Posts tagged Authenticity
The Power of Being Broken

When I was in university I developed a pet peeve for phony people. In particular, there were certain students there who would never say hello and would walk by me like they didn't even know me. I had been in class with them. We had done assignments together. But all of a sudden it was like they never saw me. And I would walk past them in school all the time. Even look at them with the intention of saying hello. Only to be met with a cold and indifferent gaze. That is, until I ran into them at the mall on the weekend. All of a sudden, its like we were best friends! "Hey Marcos, whats up man? Good to see you! How you been?" I would, of course, reply politely. But in my head I would be thinking, "What the heck bro?" And then, the following week back at school walking down the hall I would run into them again. And boom, all of a sudden they didn't know me again.

I don't know if that has ever happened to you. It is irritating. And few things are as irritating as a phony and hypocritical person who acts one way in one setting and differently in another. Which leads me to a verse I'd like to explore today:
My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others? - James 2:1
One of my professors shared an experience from his days of pastoring. He was preaching in a church somewhere in the US. The church was predominantly Anglo. And one day, in the middle of his sermon, an African-American family walked into the church and sat down. No sooner had they sat down than a large group of the Anglos sitting in that same section got up and moved to the other side of the church. Our poor professor was stunned. How can you? He asked. How can you claim to be Christians, to have faith in Jesus, if you favor one race or people group above another?

And that is what James is asking here. Evidently, the church he was writing to favored rich people over poor people. They treated the rich well and the poor not so much. And James writes to them and here in this verse he points out a contradiction. How can you say A and do B?

In order to understand James though, we have to take a step back in time. We need to leave his letter and travel all the way back to his home in Galilee. We know that James was one of Jesus' half brothers meaning he grew up with Jesus. Can you imagine what it would be like to grow up with Jesus as your brother? Jesus who never does anything wrong. Jesus who never gets in trouble. Jesus who never goes to time out or gets grounded in his room. It's annoying enough having a little brother who always gets away with everything. Its a whole other thing to have a brother who literally never does anything wrong.

I can picture James complaining to Mary, "How come Jesus disappears for 3 days in a temple and doesn't get in trouble and we get grounded for other stuff!" And while we don't know the details two things are clear in the gospels. Jesus' brothers did not like him and they did not believe that he was the messiah. In fact, no one in their town believed it. Matthew tells us that they "took offence at him" and they did not honor him or believe in him (Matthew 15:53-58). Perhaps, James would get into conversations with his neighbors. "James, what do you think of Jesus?" And they would talk about him behind his back and laugh at him. In fact, John tells us that they would mock and question him. "Why don't you go do your miracles somewhere else Jesus? Somewhere were there's lots of people instead of here?" And while this might seem like good advice on the surface, John reminds us that the brothers did not believe him (John 7:3-5). So they were either 1) sarcastically asking him to leave their town and stop embarrassing them or 2) suggesting that his miracles were fake and would not actually work if he was in a bigger crowd. Either way, the brothers of Jesus - James included - did not like him and did not think highly of him. They may even have held reservations against him for leaving Mary at home. I can almost hear them saying, "The rest of us stayed to help mom after father died, but Jesus didn't. He's only interested in himself and his self-aggrandizing ideas."

Their feelings for him didn't change when he became popular in Israel. It seemed that the more people followed and believed him the more irritated his brothers became. Mark tells us that during a gathering at one of his disciples homes someone complained to his family and they showed up "to take charge of him for they said, 'he is out of his mind.'"(Mark 3:21). In other words, they showed up to scold him and "slap some sense into him". They thought he was going crazy. As they journeyed to him the religious leaders accused Jesus of being demon possessed which is another way of saying "out of his mind". His own family, James himself, believed this. He probably even came to the point of disowning Jesus so that he could stay in the 'good books' of the religious leaders since they were known to ban Jesus-followers from the synagogues (John 9).

Jesus, Mark tells us, found their lack of faith astonishing (Mark 6:6). He was troubled by the way they felt about him. Mary would have defended him as best she could for she believed who he was. But the brothers did not. They probably argued with her. "If Jesus really is the messiah why are we so poor? If he can do miracles why didn't he prevent Joseph from dying or raise him from the dead? He's an impostor and he's only interested in himself."

In fact, it seems that Jesus' brothers disliked him so much that none of them were there at his crucifixion. Mary, his mother, was his only family member there. And instead of entrusting her to his brothers, Jesus entrusted her to John his disciple. Where were his brothers? We don't know. But we can assume that they felt justified. "He wasn't the messiah after all", they would have said after his death. "All he ever did was bring grief to our mother and dishonor to our family."

The story of James is thus a story of relational instability with Jesus. A story of rejection and insults against his half-brother. James spent his entire life rejecting Jesus. He thought Jesus was nuts. He showed Jesus no honor. And while we have no idea what words of offense he truly spoke and what ill feelings he harbored toward Jesus we can put ourselves in his shoes and figure it out pretty quickly. James did not like Jesus. And he sure did not believe that Jesus was messiah.

But then something strange happens. When the book of Acts begins it begins with the believers gathered to pray for the Holy Spirit and among them is James, the brother of Jesus (Acts 1:12-14). But it wasn't only James who was there. Mary was there with all the other brothers too! What happened? What caused this change? The Bible only offers us a hint in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 where Paul says,
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time... Then he was seen by James...
Sometime after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to James. James the half brother. The one who had, along with all his other brothers, given him such a hard time. James saw him. And when he laid eyes on Jesus he realized for the first time that Jesus was no ordinary man. Jesus was the messiah. He had been telling the truth all along. And James was never the same again. The resurrection of Jesus rocked him to the core. Jesus was alive. And a living Jesus changes everyone who encounters him. James placed his faith in Jesus, and he was never the same again. And thirty years after his conversion, James writes this letter we have been reading the last few months. And he begins like this,

James the servant of Jesus...

Not brother, no. I was a lousy brother to him. I denied him. I rejected him. I insulted him. I doubted him. I blasphemed him. And like the prodigal son who did not want to be called a son but a servant when he returned home, I do not want to be called a brother. I am content to be known simply as his servant.

And this brings us back to where we began in chapter two.
My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?
James is pointing out a contradiction. He is asking, How can you say A and do B? And in his question you can hear the pain of his own story - of a man who lives with the realization of his own failures and of his own sin. How can I favor some above others? I who denied and rejected and insulted Jesus? I who spent my life blaspheming him? I never defended him. I never offered him the love and support of a brother. And nevertheless, he died for me and because he lives I have a hope that I don't deserve. The hope of having my sins forgiven and an eternal inheritance with him.

And what James is saying is that you are no different to him. All we like sheep have gone astray. There is none that does good, no not one! There is none who seeks after God. And yet in his love and mercy God made him who knew no sin to become sin for us that we might be reconciled to him. And in order for me to play favorites, in order for me to discriminate it requires me to first assume that there is something about me that puts me above that other person. But how can I? How can I think I'm better than anyone? After all I have done to God.

You see, James' point is this: We are all broken. All of us.

No matter how you dress, you are broken. No matter what car you drive, you are broken. No matter what suburb you live in, or how big your house, or what degree/ title you have, you are broken. No matter what your race is, or your culture, or your political party, or your family tree - you are broken. At the foot of the cross all of our external pretenses are stripped away and we are all equal. So how can we show favoritism? If you have faith in Jesus then this means you believe that he is your savior because you need one. And if you need a savior and I need a savior then we both need a savior because we are both broken. How can you turn around, in light of that reality, and show favoritism as if you were somehow less broken or less sinful than the other person? James is confused. He's pointing out a contradiction. Favoritism in the Christian life is an oxymoron. It simply makes no sense.

Favoritism shows up in class warfare, it shows up in racism, it shows up in sexism, it shows up in mysoginy and misandry, it shows up in cultural exclusiveness, it shows up in generational elitism, it shows up in theological division and it shows up in lifestyle discrimination. And the end result of this discrimination is a perpetual cycle of division, disunity, and discord. And James is weirded out. How can you claim to have faith in Jesus and show favoritism? How can you claim to have faith in Jesus and fester a culture of segregation and estrangement?

I have discovered that the answer is simple. There are those who claim to be followers of Jesus and yet have never come to the place where they realize how broken they are. But I have also discovered that the solution to this problem is just as simple: to come to the place where you realize how broken you really are. Because when you realize how broken you are favoritism, racism, sexism and all the rest of it no longer makes any sense. Instead humility, love and friendship takes their place. That's the power of being broken.

I'm too broken to think I or anyone else is better than you. Whether you are rich or poor, from a first world country or a third world country, male or female, gay or straight, we are all broken. I deserve nothing. You deserve nothing. And yet God, in his grace, provides eternal life. And he offers it to us. And in his offering of salvation and restoration there lies an inherent truth: that we are equal regardless of what society might say. For in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female - all are one in Christ Jesus. All are broken. All are loved. So my invitation to the church today is this: Come to grips with how broken you are, how loved you are despite that brokenness, and never forget either.
How "Hyper-Humility" Hurts our Witness

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." - 1 Cor. 11:1

I have often felt as though, in our attempts at humility, we try and minimize the role we play in the lives of others. Preachers can often be heard asking Jesus to "hide" them "beneath the shadow of the cross" or saying “it wasn't me, it was Christ.” I have no problem with this outlook. It certainly is commendable in that it seeks to glorify God and not man. However, I think we often run the danger of being “hyper-humble” by pretending that we have absolutely no role whatsoever in the work of the gospel. 

The reality is that no matter how much we ask God to hide us beneath the shadow of the cross we will still be visible and no matter how much we give the credit to God people will remember our faces. Paul did not seem to shy away from that. He did not say, “don’t look at me, it’s all about Jesus” instead he said, “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” Paul recognized that it was not about him, and yet he was there. He could not ignore the fact that others saw him and that he mattered in the work of the gospel. Had Paul been hyper-humble as some are today, rather than honor God, he would have damaged his witness. 

Likewise, I believe Christians should not be afraid to be seen, heard, and recognized. It is through our personalities, characters, and stories that Jesus is lifted up. Jesus is not glorified in spite of us as though we were just an unfortunate tool he had to use. He is glorified because of us and he finds great joy in partnering with us and using our individuality for his glory. 

When we attempt to hide our individual worth and value under the guise of humility, we are not really honoring God. Instead, we are allowing our insecurities to prevent Gods work in and through us from shining forth. I once heard of a church that had a huge cross in front of the pulpit so that when the preacher spoke all that was seen was the cross and not the speaker.  As noble as this may sound it missed the real beauty of the gospel. The beauty of the gospel is not simply in the cross but in what the cross has done and continues to do, and that can only be seen in people. It is through our stories, testimonies, and personalities that the power of the cross and of the savior is fully recognized. So let’s be humble and always be careful to lift Jesus up and give him all the praise. But let’s also be careful to not go to extremes by acting as though we don’t matter. God didn’t commission angels to preach the gospel, neither does he do it alone. He commissioned women and men to do so because he recognized that it was through their lives, personalities, characters, stories and smiles that he would reach the world.
How the Church Failed Mo

Mo is a pretty cool dude. I don't say super cool because, after all, he is my brother and so pretty cool will have to do. (I'm sure such a "theorem" would be reciprocated by a hearty "my sentiments exactly" on his part.) Anyhow, the point is he's pretty cool.

Now Candice, my special lady, is awesome. This awesome lady of mine was clever enough to plot a secret reunion between my pretty cool brother and my pretty cool self. She said it was a surprise to celebrate my recent liberation from the tyranny of biblical languages (I just recently finished my last ancient Greek class), but I'm sure having my mother in town for a visit had more to do with it. 

Now onto my main point. Mo and I were raised Seventh-day Adventists all of our life. At the age of 17 I decided to follow Jesus. Mo went a different direction and has stuck to it ever since. For many years I have wondered why he walked away from the faith of his youth. Being highly intelligent, scientific, and analytical would have been a challenge for him especially when my father rejected his scientific explanation of where the wind came from and instead insisted, very dogmatically of course, that God had a room in heaven with wind trapped inside. Whenever he wanted the wind to blow he would open the door. Whenever he wanted it to not blow he would shut it. Though I have no proof of this, I wonder if Mo's brilliant mind wrestled with such an irrational concept thus planting the seed for a growing discontent with Christianity. 

Regardless of what reason (or perhaps reasons) led Mo out of the church one thing is certain: his experience was, to be quite generous, bitter. You see, Mo and I share a craving for authenticity that we acquired from our culture. We want answers, not cliches. We want truth, not opinion. We want a faith that is logical and rational - free from fanaticism, phobias, and unreasonable superstitions. We want Bible not dogma and traditions. We want relationship not religion. And most of all, we want honest and open dialogue not absurd, irrelevant, and simpleminded solutions. Authenticity. That is what we crave. And that is what the church failed to give.

You see, Mo grew up in a church culture that told him it was bad to go to the movie theater even though we could go to the elders house and watch mindless killing and gore. It was OK, was the message, so long as it is in a house. But don't go to the theater! Your angel wont follow you in there and if you die there you will go to hell. Irrational anyone? Mo grew up in a church that told his lady friends it was bad to wear pants to church, or anything too revealing for that matter, even though every Saturday night half of the members were glued to the infamous Sabado Gigante game-show with half naked women parading their curves on the TV screen for all the choir singers, elders, and deacons to enjoy. Hypocritical anyone? Mo grew up in a church where the leaders were only concerned with whether or not you were a good church member. Do you cry yourself to sleep at night because you are lonely and depressed? We don't care. Just make sure you don't let your hair grow too long and you have a tie on when you show up on Sabbath. Absurd anyone? Yes, Mo grew up in a church where the leaders spoke to you when you were in trouble and ignored you the rest of the time. A church that wanted to erase him from membership because he joined the Army even though not a single one of those involved in this proposition had ever sent him a letter of encouragement or called him to offer a prayer. A church where lack of biblical knowledge prompted an "Ellen White said" that was supposed to settle the issue once and for all. A church steeped in simple-mindedness, irrationality, and flat out extremism at times. For a mind craving authenticity, I conclude that the phonyness was simply too much to bear and the highways and by ways of the world, complete with their own set of phonyness, somehow seemed more fulfilling than the dictatorial corridors of his childhood faith.

This, I believe, is how the church failed Mo. This, I believe, is how it fails so many of its youth. It is not because it lacks entertainment. It is because it lacks authenticity. It is not because it lacks programs. It is because it lacks relationships. It is not because it lacks answers. It is because it lacks questions and somehow marginalizes those who seem to have many of them. Yet over the years I have come to shed many of the absurd and nonsensical standards of my upbringing and have come to discover a simpler yet infinitely more complex relationship with God. With all of the cultural baggage that my traditional Hispanic culture brought to Christianity gone I can now see Jesus and his love much clearer than ever before. I no longer believe that a true Christian is only the one who fits into my brand of Christianity. I have met wonderful Christians who are covered in tattoos, who enjoy the bouncy feel of dread locks, and who go to church without a tie on. I have experienced Hawaiians who worship God in Hula shirts and flip-flops. I have experienced theologians who enjoy sporting a fro-hawk. I have experienced Jesus among the real, the genuine, and the broken. I have experienced doubts and wrestled with them. I have come to realize that God, the multiplex deity of the cosmos, is paradoxically simple. He invites me to have a relationship with him and to let my life be an outflow of that relationship. As Jesus once said,
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." - Matthew 22: 37-39.
And as my friend Amir Davis once said, "Do the Ten. Love God. Love Men. Take care of your body. And live your life. That's all God requires of you." It really is that simple.

I wonder where Mo would be today if the church had focused on Jesus' words more than they focused on their own traditional discomforts? What if they had loved the culture instead of demonized it? What if they had shown us a God who cannot be caged, the wild lion of the heavens who cannot be controlled, and taught us to live on the edge with him? What if they had embraced questions? What if they had let go of the pretensions and gone on the journey of doubt, struggle, and pain? What if they stopped misusing Ellen White? What if they had forgotten the opinions of men and taught us to live by the Bible only? What if they had looked past the long haired guys, the braids, the jeans, and the baggy t-shirts and shown us the love of Jesus? And I don't mean shown it to us in a Bible study. I mean shown it to us with a life. I pray I wont have to keep wondering. I pray the era of the Mo's will come to an end. I pray we learn our lesson.

But that is not the only point of this article. I also want to take the opportunity to appeal to the Mo's of today. While the church has failed you, it is still within your reach to recognize that Christianity is extraterrestrial and as such it cannot be defined, contained, or limited by human culture. We may have messed it up, but you can look past our faults in the same way we should have looked past yours. While we may look at the church and find much to criticize we can find neither spot nor wrinkle in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, I leave you with a challenge from Christian apologist Dr. Ravi Zacharias and it is this: "Look at Jesus and ask yourself the question, Can I find anything wrong with him?" The answer may just revolutionize your life.