Series: Christianity Uncensored
Message #3: Love Uncensored
By: Jud Wilhite
I don’t know about you but every time I go to the grocery store I’m set off a little bit as I stand in the line and look at the magazine racks. Everyone I look at is beautiful. Have you ever felt that way? You look at these photos of people and think, “That’s just not right.” They are all beautiful and they all want to tell you how to lose ten pounds. Every magazine you look at it’s the same thing. This has been going on for years now. It never changes. I guess we keep buying it thinking it’s going to work for me.
We look at these photos and what we often don’t realize is that these photos have been edited. They’ve been airbrushed. They have been cleaned up and reworked in a significant way so that people look the way they do on the magazine. Now just to give you an example, we’re going to put a photo up here of a particular woman. You can see her. She looks peaceful and well rested. Her skin is absolutely flawless. You won’t find a flaw hardly anywhere on this picture. Now, this is after it’s been touched up. Let’s look at what the actual picture looked like before it was touched up. Look at that, she looks like the rest of us now, doesn’t she? Look at the bags under her eyes. She needs some rest. Quite a difference, isn’t it? That’s the art of digital touching up.
Now let’s take another image here. This is a blonde you might see on the magazine rack. She’s smiling and happy. If you buy her product you will feel and look like that. But let’s go to the before image. Check that out, her head grew! You can actually change the shape of a person’s head by digital imagery. Now, I thought we had to be fair so let’s pull a guy up. It’s a cool, handsome, sleek looking guy. This is the after shot. Look at his gut. Now look at the before shot. Ha, ha…look at that! I want that camera! That’s what I’m talking about. You can do all kinds of things with digital touching up and imagery.
For instance, Michelle Pfeiffer, years ago, was on the cover of Esquire magazine. It said on the magazine, “What Michelle Pfeiffer needs is absolutely nothing.” There is a picture of her looking beautiful and perfect. It took ad busters to actually reveal that Diane Scott and Associates charged Esquire magazine fifteen hundred and twenty-five dollars to touch up this image that was on the cover photo. Here are a few things from the actual bill: Cleaned up the complexion, softened her eye lines, softened her smile line. They added color to lips. Trimmed the chin. They removed the neckline. They softened the line under her ear lobe. They removed stray hair. They adjusted the color. They added hair on the top of her head. I’m all for adding hair on the top of the head. It was this type of photo that caused Cindy Crawford to say, “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.” Think about that for a minute. She can’t of course, because this is achieved from lighting and digital work and all kinds of airbrushing that they used to make those photographs look the way that they do.
We’ve been in a series in James called Christianity Uncensored. We’ve been saying that we live in an edited world that’s cleaned up and made to look pretty. Let’s just peel the facade away. Let’s look at what it means to be an authentic follower of Jesus Christ. What does the Bible really say about it? James is the guy to deliver that message. James is the actual physical brother of Jesus. He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy. He’d just give it to you straight. He was a “no-bull” guy. When you enter into the book of James you are truly entering into the no-spin zone. He’s going to lay it out there. He’s going to talk to us today about the fact that appearances can be deceptive. Just like in those magazine photos that we saw, appearances can be deceiving. There is more to a person than meets the eye.
James picks it up in chapter two, beginning in verse one. He says this: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism to one another.” Now the word favoritism is interesting. It comes from a Hebrew term that literally means to receive the face. A person walks up to you and you receive their face as is. We often will make discriminatory judgments based on receiving them at their face. James is saying, “Don’t simply receive their face.” Don’t take a person based on what they look like. Don’t make judgments and show favoritism to them based on what kind of clothes they are wearing or how expensive those clothes are or how not expensive they are. To put it positively, here is what James is telling us; treat people fairly. In the church there is no place for discrimination. Then he gives us this great illustration and example in James chapter two, verse two, “Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in.” We have two people that come in. He’s talking about a church setting. Suppose one guy comes in and he has it going on. He’s got the clothes and he’s decked out. He has the entourage. He’s come in and he’s the man. Then behind him comes in this guy who is in shabby clothes. He doesn’t smell too good. He’s obviously not at the very best he’s been in life. He’s barely getting by. You have these two guys. What do you do? Here is what James says, “If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” Ouch! In the church we have to treat people fairly, irrespective of how they look on the outside. Don’t simply receive the face.
Now in James’ culture this was very powerful because in his culture there was no middle class. Ninety percent of the people that James was writing to were poor. Ten percent were rich. The rich were really rich. The poor were really poor. There was no middle class, upper middle, lower middle class – none of that. There was rich and poor. Now on the side of wealth, the ten percent, there were three categories of actually having wealth. The richest people were in this class called the senate. In Rome they had the land and they had inherited lots of money. They had two hundred and fifty thousand times the worth of one day’s laborers wages. The second class was the equestrian class. They didn’t have the old money but they were the bankers and the merchants. They had one hundred and fifty thousand times the average day laborers salary to be in that class. The third class was these people who were big fish in a little pond. They had wealth but they didn’t inherit all the money. All those people combined made up ten percent of the population. The other ninety percent was poor. The great temptation in the church that James is writing to, is that when people come in and they’re looking good that we want to bring them up and put them on the front row. They wanted to give them all the things they would be used to. Then tell the poor, “You just sit over there.” James says, “The church is different. In the church we treat people fairly.”
That is the heart of God. Look at it in Leviticus in the Old Testament. Chapter nineteen, verse fifteen says this, “Do not pervert justice. Do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great.” Either way you aren’t supposed to show it to the poor or to the great. Just treat people fairly. In fact, he says it this way, “But judge your neighbor fairly.” That applies not just to our dress, it applies not just to our income, it applies to race, it applies to gender – treat people fairly.
I heard a story about two pastors who were coming back from a pastor’s conference. One of the pastors was an African American guy. One was a white guy. As they were driving back the African American pastor says, “God has created so many beautiful black people that God just has to be black. There are so many beautiful black people, God has got to be black.” The white guy says, “Wait a minute, man, we all know God is white. Everyone knows that God is white. What are you talking about?” They get into this huge argument. They are going back and forth letting each other have it. They get so tensed out in this moment that the guy who is driving the car goes off the road, hits a tree, and they both die. They ascend immediately into heaven. True story. They get to heaven and they see God in all his glory. Finally all their questions are going to be answered. It’s all going to be laid out for them. God shows up and says, “Buena Dias Seniors. My casa is your casa. Come on in.” It illustrates that God created all races and nations. He loves variety. He loves all of that and it’s good. The Bible says this in Deuteronomy 10:17, “For the Lord your God is God of Gods and Lord of Lords. The great God, mighty and awesome who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.” He shows no partiality and by the way, you can’t bribe him either. That’s who God is. We’re supposed to be like God in our lives and how we treat other people.
This past week we celebrated and mourned the life of Rosa Parks. In 1955 when she sat down on that seat in that bus and refused to give it up to a white man she really catapulted the civil rights movement in a significant way. She said later that she didn’t know what she was doing. She was just flat emotionally worn out. She was tired of the discrimination. She was tired of impartiality and not being treated in a partial way. Here is what she said: “When I sat down on the bus that day I had no idea history was being made. I was only thinking of getting home. But I had made up my mind after so many years of being a victim that I did not feel any fear sitting there. I felt that the Lord would give me the strength to endure whatever I had to face. It was time for someone to stand up or in my case sit down. I refused to move.” Friends, as I read the Bible I have to tell you that as controversial as that may have been in 1955, I think in that moment Rosa Parks was very much like God. She had enough. I think sometimes God has just had enough of us treating each other unfairly. I’m so grateful for the racial strides that we have made in the last fifty years but if we think racism no longer exists or that it’s no longer a problem we are kidding ourselves. It happens at a couple levels. It happens at the conscience level where we can make decisions about people and work against treating people unfairly. It also happens at a subconscious level. I think that is where some of the problem is. We can make decisions about race, gender, and class at a level we are not even conscience of. It just happens.
Malcolm Gladwell has written a book called Blink. In this book he talks about how we as people do something called “thin slicing.” Thin slicing is the decisions we make at a subconscious level in a second. It’s our first gut reaction. When a person walks up to us we actually thin slice them. Not consciously but we do. We put them in a category or we have immediate thoughts that come to our mind about that individual. For instance he sites research that documents the fact that in America most Americans tend to believe that men who are taller are better leaders then men who are shorter, irrespective of their leadership track records. Are you ready for this? The average male in America is five foot, nine inches tall. The average CEO in America is six-foot. That’s three inches taller than all their counter parts. In fact, about fourteen and a half percent of guys are six foot or taller in America and yet CEO’s of fortune five-hundred companies, fifty eight percent are six foot or taller. You go from fourteen & a half percent in our culture to almost sixty percent of CEO’s of fortune five-hundred companies. Then he says this: 3.9% of Americans are over six foot, two inches tall, but one-third of all CEO’s are over six foot two. Some studies have shown that if you take a guy who is five feet, five inches and for all other reasons has the same training as a guy who is six foot tall - the guy who is six-foot tall will make on average $5,525 more a year than the guy who is five feet, five inches. I didn’t mean to ruin your morning or anything. I’m just telling you what the data shows. Some of you are thinking, “That’s not cool.” I don’t think that people make these decisions consciously, right? I don’t think they sit around and say, “I don’t know – he’s five feet, five inches.” I don’t think we do that but it happens at a subconscious level. Not all the time but that’s where our leaning is. I think the questions for us - (if we are really going to take James’ command seriously and not show favoritism) then we have to look at the conscience level and the subconscious level.
I think what that means for us is to prayerfully ask God, “Do I make decisions about race or on the person’s face or appearance? Do I make decisions about socio-economic levels and then treat people different ways based on those split second decisions?” Make an effort to treat people fairly. I guarantee you that you’ll have more success in your life and in your career if you’ll do that.
Gladwell talks about a guy named Bill Gullum who won all these awards as a car salesman. He has a whole row behind him of Car Salesman of the Year awards. He sells more than anyone else. He asks Gullum, “What is the most important thing that you have learned about selling cars that has caused you to be such a great salesman?” He says, “It’s very simple. You don’t pre-judge people.” He says, “Pre-judging people is the kiss of death. For example, I had a farmer who came in periodically. This farmer has old dirty overalls on. He has cow dung on his shoes. He walks around and picks the car he wants. Then he calls me over.” Gullum says, “I walk over to him. He pulls a hundred dollar bill out of his wallet and says, ‘Bring it by the farm.’” Gullum says, “I get the car, I drive it out to his farm.” He said, “We don’t even fill paperwork out. The farmer pays me cash for the car.” He says that nine times out of ten the guy who comes in and waves his checkbook around and says, “I’m buying a car today if you get the right price,” (he has all the nice clothes on and everything) nine times out of ten that guy is not buying a car that particular day. You can’t pre-judge people. You never know.
Boy, is that true in the church. My goal for Central is that we become the friendliest church in America. I’ve been saying this and I’m going to keep harping on it. That is about us being friendly to one another. No matter what race you are, you are welcome here. No matter what religion you have practiced in the past, you are welcome here. No matter what your perspective is, you are welcome here. That’s how God is. He says, “Whoever you are, come!” If you are broken, come. If you are hurting, come. If you need help, come. If your life isn’t all together, come. Show up and God will meet you here. The cool thing about God, it’s the thing I love about him, He won’t leave you the way He found you. He’ll start to do a work of transformation in your life. He’ll start to do healing in your life. He’ll start to do great things in your life. But we have to be a community that says, “You can come and be a part of us.” Do you know the problem with strangers? They are strange. That’s okay. They can come and be part. James says treat people fairly.
He goes on and says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Do you remember Mr. Rogers from Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood? He’d come out in the sweater and say, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” One day this lawyer comes up to Jesus and it’s not a great day in the neighborhood. He really doesn’t want to be Jesus’ neighbor. In fact, what he wants to do is expose Jesus as a sham. He wants to corner Him with a question. He sets it all up. He walks up to Jesus and says, “Tell me this, what is the greatest commandment?” He knows that no matter what Jesus says he’s going to nail him to the wall. In the Jewish faith at that time they had over six hundred different commandments. They had commandments in the Bible and all these commandments around the Bible so you didn’t break the commandments of the Bible. Jesus looks at him and says, (it all comes down to this): “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s the most copied statement in Judaism. It was the statement that was repeated twice a day in the ancient world. When he heard that all of a sudden it was right in front of him. It’s the greatest command. You say it everyday. There was silence. At the end of that little passage there was a really cool line. It says, “No one from there on dared to ask Jesus any questions.” If you are going to debate with the Son of God, you are going to lose.
James comes back to that in chapter two, verse eight. He says, (let me boil all of it down this way): “If you really keep the royal law found in scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.” We all love ourselves, don’t we? We take care of ourselves. We may beat ourselves up and have low self-esteem but when we are hungry we eat. When we want something we often get it. We do love ourselves at some level. James is saying to treat people in the same way. To do that, we have to, first of all, apply the Golden Rule. Jesus said to “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” That’s the same principle. I was reading awhile back about John Gagliardi who coaches at St. John’s University in Minnesota. I was reading about his whole method of coaching football. He’s a football coach at a division three school. He says, “We have one rule with our players and that is the Golden Rule. Treat everybody as you want to be treated.” He doesn’t demand his players lift weights during the off-season. He holds no spring practices. He rarely allows players to hit each other during practice because he’s afraid of injuries. He employs an exercise called the “Nice Day Drill” where the players are out and stretching. When they roll over on the stretch they say to the guy beside them, “Nice day.” Then they roll over the other way, “Nice day.” I’m thinking, “What kind of football team is this? How do you apply the Golden Rule on the field?” That’s what I’m wondering. I’m going to take that guys head off on the field! Because I want him to take my head off when he comes toward me! But they apply it and try to live it out. The coaches come out and they smile. They talk about how great the weather is and what a great day to be alive. That’s their whole perspective. I’m reading this thinking, “This is nuts.” Then you realize that even though he’s a coach of a division three school, John Gagliardi is the winningest coach in college football history. He’s beginning his fifty-seventh season as a college football coach, his fifty-third at St. John’s. This is his record: 421 wins. Dang! Four hundred and twenty-seven wins! One hundred seventeen losses and eleven ties. He attributes all of it to the fact that his players live by the Golden Rule. They work as hard as they want to not to be cut because they have no scholarships but for one another. They work together as a team for one another. So the Golden Rule works.
It works in our lives. What would happen if we began to live that out in our families and in our work places? I heard a story from a friend of mine who said she was standing in the grocery store line a couple weeks ago. There was a woman there who was paying. As she went to get her wallet out of her purse, she reached in and she pulled out a TV remote control. She set it down and started pulling all this other stuff out of her purse. The cashier asked, “Why do you have a TV remote control in your purse?” She said, “My husband wouldn’t come shopping with me today so I thought I’ll show him! I grabbed the remote control and put it in my purse.” That’s not the Golden Rule. What would happen if we would start living the Golden Rule out in our lives? I’ve stood in line at a cash register before, a couple people back, really frustrated because things aren’t moving along. Being as impatient as I am I’m thinking, “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon.” Then I look around the corner and see an elderly woman standing there. She has arthritis in her fingers. You can tell she doesn’t have a lot of movement. She’s trying to dig the change out of her purse. She’s having a tough time doing it. You know, I just think, “It won’t be too long before I’m elderly”- God willing. I’ll have arthritis in my fingers. I’m standing up at the check-out line reaching down and I can’t fish my wallet out of my back pocket because I can’t get my fingers around it. I really hope at that moment when there is a young guy three people back behind me going, “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon,” that he’ll have some grace and compassion to let me take care of my business. I stood there in that moment and thought, “Just chill out, Jud. Treat people like you want to be treated. This is a time for respect and not impatience.”
Friends, just a word. We need to respect the elderly among us. They’ve seen more in their lives than most of us could imagine. I hope, someday I hope, I get a little respect for gray hair or no hair or whatever I’m left with. We need to respect that generation that has gone on before us.
This could be transformative. Imagine if you start to apply the Golden Rule in your house. Are there any milk jug drinkers here? You grab the milk jug and drink from the milk jug? Some of you do this but you’re not going to raise your hand. You know who you are. Just imagine what would happen if you bust the fridge open and grab that gallon of milk, pop the top on it, you have it up to right here and you are about to chug the family milk. But then you stop and say, “Wait a minute, is this consistent with the Golden Rule? Would I really want to drink my sister’s backwash from the milk jug?” Then you grab a cup and you set it down. You actually go ahead and pour yourself a glass of milk. It’s living out the Golden Rule in our lives and in our work places. Treating people like we would like to be treated. God will show up and He’ll do an amazing thing in the midst of that.
The second thing is to accept God’s love. If we are really going to live out this “Love your neighbor as yourself’,” we apply the Golden Rule and we accept the love of God. Sometimes it’s hard. I find in my own power and ability I can’t always love other people but out of God’s love I can love them. In fact, when you look at Jesus’ statement about the most important commandment, He says the first commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your strength, all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul. The first commandment is about loving God vertically. Then you are able to love one another, love your neighbor as yourself, horizontally. Accept God’s love for you.
I heard a story about Father Damian who was a Catholic priest in the late 1800’s. He went to one of the islands in Hawaii that was set aside as a leper colony. This was a horrific place. People basically went there to die. There was violence and rape on the island. It was a lawless, horrible place to be until Father Damian showed up. He went to these people that no one else would go to. He loved these people that no one else would love. He taught them how not just to die but how to live. He built buildings, schools, choirs, and bands. He brought music to them. By hand he built two thousand coffins so that when they died they could be buried with dignity. He transformed this leper colony. They loved him for it. But you know, he wasn’t very careful. He wouldn’t always wash his hands after he bandaged their wounds. When no one else would touch them, he would touch them. Sometimes he would even share his pipe. He would eat food from the same vats that they did. He wasn’t always careful. He used to preach to them and begin his message with the words, “We brethren.” Then one day he was pouring some scalding hot water and he poured part of it over his hand. He noticed that he didn’t feel the heat. He realized it was a classic sign of leprosy. He noticed as the days and weeks wore on that he was indeed showing more and more signs of leprosy. Those people on that island never forgot the day that he stood up and he didn’t begin his message with, “We Brethren.” He began his message with, “We Lepers.” He loved them so much that he became one of them.
It reminds me of God’s love for us. Here is God who is all powerful and all mighty and yet He loves us so much that He’s not aloof. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into our world to touch, to feel, and to take on the sins of the world in His death. He loved us so much that He became one of us. We lepers, the leprosy of sin, pain, and brokenness in our lives. He can heal it. He can provide forgiveness.
Some of you are here this morning and for some of you it may have been a long time since you’ve been in church. You walked in and may have thought the walls were going to come down. They didn’t. That’s okay. For some of you who are here it’s been a long time coming getting to this place. Just sort of open your heart to who God is. I want you to know that He loves you. He loves you so much that He came and lived among us. He became one of us to buy us back to God. That’s who He is. This morning He wants to do a great work in your life. The first step is to simply surrender your heart to Him. The first step is to just say, “God I believe in You. I’ve sinned and made a mess of some things that I have done in my life. I pray for Your forgiveness and for Your help.” He promises that if we confess our sins that He is faithful and just. He will forgive us. Listen, you can walk out of here today with a new lease on life. Do you hear me? You can walk out of here today having experienced a new beginning with a new start. You can be forgiven from your sins. What’s interesting as you look at sin in the Bible – the Bible talks more about what sin does to God than what it does to us. Not only does it mess our lives up but also it breaks God’s heart. He loves us and wants to be in a relationship with us. He‘s provided a way for us to be forgiven and cleansed. I want to give you an opportunity this morning – if you want to receive Christ as your Savior and Leader of your life, then bow your head and close your eyes. Repeat this prayer after me.