X-TRIALS: TAKIN’ LIFE TO THE X-TREME
September 9, 2001
Several days ago, I received the following letter that I want to share with you:
I just wanted to write you a quick letter letting you know that I visited your church this past Saturday evening for the 5:00 pm service and was very impressed. I appreciate your creativity and willingness to go the extra mile in your ministry. Although I already knew of the church from reputation and your Internet broadcast, it was a wonderful experience to visit. Let me say that as a staff member of another large church, I was watching your workers closely to see how they handled the crowd and really made the church warm. Allow me to say to them that they were the best I have ever seen. From the parking team to the information booth, I was very impressed with your staff and volunteers. The music was fantastic, the people very friendly and the message was very inspirational. Again, I want to say how glad I was to be a part of your service and may God continue to bless you and the church he has given you to lead. If all works out, I hope to come in January to your conference and learn more about your assimilation process.
God bless you and your family.
I thought that was a pretty cool letter because I agree with this pastor. I agree because, of all the churches I have been in contact with, I have never seen a church as warm and as friendly as Fellowship. It thrills my heart to see how we treat people with love and with honor no matter what they look like, no matter what their skin color happens to be, no matter where they live, who they are and so forth. So I want to give you a big round of applause. Don’t you clap. Let me clap for you because you are doing a great job. Fellowship Church is a friendly church. I hear it all the time, over and over again, and we do not for the most part show favoritism.
Today, I am talking about something called “flavoritism.” James, the book we have been studying lately, talks direct to you and me about this interesting and fascinating subject.
Years ago, when my kids were smaller, if they would kind of start acting up, I had this song I would sing. When I did this song, it would cue them in to straighten up. I stole the beat from a group called “Queen.” I changed the words and here is what I would do. Let’s say the kids were acting up several years ago and I would do this, “Bomp, bomp, bomp! I’m gonna gonna tan some hide! Bomp, Bomp, Bomp!” When they heard that, let me tell you something, it would snap their heads. They would go, “Okay, that is serious. He might tan my hide.” All I had to do was, “Bomp, bomp, bomp!” and that was it.
When it comes to developing an authentic faith, when it comes to flavoritism or discrimination or favoritism, I can almost hear James humming that same beat. Because I am going to warn you today, in James chapter two, verses 1-13, James is going to tan our hides. We all, let’s just be quite honest with ourselves, we all carry around in our minds, I am talking about deep in our data base, a little list of people we like to hang out with and those we don’t like to hang out with. The desirables and the not-so-desirables. I am talking about the counts and the no-counts.
Some of us here would rather hang out and rub shoulders with the rich than the poor. Some of the white-collar people look down their noses at blue-collar people and amazingly some of the blue-collar people here look down their noses at white-collar people. I know some who have gone pretty far down the academic trail, and they don’t like to associate with those who are not on their intellectual or academic level. Some of us, if we are really candid, would rather hang out with thin people than those who are a little bit heavier. Some would like to hang out with athletes versus non-athletes. We all have that little list, don’t we? We rarely click on it, but it’s there deep within the database of our mind and heart.
James says, that’s a joke. James says that attitude is a sin. James says that it will not work. It will not honor God and it will not help us to become mature and authentic as believers.
So I want to talk to you about what James says, because James is going to tan our hides. Get ready, hold on to your theater seats, because here we go.
James, chapter two, verse one, here is what he says, “My brothers.” Now whenever James starts out with terms of endearment, you better watch out. He is going to pop us. “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” Is anything fuzzy so far? Does anyone in here need for me to repeat this? I mean, that is it, isn’t it? It’s right there. “Don’t show favoritism.” Don’t discriminate. Don’t do it. Don’t go there.
Here is the little hypothetical he gives us. James says, “Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes.” This word clothes in the original language is pronounced, “Versace.” Seriously though, back in biblical times, the rich wore very ostentatious and outlandish garments. For example, most people would wear a ring on every finger but their middle fingers and they would wear these toga type garments with the jewels actually sewn into the fabric. So, when they walked into your church or your meeting place, everyone could go, “Wow, this guy, or this girl is loaded. They have got some serious jack, some scratch, some coin.”
So James says, “Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes,” maybe he is prancing around in his Prada shoes, “and a poor man shabby clothes also comes in.” This phrase, shabby clothes, means “hand me downs.” You can kind of spot them. Verse three, “If you show special attention,” maybe he is talking to the ushers or the parking crew back there, I don’t know. This word “special attention” means to take at face value. It means just to look at the external. James says, if you do that, you have messed up. Look at verse 4, “Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” James says that favoritism is wrong. Favoritism is a sin. Discrimination is wrong. Discrimination is a sin. It should never happen, especially within the body of Christ, especially within the church. Pretty straightforward stuff.
Sometimes when I walk into a restaurant, I love to see those signs that read, “Warning: You have just entered a smoke-free environment.” I love that. I think churches ought to put above their doors: “Warning: You have just entered a snob-free environment.” Don’t you? I am very sensitive to this subject because of two reasons.
Number one, I am sensitive to favoritism because I moved around a lot as a child. I moved from Irwin, NC to Canton, NC. From Canton, NC, to Greenville, SC. From Greenville, SC to Columbia, SC. From Columbia, SC, to Houston, TX. From Houston, TX to Tallahassee, FL. From Tallahassee, FL, back to Houston. From Houston now to Dallas. I have moved around a lot. I am extremely sensitive to people who are coming in who are brand new, who don’t understand the deal, who have not met this group or that group. One of the things I love about you guys, one of the things I love about Fellowship Church, is the fact that we are very inclusive. We warmly welcome those who show up here. We must keep this value. It’s a biblical value. I, for one as a Christian, and I know God does, hate discrimination, and I hate it when people show favoritism. That is horrible. It will not work. It does not work in God’s economy and it should not work in our economy because we know and love him. Here we make all these judgments and all these decisions because of where someone lives, or what they drive, or what they look like, etc. We can’t do that.
James says something pretty basic here. I am going to talk about three things he tells us to do concerning favoritism.
Number one, James says, do life from the inside out. He says that because most of us do life from the outside in, don’t we? Everything is from the outside. Everything is external. Everything is showcase stuff. James says we have it wrong. It’s from the inside out. My wife and I have met many people over the last several years and we could parade several couples up here. If you saw these couples, some of you would go, “Oh, look at him. He is drop dead gorgeous.” The guys would go, “Look at her. Wow!” But if you let them talk for a while, if you got to know these people for a while, you would be shocked.
Singles, tell me, I am sure you have never fallen into the trap of accepting people or wanting to date someone just because of an appearance thing, have you? Surely not. We have got to be attracted to the opposite sex, those we are thinking about dating and marrying, but that cannot be the main thing. It must be from the inside out.
There is a story in the Old Testament of a man named Samuel. Many of you know the story of Samuel. One day God asked Samuel to go and anoint the future king of Israel. Now, during the Old Testament times, for Israel, this was big time stuff. Samuel went to the house of Jesse. Jesse had all these sons. One of the sons that Jesse had was named Eliad. Eliad was a huge man. He was ripped, buff, handsome, great IQ, captivating speaker. I am sure when Samuel saw him, he said, “Oh, God, this is the man. Lord, I know this is the next king of Israel.” You know what God said? God said, “Samuel, no, no, no. You are looking from the outside in. You have got to look from the inside out.” Ultimately, who did Samuel anoint? He anointed that redheaded, freckle-faced, David, the greatest king in the history of Israel.
Let me read that account to you, 1 Samuel 16:7. Here is what God told Samuel. He said, “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” I have listed four criteria that most of us use in order to judge people and these are wrong. This is looking from the outside in and James is saying to do it from the inside out.
Sometimes we concentrate on what? Achievements. We will judge people here in this area just because of what they achieved, what they do professionally, their title, how much money they have made. Also, we do the appearance thing too, don’t we? Judging people just by the way they look. If you have that certain physique, that certain hair color, that certain this or that, then you are accepted. You are cool. You must be great, vogue and hip and all of that. We also do it through ancestry. We make all these big decisions based on six pounds of epidermis. That’s how much our skin weighs. We kill people, bomb people, knife people, reject people just because their pigmentation is a little bit different color than ours is, just because their hair texture is different. That is sad.
Another reason, and I mentioned it earlier, that I am sensitive to this subject because I have spent a lot time with African-Americans. I told you one of the reasons I am sensitive is because I moved around a lot. But also, this racial thing, I know a lot of African-Americans very well. I played basketball for the first twenty-two years of my life, and, as you know, African-Americans dominate that sport. Some of my best friends are African-Americans and I have seen up close and personal the racism that has occurred in their lives. People looked down on them because of six pounds of epidermis. That’s wrong. It breaks God’s heart. It is funny to think about racism because most of us learn racism from our families. Our families pass it down to us. Normally, when they pass it down to us, it intensifies.
Another place we learn racism, if you do your research, is when we are junior high and high school students. Because when you are a junior high or high school student, many times you will do anything to be accepted by the group, by the click, by the club, by the team or whatever it is. Oftentimes, you have to totally turn your back and ridicule people who look different than you, just to fit in. That’s where it begins. We have got to root it out and call it what it is. It’s a sin before God.
So, yes, achievement is one of them. Appearance is one of them. Ancestry is one of them. Also, this next one you will see, age is how we discriminate. We discriminate and reject people because of their age. “Oh, you are too young. You are too old.” I see people getting fired, released from their job because they are forty-five or fifty-five. That is probably when you reach your ultimate potential. The airlines have this crazy rule that you cannot be a pilot once you reach sixty years of age. How stupid is that? I don’t know about you, but I want somebody about sixty flying me around. I don’t want some young guy in the cockpit saying, “Let’s take a risk.”
Reverse age discrimination is also a problem. When I became Pastor of Fellowship Church, I was twenty-eight years of age. I would go to these conferences and pastors would come up to me and go, “Okay, you are youth minister of where?” I said, “No, I am the Senior Pastor at Fellowship Church.” “Are you shaving yet?”
Paul told Timothy not to worry about his age, just in his mind. But we discriminate against people who matter to God because of these things. We must do life from the inside out. That is very important.
James says we should do something else, the second thing, we should do life upside down as well. If we do life inside out, you better do life upside down as well. Again, I am very sensitive to this subject because I moved around a lot and I have seen racism and I have seen what clicks and clubs and this and that can do. It’s bad. Upside down.
Jesus talked about an upside down kingdom throughout the Bible, didn’t he? I was thinking about that this week as I was praying over this message. Think about what Jesus said. You might want to write this down. He said that servants will become leaders. The simple will become wise. If you are weak, you are strong and the poor will be rich. Upside down, an inverted situation.
Let’s go back to our boy, James. James 2:5-7. He has already told them don’t discriminate. He has already told them when a rich man comes in, you just freak out and give him the front row seats. The poor man you forget about and tell him to sit in the back somewhere. Now look what he does. He says, “Listen, my dear brothers.” Now he is going to really slam them. It’s not just brothers, it’s dear brothers. In some translations, it says, “My beloved brethren.” Oh, boy. You can tell James is getting angry at this sin of favoritism. He hates it. We can learn something here. There is a relationship between love and hate. We should love the sinner but hate the sin in his or her life. We must do that. That is what Jesus did.
Speaking of love and hate, I think it was this past Wednesday, my seven-year old daughter, Landra, one of the twins, got into a brief skirmish with our oldest, LeeBeth, who is fifteen years of age. Yes, we even have skirmishes around the Young household. I know it’s hard to believe. Pastors are not perfect and their families are not perfect. Anyway, at this brief little quarrel, Landra, our seven year old, wrote LeeBeth a note and put the note on top of her plate right before dinner. I intercepted the note and wrote down what Landra wrote to her. Here is what she wrote to her fifteen year old sister after the fight. Are you ready? “Dear LeeBeth, I hate you. Love, Landra.” I told you there is that relationship between love and hate. Maybe, just maybe, in Landra’s seven year old brain, she was hating the sin in LeeBeth’s life while she was loving her at the same time. I am not sure.
That’s a good thing to remember. When you get angry with someone, don’t get angry at them, get angry at the sin and love the sinner.
“Listen my dear brothers,” James says, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” God made, right here, an upside down decision. God chose the poor. James is saying that they have not done that. They have chosen the rich. The Gospel offered so much to the poor. Yet, it demanded so much of the rich.
Don’t read this text, if you are rich, and say, “Well, James is slamming me for having a lot of stuff.” He never slammed anyone for being rich. He is slamming the people as they react and salivate and stumble and bumble all over themselves just to hang out with the rich. He is after favoritism and discrimination. It doesn’t matter what people have and don’t have, we should love them in the Lord.
Now check out what he says. I am not going to read all of it. In James two, it keeps going. Here are the rich, James says, they are dragging you into court. Then he says in verse seven, they are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong. They are slandering the name.
The word “Christian” dates back to a city called Antioch. Christians were first called Christians there in Antioch. When they were called Christians, it was a slam. It was not a good thing to be called a Christian. They were like abusing Christians. James is saying these rich people are taking the name of Jesus and trashing it, something that as believers we cannot stand for.
It is kind of funny. You know, people curse all the time. I have never, though, heard a person say this, “Oh, Muhammad. Buddha!” I have never heard anyone say that. It’s always “Jesus Christ.” They are asking God to damn something. You know why they say Jesus Christ to God? Because Jesus is the way, the truth and life. He is the ultimate. It’s funny. It’s in our nature, if we are away from God, to blasphemy his name.
Look at verse eight. Now, James is saying, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture.” What’s the royal law? It’s very easy. Love your neighbor, everybody has heard it, as yourself. You might have heard it, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” James says if you are doing that, you are doing right. It’s almost like James is saying, “Now, wait a minute, guys. I can already hear what you are going to say. I’ve gotten on to you about the rich, the way you treat them and now you are going to tell me that you are just loving them because they are your neighbor? Well, they are your neighbor and so are the poor. Love them all.” Love thy neighbor as thyself. The Bible never tells us to love ourselves. It’s not in there. God knew that we would do that naturally. We just love ourselves. We just take care of ourselves.
The Bible does say, the royal law means to love your neighbor as yourself. Why is it called the royal law? It’s called the royal law first of all, because of its lineage. God gave it. Jesus, his son, who is fully God and fully man, highlighted it. The Holy Spirit in our lives inspires us to do it, to love others. It’s also called the royal law because it is the leader of all the other laws. Think about that. It is the law. If we just obeyed “love thy neighbor as ourself,” we wouldn’t have to have all these other laws out there. There would be no envy or lust, or materialism or anger out there, if we just did the basic stuff.
Another reason it is called the royal law is because, when I obey it and you obey it as well, we will live like royalty. I am talking about crowns on our heads. We will live like royalty, like kings, queens, princes, and princesses. Isn’t that a cool thing? Love thy neighbor as thyself.
One time, my brother was speaking at a conference. After the conference, this guy walked up to him with kind of a pious look, and said, “Ben, I have heard you speak several times and I just did not think it was quite deep enough.” Ben said, “Really? Not quite deep enough?” The guy said, “Yes.” Ben said, “Well, I don’t know about you but I am still working on love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Don’t ever give God or any other leader the deep stuff, unless you are applying what you already know in Scripture. John Wimber, a great pastor who passed away several years ago, lived in California. He had a great ministry out there. One time, someone approached him and said, “Dr. Wimber, I just want a deep Bible study. I want to really get into the word.” Dr. Wimber said, “Really? You want to get into the Word?” The guy said, “Yes, I do, Dr. Wimber.” Dr. Wimber said, “Okay, what I want you to do tonight is I want you to go to Sunset Strip at about midnight, and I want you to pick up a drunk, someone who is totally high, and let them throw up on you. You invite them in, let them spend the night with you and begin to disciple them. The meat is in the street.”
So don’t ever sit there and say you want deeper stuff or deeper this or that unless you are applying what the Bible says. James says on page after page that it’s great to know it. That is a beautiful thing. We have got to know it. But, the key to Christian maturity is in the application. The meat is in the street. Most of us do not need another Bible Study. You know what we need? A place for ministry. Love your neighbor as yourself. If I just applied that one, I would be way ahead of the game. How about you? I told you it was going to be tough. James doesn’t mess around.
I bet most of you are saying, “I wish this was a really complex book like the book of Revelation.” Look at verse 9. James says again, “but if you show favoritism, you sin.” There it is again. You are just sinning. He says the sin of favoritism is not a small thing. Because some say, “Well, surely favoritism is kind of a small thing, a minor thing.” Sin is sin. Yes, there are sins that you could commit that have greater consequences. Yet sin is sin. Every time we sin, and every time we show favoritism and discriminate, we are making a mockery of God’s creative genius. I should accept someone who is outside the family of God. Why? Because Jesus died for that person. I should accept someone in the family of God. Why? Because Christ is living inside their lives. Every person we lock eyes with matters to God. If they don’t matter to you, then I have got to wonder if you really know Christ personally. Every single person we lock eyes with matters to God.
I hope we are tracking now. We have got to do life from the inside out, and also upside down. James says if we do life inside out, upside down, we will live right side up. A lot of us are not living right side up, James says. Now James is going to talk about a subject we all love, accountability. He is going to talk about judgment.
Look at verse 12, James chapter 2, living right side up. James says, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom.” What does it mean to speak and act? That means our talk and our walk must coalesce. All this knowledge stuff is cool, but unless we apply it, it is just junk. We have got to do the stuff. That’s Christianity. That’s an authentic faith. That’s depth. That’s maturity, doing the stuff. Now James says you are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom. There is that paradoxical kind of deal now, a law giving freedom? We are going to be judged?
“Ed, I have got a question. I am a believer. You have preached and taught many times, over the last eleven years here at Fellowship, that once I am a believer that my sins are forgiven and forgotten. You mean to tell me I am going to be judged for my sins? I am a Christian.” No. I am not going to be judged and you are not going to be judged, either, for our sin. We are, though, going to be held accountable and be judged for our words and our works. God floats people by our lives day in and day out, people from different cultures, different backgrounds, new people, old people, people who look one way or another way. He wants to see how we treat them. Do we treat them like Jesus treated them? God says that one day you are going to be held accountable for it. One day you are going to lock eyes with God and He is going to see how we actually treated those people. Jesus said, “If you did it to the least of these, you have done it unto me.”
Look at Hebrews 10:16 (Living Bible), “I will write my laws into their hearts and minds so that they will always know my will, and I will put my laws in their hearts so that they will want to obey them.”
Back in the Old Testament times, a lot of the Jewish people just obeyed God because of fear. “God might whack me. He might nuke me.” Under the new covenant, when Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose again, the New Testament, the new covenant, we have a new deal now, the ultimate deal. We obey now because of love. We honor God and live a pure lifestyle because of love.
Remember last weekend, I talked about all the requirements God gives us? Like he says in Ephesians 5, “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church.” Man, is that something else, guys? We can’t do that naturally. We can’t do that away from God, loving our wives like Christ loved the church. Once we bow the knee to Christ, once the Holy Spirit infiltrates our lives, he works from the inside out to make that occur. He gives us the desires to do what God requires and we can do that. That’s true in every realm of the Christian life. It’s a God thing. We must acquiesce to him. We must defer to him. We must follow his leadings and follow his word. Once we do that, we are on our way. Then when we face God one day, we can say, “You know what, God? With my words and with my works, I honored you to the best of my ability empowered by your grace and mercy.”
Look what James says in James 2:13, “Because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.” That means if I put down others all my life, and I am always ridiculing others, thumbing my nose at others, God is going to do the same thing to me when I lock eyes with him, when he makes me give an account for my words and my works. That’s a heavy burden. What a great responsibility and accountability we carry for being Christ-followers.
The last line in verse 13 says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” I like that.
Hope we are tracking now. One more time, do life from the inside out, upside down, right side up. So if we say, “God, I am ready to do this. I am ready to make this decision.” What happens? What must we do?
We must do several things. Number one, we must allow the Scriptures to be our standard. From this day forward we have got to say, “God, I resolve to make the scriptures my standard. I am going to operate from a biblical mandate here. Not from what I feel like, or what the world tells me to do, or what the culture tells me to do. I am going to do what you tell me to do.”
Romans 2:11, “For God does not show favoritism.” He doesn’t do it. It is pure and simple. God doesn’t. If he is in our lives, we should not show favoritism either. We need to treat people the way the Bible says to treat them. The Bible says we have never met a person who does not matter to God.
If we are going to do that, the Scripture is our standard, also love has to be our law. The essence of Christianity is love. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world.” Romans 15:7, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” That is a cool verse. We are to love people. I am to love people. I am to love you because God loves me. God has accepted me, warts and all, shortcomings and all. He has accepted you too. So we should accept others.
We confuse acceptance with approval. We mistakenly think, “If I accept this person, that means I approve of their lifestyle.” No, it doesn’t. It goes back to Landra’s letter to LeeBeth. We are to do what? We are to hate the sin and love the sinner. Don’t confuse acceptance with approval.
This is the great value of Fellowship Church, we don’t expect believers to act, dress, walk and talk like believers until they become believers. We don’t expect that. So chillax on that one. That is a new word, chillax. See what you learn here? It’s chilling and relaxing combined. Just chillax on that one. When you see people, do you look at their past and not their future? We mess up when we do that. We show favoritism when we say, “Oh, I can’t believe what he used to do. I can’t believe what she was involveled with.” Jesus never did that.
Look at people’s future, what they can become. When Jesus saw Matthew, he saw a great disciple. He saw someone who would sell a best-selling book that would bear his name. When Jesus saw Simon Peter, this stumbling, fumbling, foulmouthed commercial fisherman, what did he say to him? “Peter, you are the rock.” I’m sure Peter thought, “Oh, my goodness, the rock. What a joke.” Well, Peter ended up being, as we very well know, one of the great Christians of all time. So love has got to be our law, the supernatural love that only comes from Jesus.
Finally, mercy must be our message. We talked about mercy. Once we have been ambushed and assaulted by the mercy of God, we will be merciful. The Bible says in Luke, Chapter six, “be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” Mercy is huge. It’s big. How merciful are you with your children? How merciful are you around the office? How merciful are you with those you come in contact with everyday. Because, as believers, our lives are an open book. People are reading and looking and they are seeing if it is real or not. Does our walk and talk coalesce or not? Bomp, bomp, bomp! I’m gonna gonna tan some hide.
Just studying this stuff has already tanned my hide this week. I pray it has tanned yours. I pray that Fellowship Church continues to be a church that does not show favoritism. I pray that we live this value out because, when we do, we will draw people to us, to the love of Jesus.