, separation from anyone who will not separate from the things we believe are wrong. Dear friends, this kind of militant separatism breaks the primary law of “love one another.” It is judgmental and exactly the kind of separatism practiced by the Pharisees in Jesus’ day.
Again, our passage in 2 Corinthians does not teach separation from believers (though there’s a time for that). Separation from believers is not the point or the purpose of this passage.
Notice in the passage quoted above from 1 Corinthians, Paul does not require separation from unbelievers. Indeed, we should retain friendships with unbelievers! Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to influence them for Christ. And we’ve already discussed how Jesus associated with sinners of His day!
But it does command us to separate ourselves from people and associations that will lead us into sin. Paul’s concern was that the Corinthian Christians still participated in the pagan feasts and their attendant sexual immorality. That is a very different thing from me attending the Gay Pride Parade, because I was able to refrain from public intoxication and some of the other activities I saw. Yet, had we not had a presence at the parade, so many in the LGBT community would still believe that God hates them!
And I have also been taught over the last few weeks that you NEED To love each person where they are! There is NO set list of how to react to people or how to act “holy” with people apart from loving them.
A person who seems to do this well I’ve witnessed through my friendship with Tori. Now, you might not know Tori really well, but she runs pretty deep – the wheels are often turning! Here are some of the things I’ve noticed and learned from Tori:
• She’s not afraid to laugh. Even maybe at a secular joke! Even at MY jokes!
• She’s not afraid to cry, especially if her friend is crying.
• She’s not afraid to listen, even when what she hears is someone’s failure.
• When she listens, she doesn’t judge. She loves.
• She is very humble, but I tell you what she is so powerful in that humility!
• It’s amazing, no matter what the conversation, Tori represents love and grace to me – and she often SINCERELY/AUTHENTICALLY brings Christ to the center.
• I am blessed to call her my TFF.
So I pray that you can laugh, love, and grow in Christ. To see and love others where they are instead of where they should be. To allow the Holy Spirit inside of you to do His works. To love like Jesus. And rock your identity in Christ!