In his book, "Growing Deep in the Christian Life" Chuck Swindoll tells about a man who when into a fast food place and ordered a couple of chicken dinners. Somehow the person who waited on him grabbed the wrong bag for the order and when the guy got to his picnic and pulled out the dinners, he found $800 in the bottom of the bag. He drove back to the restaurant to return their money. The manager was so appreciative of the man’s honesty he said, "Let me call the newspaper. I’d like to get them to take a picture of you and your wife, and let everybody know what an honest couple look like." The man quickly refused and leaned close to the manager to whisper, "You don’t want to do that. This woman isn’t my wife. She’s married to somebody else!" A truly honest man would have been just as concerned about stealing the affection of another man’s wife as he was about taking money that wasn’t his.
But before we judge his hypocrisy too harshly, let’s look at ourselves. We’re all, to one degree or another, that kind of mixture of right and wrong, aren’t we? I’m not sure I’d want a camera crew following me around all day, everyday! Despite my best intentions, there would be moments that I would prefer to keep from being shared with the whole world because the gap between my ideals as a Christian and my actions would be apparent. That said, I aspire to authenticity, to being real, living the kind of life that needs no cover, that needs no excuses. How about you?
I am a big fan of authentic!
Authenticity creates value!
(Show Patriot jersey) The friends who gave this to me could have spent less money on an imitation, but they went for the authentic.
Authentic is costly. When I bought Bev her engagement ring so very long ago, I could have got a much bigger stone IF I had been willing to settle for a zirconia - a fake diamond. Most people would never have known the difference, but I always would have known that I bought an imitation and not the real thing. I bought her the best, little diamond I could afford at the time, and the emphasis is on ’little!’
Authenticity creates trust.
Integrity, that is a unity of person, is a basic quality of an authentic person. In our complex world finding a person who is the same - at home, at work, and at church is rare. Our former President is notorious for his ability to compartmentalize his life, in other words to live admirably in one area while being a low life in another! He was a man who I believe truly cared for the needy in our nation, but at the same time was capable of exploiting a young female intern in the White House for his own selfish pleasure. When his infidelity was revealed, it made us wonder what was real about the man, didn’t it? Politics aside, we just couldn’t be sure if we were seeing a carefully crafted public image or a real expression of Bill Clinton. But Clinton is not the first nor the last American politician to create a public image that served his own purposes of concealing a part of himself he did not want us to see.
Image replaces authenticity.
We live in a culture that is focused a great deal on ’image,’ on external appearances, don’t we? We want to wear the right fashion, drive the right car, send our kids to the right schools, to look good... for looking good is, in the minds of most people, no different from actually being good!
The challenge I’d like to present to you today is a call
to live counter-culturally,
to become a person who strives to be authentic,
to be the ’real deal.’
Text- Matthew 6:1-8; 16-18
The Message says, "Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it!"
The number one criticism of Christians, both fairly and unfairly, involves HYPOCRISY - the very opposite of AUTHENTICITY.
This results when we fail to live up to what we profess and won’t admit it. I don’t think most people expect Christians to live without mistakes or even inconsistencies. We are, after all, working out the implications of what we are taught by Jesus all the time. The accusation of hypocrisy arises when our pride stops us from admitting our sins and our mistakes. Believer, if we want the value and trust that comes from authenticity, then when our rhetoric is unmatched by the reality of our day to day actions, we must admit our inconsistency and commit ourselves to closing the gap!
Jesus wants those who follow Him to be AUTHENTIC, faithful and honest, in our relationship to God. That is underscored time and again in His teaching. He reserved his strongest condemnation, not for those who were outwardly the worst sinners, but for those who carefully hid their sins under outward pretense of goodness! He preferred to spend his ministry time with those who were honest about their spiritual need and he was attacked for it!
Matthew 9:9-13 As Jesus was going down the road, he saw Matthew sitting at his tax-collection booth. "Come, be my disciple," Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.
That night Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to be his dinner guests, along with his fellow tax collectors and many other notorious sinners. The Pharisees were indignant.
"Why does your teacher eat with such scum?" they asked his disciples.
When he heard this, Jesus replied, "Healthy people don’t need a doctor--sick people do." Then he added, "Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ’I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices.’
For I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough."
Jesus was amazingly direct when he addressed the Pharisees who made much of their external goodness and their image of respectability and righteousness. In fact, his words are cutting, harsh, and condemning! Read through the 23rd chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. In that chapter Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites, sons of hell, whitewashed tombs full of death, and snakes!
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Jesus was ’soft on sin!’ His intent was NEVER to excuse one sets of sin while denouncing another. He was concerned about the dishonesty of the tax collectors and the immorality of the prostitutes. He confronted them about the need to change their ways and extended the grace of God to them with the challenge of learning to live differently in the power of the Holy Spirit.
But Jesus was deeply offended by the attitude of the Pharisees who because they were careful to observe religious laws and personal morality, saw their own financial dishonesty, for example, as being merely ’shrewd.’ They despised the poor and the weak, believing that their plight was the result of God’s judgement! Jesus condemned them for their willingness to misuse their authority to oppress the poor, to exploit the weak; sins to which they were completely blind.
I am concerned that I might easily become a 21st century Pharisee!
What might Jesus say to those of us who are so careful about some things -
for example--we guard our sexual purity,
we wouldn’t think of robbing a bank.
we guard our speech against profanity - but at the same time, we are so often so little concerned with compassion and care?
What does He think of our disregard for plight of the poor of the world?
What does He think when we refuse to comprehend that even in 2005 our justice system is skewed heavily in favor of those who have wealth and influence?
What might Jesus to us about our claims to deep faith, even as we build ever bigger stores of wealth and resources to spend on ourselves?
These are not questions we can answer in a moment this morning. But they are questions that an authentic Christian will not side-step!
THINK - We have not necessarily reached the level of ’authentic Christianity’ just because we are socially acceptable even to our church friends.
Authentic faith reaches the core of our being, to our very values system.
We will not be living an authentic Christian life IF we are content to measure ourselves on the scales of comparison, nor can we be content that we have met the rules of our church or denomination!
An authentic Christian is a work in progress - always learning, always responding as the Lord leads him/her into a deeper place of devotion. It is intensely personal!
What is the catalyst for this growth?
Authenticity never flows from a need for the approval of other people. It must come from a heart deep desire to know and to please God!
Authenticity is accomplished in us by a combination of factors.
We must experience God’s grace. Through faith in Christ we are born anew, and a process of transformation of our person begins. We can never be authentically living in the image of God until His Spirit life gives us life!
Flowing from that desire there will come a lively conversation with the Holy Spirit.
"Lord, what are you asking of me today? Lord, speak, for I am listening!"
In Romans 8 Paul tells us that [13-15] ... if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father."
Believer, God, the Spirit, wants to guide you and me on an ADVENTURE, every day presenting us with new opportunities, steadily deepening our relationship.
We will also be engaged in the study of the Bible, the Word of God. Our study won’t just be about accumulating knowledge about the Bible as important as that might be. It will be about knowing the Bible well enough that God can use it to speak to us about Himself, His purposes, His plans.
James 1:22-25 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
To protect us against self-deception, God calls us into community. We are to live among other Believers, sharing our lives, our hearts, our thoughts, and our worship. From this regular interaction, we urge each other to greater devotion - or at least we should! Proverbs says that we ’sharpen each other!’ Hebrews 12:15 says- "Look after each other so that none of you will miss out on the special favor of God.’
Authenticity demands humility that allows us to admit our failures - to God and to others! That humility, the Bible says, is the doorway to re-creation! In 1 John 1:8-10 we find this great promise:
If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.
A Christianity that is authentic, that really effects our day to day lives, is not only God’s will for you and me.
It will make His church beautiful!
Believer, God’s desire for Washington Assembly is this kind of authenticity. Nothing we do, individually and as a church body, should be done to impress anyone, or because ’it is a good way to attract a crowd.’ I want us to be people who do everything solely for the glory of God - to the extent that imperfect human beings can live that way.
I am calling on each one of us to commit ourselves to an examined life that let’s the Spirit reveal our blind spots!
I am urging each on us who lead ministries in this church, to re-examine the motives of your ministry. Do you do what you do to lift up Jesus Christ, and to encourage those to whom you minister to be open to God’s great and exciting work in their lives? Ministry done for any other reason will be flawed.
Ex.- If I serve as your pastor because it is means of meeting my ego needs or to prove my personal worth or to build a resume’ I will corrupt God’s work in my own life and in this place. I am opening my heart to Him in new ways, asking Him to reveal any low motives, any programs or methods that are not Christ-centered. Would you do the same?
In 2006, I believe that God has set it in my heart to lead us, as a church, to AUTHENTIC Christianity!
It’s an adventure, not something to fear. Living real will certainly have the appearance of being messy, but the results will be beyond challenge, for lives will be transformed by the Spirit, the Word, and the Fellowship.
I want to close today with a story called the Velveteen Rabbit. It is a tale written nearly 100 years ago...
THERE was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink satin. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy’s stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming. ...
For a long time he lived in the toy cupboard or on the nursery floor, and no one thought very much about him. He was naturally shy, and being only made of velveteen, some of the more expensive toys quite snubbed him. The mechanical toys were very superior, and looked down upon every one else; they were full of modern ideas, and pretended they were real.
..Even Timothy, the jointed wooden lion, who was made by the disabled soldiers, and should have had broader views, put on airs and pretended he was connected with Government. Between them all the poor little Rabbit was made to feel himself very insignificant and commonplace, and the only person who was kind to him at all was the Skin Horse.
The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else.
For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn’t how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It’s a thing that happens to you.
When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn’t happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand."
Are you willing to let God put you to service in His work?
Are you willing to let yourself be worn, used, and - in the process - lose the pretensions that keep you from being an authentic Believer, loved and loving?
In that ’real-ness’ an indescribable beauty is released.
God make us real! Amen.
Copyright 2005 Jerry D. Scott
all rights reserved