Different - Week 2: "Different"
I am going to give some of the best advice you will ever hear from a pastor.
Are you ready for this?
I know that you came here today looking for at least one golden nugget of something like wisdom so you could walk out of here feeling like it was worth getting out of bed.
So here it is:
If you have a Jesus fish sticker on your car... On behalf of all of the rest of us Christians without a Jesus fish on our car, do us a favor... either learn to drive safely, politely, respectfully and without your blinker on for four miles, or take off the Jesus fish.
You are not helping us witness to people that Jesus is awesome because they see your Jesus fish and want to run you off the road.
Seriously. There is nothing worse than getting cut off on the freeway by some so-and-so and then seeing their Jesus fish stuck bold as brass on the back of their car.
Years ago, I had one of those Jesus fish on my car, and I decided that I needed to practice what I preached---that I needed to live a congruent life. I couldn't drive irresponsibly with that Jesus fish on my car and keep my testimony to people who might see it.
So I pulled that sticker off, man. Yanked it right off.
Once when my oldest son was driving through the Deep South he had a guy with a Jesus fish on the back of his car flip him off and yell obscenities at him because the guy didn't like the "Love Wins" sticker on my son's rear bumper.
And the guy had his kids in the car with him.
Here's the sad truth. Every one of us here has a story of how we encountered someone who claimed to be a follower of Jesus, but they didn't have a whole lot of Jesus in their actions.
We've all encountered a Christian or two in our life who did or said something so awful and horrible that we are convinced Jesus is somewhere shaking his head and saying, "I can't believe that idiot is on my team."
But if we are being totally honest... we have to own the fact that we frequently fall short when it comes to truly bearing witness to what Jesus has done for us. We might talk about the incredible transformation that Jesus has wrought in our life, but there are lots of moments when we are disseminating the exact opposite message to the world.
Let me share something fascinating with you.
A couple of years ago, the Gallup organization conducted a poll that focused on belief in God. They discovered that 89% of people in the US believe in God. That number is down a bit from the 1980's, but still... 89% is pretty huge.
So why is it that Christians are stumbling so much when it comes to reaching these people? Because only 3 out of 10 Americans attend church on a semi-regular basis.
I have become convinced it is because Christians are failing to live like Jesus. We talk a good game, but in the end, we act just like everyone else, or worse.
There was an old hymn a long time ago that declared, "They will know we are Christians by our love..."
But it seems to me that in our current culture people know Christians by what they boycott... this week. Or what they are protesting... Or by the kinds of people they exclude from the Christian table...
So many people who claim to follow Jesus wear their Christian t-shirts, plaster Christian stickers all over their laptop, conspicuously read Christian books in coffee shops, only listen to Christian music, only hang out with other Christians...
And then they have public interactions with people who aren't Christians that leave these people thinking... "If THAT'S what a Christian is really like, why would ANYONE want to be one?"
You and I... we are called to be different. As we step into this second installment of our sermon series on what it means to live like a Christian, we'll be exploring a passage from the second chapter of the book of James.
And what we're going to be lifting up today is this simple but incredibly profound truth:
Christians witness to their inner transformation by their outer behavior.
Let's read James 2:8-13 today:
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. 12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.Let's dig into this passage a bit deeper.
What James is speaking of here when he uses the phrase "royal law" is the kind of law that transcends any kind of royal decree, any justice of the aristocracy. There is no king, no Caesar, no earthly lord with anything to decree that is more powerful than what James is about to say here.
What James is about to declare is the moral heart of the Torah. It sums up most of the Decalogue, what we call the Ten Commandments. And what is this moral heart?
To love your neighbor as yourself. This is the law of the kingdom of God, the same kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed had arrived and was being realized. Jesus talked about the kingdom of God more than anything else he taught.
And the command to love your neighbor as yourself was at the center of the coming and present kingdom Jesus proclaimed.
So what James is doing here is addressing an issue in the early church where people were saying they are followers of Jesus, but then exclude, ostracize and marginalize those who are different than they are. James sees this exhibition of favoritism as a symptom of a bigger problem.
James sees this as essentially a rejection of Jesus, the One who gives to us the law of freedom.
He uses the example of someone who gets fired up about how it's sinful to commit adultery and then commits murder.
James asserts that this person has broken the whole law, which is shorthand for saying: "If someone acts like that, they're really not getting it. They aren't acknowledging God's authority. They are talking the talk, but not walking the walk."
In the same way, James goes on to teach, if you claim to follow Jesus, and to believe that what Jesus taught was truth and life... and yet you go around practicing favoritism, showing discrimination, demonstrating a terrible witness... then you have broken the whole law of freedom, you are essentially denying the Lordship of Jesus over your life.
I once saw a sign that had these words on them:
"There can be no success if what you do is different from what you believe."
I would apply this the Christian life.
"There can be no real witness to the transforming power of Jesus' love in your life if what you do is different from what you believe."
Because Christians witness to their inner transformation by their outer behavior.
Shift gears with me a moment---to that Psychology 101 class you took in college. Let's take just a second or two to talk about why it's so important for us to get this right and what is actually going on in the psychology of Christian witness gone wrong.
In basic psychology, you learn about this idea that is known as cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the psychological conflict that occurs when what you experience doesn't match what you think you know.
For example... You might experience cognitive dissonance when a politician that you admire and support does something reprehensible.
Or it can occur when a trusted friend recommends a movie that you find to be terrible. You love and trust your friend's taste, so you wonder if there's something you are missing.
It can also occur when someone who you think is a highly moral person does something incredibly immoral.
And, and... it can also occur when someone who claims to follow Jesus acts exactly the opposite of what Jesus taught.
So there are three ways to resolve the conflict, the cognitive dissonance in our heads. We can change the way we think based on what we experience (most of us don't do this). Or we can try to find out more information to determine if we just didn't have all of it (Some of us do this).
But what most of us do is reduce what we are experiencing to it's most basic level and then reject outright any desire to think of it in more nuanced or complicated ways. We also tend to universally apply what we are experiencing.
What does this look like?
Back to the politician---instead of critiquing the politician or changing your mind about the politician who does something reprehensible... you might decide that all polticians are two-dimensional, cartoonish, self-serving jerks.
Or your friend with the movie suggestion. You might quietly decide never to take your friend's movie advice seriously again, without ever really thinking deeply about why they liked it and you didn't.
If you become disillusioned with someone who appears moral but does something immoral, you might reject the ideas that person stood for, and give up on the organization they represent.
Some of you might see where I am going with this...
If you see someone who claims to follow Jesus, but they constantly act like they don't follow Jesus... You might decide that everyone that claims to follow Jesus is just like that... Or you might reject the organizations that person represents. Or you could even reject the very idea that Jesus makes a difference in your life...
Because you don't see any evidence of that.
So... Does your behavior tell the story of your inner transformation?
Can people tell by the way you live your life that you love and folow Jesus?
Maybe you lost the plot somewhere along the line. You used to feel that way, but now you don't seem to show it at all. It's gotten easier just to do your own thing, to be like everybody else.
Are you giving lip service to your faith, but your actions show the kind of favoritism that James is talking about? And by favoritism what is meant is selfishness, grumbling, slander, racism, materialism, the inability to love others.
What James was trying to teach those early Christians was that when you don't live what you believe, when your inside doesn't match your outside it affects every part of your Christian walk. It affects your relationships. It affects your ability to worship. It affects your joy.
And here's the thing. People are paying attention to us. They are watching us and hoping beyond hope that we're right about Jesus.
Because Christians witness to their inner transformation by their outer behavior.