I heard a sermon the other day where the pastor quoted this statement:
Christians today ought to live a life that demands an explanation.
Our lives are to look different than the lives of those around us.
Does your life look different? Does mine?
This question has generated much discussion in our family. One of the assertions of the author of the Blue Parakeet book (which I finished this morning, yea!) is that not all of Jesus’ commands are applicable to today. I want to explore that assertion by examining for myself Jesus’ commands. I’ll begin in the book of Matthew:
“Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.
Can we follow that command in today’s world? Yes! Repenting is not just a “please forgive me” statement. It is a word that implies action. Someone who has been actively involved in a sin actively turns his back on that sin and moves off in a new direction, towards God. One of the sins I found myself committing is the sin of coveting materials things I don’t have. In repentence, I mute the television during commercials and put advertisements into the recycle bin without even looking at them. When I find myself struggling with selfishness and the Holy Spirit brings that to my attention, I need to immediately repent and intentionally redirect my thoughts towards God and others rather than on myself.
“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you[c] and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven.
Are we Christians good about following this command of Jesus? I’m not. I get offended when the government takes God out of life and when the ACLU sues school districts for allowing prayer. It makes me feel angry when I overhear nonbelievers saying ugly things about those of us who follow Christ. Just yesterday there was an article out about the outgoing General Counsel of the NEA, Bob Chanin, who said,
“We are not paranoid, someone really is after us. Why are these conservative and right-wing b****rds picking on NEA and its affiliates? I will tell you why: it is the price we pay for success.”
The NEA issued a handbook about us Christian right-wingers in 1996 that said, in part, about the “radical right’s crusade against public schools”:
“They won’t go away. No matter how bizarre we believe their beliefs to be, no matter how illogical and inconsistent their goals appear, and no matter how often we reassure ourselves that ‘this too, shall pass,’ the political, social, and religious forces that make up the radical right in contemporary American society will not go away.”
Are we happy about that? No, as a whole we are not. We gripe about it in blogs. We tell Christian teachers to quit the NEA and stop sending them dues each year. But it is possible for us to be glad about it! It requires a renewing of our mindsets. We have been so blessed in our religious freedom that we have forgotten what it means to be blessed through persecution. Perhaps our time has come. Note to self: quit griping and start celebrating! Yea!! The media dissed Christians today!! Yea! President Obama denied that we are a Christian nation! If we truly follow Jesus, we will rejoice. Why? Because of the great reward that is coming!
In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
We sing about that command…a great song by the Newsboys called Shine as well as a children’s song, “This Little Light of Mine.” I think it is significant to note here that in order to follow this command to shine, we must first do something. Good deeds. Is that possible in today’s world? Of course! Here are a few ideas. Some of them I’ll have to try myself!
- Tell the drive through worker you want to pay for the order for the car that is behind you.
- Take meals to neighbors who are sick.
- Pass on hand-me-down clothes to those who can’t afford to buy them for their kids or themselves.
- Stock the food pantry at your church or neighborhood on a regular basis.
- Keep a stash of granola bars or other food in your car and hand them out to the homeless (or homeless pretenders) standing on street corners. What does it matter whether the person is genuinely needy? God knows your heart! Your light shines either way!
- Consider becoming a foster parent.
- Get to know your neighbors. How can you love them if you don’t even know their names?
The list could go on and on! The point is, this is a command that, if we actually followed it, Christians and therefore Christ would be lifted up in honor! For us to say we follow Christ but then to sit on our laurel without actually doing the good deeds he commands us to do makes us no better than the Pharisees. It makes us hypocrites.
“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’[d] 22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone,[e] you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot,[f] you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone,[g] you are in danger of the fires of hell.[h]“So if you are presenting a sacrifice[i] at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24 leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.
Is it possible to follow this command in today’s world? We don’t offer sacrificial animals…but we do make our offerings in church. How do you approach the offering plate? Do you toss in your check without thinking? Jesus clearly tells us to delay our offerings until we are reconciled to those around us. This is a difficult thing to do. It’s much easier for me to sweep something under the rug or to ignore it. But here’s a litmus test: if whatever it is makes you fret or obsess or want to discuss it with your husband or a close friend — then chances are you need to go be reconciled to that person. Ack! It is uncomfortable to confront these people, especially when you love them. It’s easier to confront a stranger (i.e, the rude store clerk or salesperson on the phone) than it is to confront someone you love. Yet Jesus clearly tells us to be reconciled. To seethe inwardly leads to anger which leads to cursing which leads to the fires of hell….a place where none of us want to be!
“You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’[k] 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 So if your eye—even your good eye[l]—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand[m]—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
This is a big one, and not just for the guys. Jesus calls us to guard our eyes. Don’t let our eyes lead us into lust. I’m reminded of Casting Crown’s song, Slow Fade, that addresses this issue. Indeed, as the lyrics say, people never crumble in a day. I make it a point to not cultivate friendships with men or to be alone with them. It’s my way of making sure that the slow fade never catches hold of me: if I don’t engage in conversation or close friendships with men who are not my husband, then there is no opportunity for sin. Perhaps to some of you this is an extreme behavior on my part: but look again at what Jesus commands us: it’s better to cut off your hand than to commit adultery in your heart!
I’ve just gone through Matthew, halfway through chapter 5, and found these commands. I encourage you to not take my word for it. Seek out Jesus’ commands and think about how you can follow them in your life today so that your life demands an explanation, so that those around you notice your light shining. In a world where conformity is preached from Kindergarten through college, being different is discouraged. But you, be encouraged!
And be ready to give an explanation.