But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. (James 1: 22-25 NLT)
I talk too much. If you talk to the people who know me best, they’ll tell you it’s true. Once I get past that initial opening, shy, “I don’t know you” phase. I’ll probably talk your ear off. My boss will probably tell you that every once in awhile I talk a little too much and don’t work quite enough, especially if someone gets me going on something I’m really interested in like history, politics, religion, soccer, or video games. My family will certainly stand by this assertion as well.
I think we as a society largely suffer from this disease where our mouths doth overfloweth. We’ve got Twitter, Facebook, blogs, podcasts, Youtube, and all kinds of other ways to make sure we get our two cents worth in. I’m not necessarily saying that it’s a bad thing, it just is what it is. Some people use these things constructively, some people don’t.
We Christians are masters at getting our two cents in, aren’t we? I mean, sure you’ll hear people complaining Christians here in the US are being “persecuted,” and if you want to make the argument that the influence of Christianity is probably lower now than at any other point in American history, I wouldn’t argue with you. Let’s face it though. Christians (most of them white, male, Christians) still hold the vast majority of the positions of power in the United States, and so called Christian interest groups still have an enormous say in our political process.
If you go on social media and look at posts about controversial topics like marriage equality, abortion, or this latest argument over protesting the national anthem, chances are it won’t take you long to find a Christian injecting their opinion (which we usually believe is God’s opinion) into the mix. Again, I’m not saying that this is bad, I mean that’s exactly what I’m doing here, but did you ever get the sense that other people are getting tired of listening to us?
I have a lot of friends that either aren’t Christians or that are flat out atheists. One of their chief complaints about Christians to me is that we don’t actually DO much. Now, it’s natural that we get defensive hear, right? A lot of us actually do some pretty neat things. Yesterday our church in Ogden, Utah, worked with an organization called “Stop Hunger Now” to package 20,088 meals for poor people, many of them children, in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Cambodia. That was awesome, and many churches and Christian groups participate in things like that, and we often don’t get credit for it because, like Jesus, we don’t seek credit for it.
But I have news for you, when you look at the big picture, our critics have more than a grain of truth to their criticism. You see, sometimes we Christians look down at these folks and think they don’t know anything about the Bible or about Jesus. We’re often wrong there. They’re not stupid. They know Jesus talked extensively about standing with the poor, the oppressed, the orphans, the widows, and the immigrants. They know that in the Old Testament God commands his people (on multiple occasions) to leave the edges of their fields unharvested so that poor people and immigrants can come through and have something to eat. Yes, it’s there, take a gander at Leviticus 23:22 to start. (And you thought Leviticus just talked about gay people and tattoos!) In his book “Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things The Bible Doesn’t say,” Pastor Adam Hamilton talks about some other things the Bible mentions. In James 1, just below the verses I cited above, James, the brother of Jesus, tells us that true devotion is to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties (James 1:27). In different parables, Jesus tells us that he will not only judge us on our faith, but also on if that faith moves us to compassion (Matthew 25, Luke 10). Paul says in Galatians 5:6 that our faith should move our hearts to action–faith working through love.
People who aren’t Christians look at us, and you know what? They don’t see a lot of that going on. Sure, we’re more than willing to go out into the streets and scream and holler about homosexuality, abortion, and other things that some of us view as these moral hills that we somehow have to die on, but they don’t see our actions even reflecting our basic moral principles. How can Christians rant about the sanctity of marriage when we shrug our shoulders at the divorce rate and when the candidate for President that seems to be this year’s evangelically ordained gift from God has been divorced multiple times and had mistresses? Remember Kim Davis who took the Bible so literally on marriage that she went to jail for refusing to issue same sex marriage licenses? Yeah, divorced multiple times, yet she is hailed as a new paragon of morality and a lion of the faith.
Now look, I’m not judging people who get divorced. There are some perfectly valid reasons why a marriage should probably end. I should know, because I’m going through it so I have no room to talk, but you don’t see me throwing shade around about the sanctity of marriage either. But can we see how all of this seems like throwing stones from a house of glass?
The other thing is, people don’t see us out and about performing these basic tenants of our faith. We talk a good game sometimes about knowing the Bible and wanting to do God’s will and keep his commandments, but when do you see Christians hitting the streets to protest the way poor people are treated in this country? How often do you see Christians coming out against the way medical insurance works in this country? You have people who go out and work for a living who’s employers will not give them health coverage and who pray that they don’t get really sick. How are we not out against that? Now, you do sometimes see some Christians out and about during some of this racial unrest. Many Christians leaders were out in the streets of Ferguson last year trying to keep the peace, pray, and deliver supplies like food and toilet paper to the homes of people who lived in areas shut down by the police during the unrest. You also saw Christians and Christian leaders out afterward working to repair the community both physically and emotionally. However, those were largely local churches. For the most part, the church on the national level kind of sat on our hands and offered the platitude of “thoughts and prayers.”
People are done listening to us. They’ve heard the Message, they’ve heard all the cute little things we say and the way we tend to make Christianity into some marketable entity, but talk is cheap when they don’t see it lived out. As Gandhi was quoted as saying “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
In his letter James is quite concerned with Christians who don’t back up their faith by living it out with their hands and feet, not just their ears and mouth. Some folks believe he is writing against Paul here and advocating salvation through works. Now I don’t see it that way at all. The point he is making is “what practical use is your faith if you don’t act on it,” or “I’ll show you the power of my faith through what I have done. How will you show me yours?”
He cautions against hearing and not doing. In the verses above he says that if you hear the word and don’t act on it, then you’re like a person who looks in the mirror and then walks away and forgets what he looks like. What use is the mirror at that point?
Petra, my favorite Christian band ever, had a song about this called “Seen and Not Heard.” It’s a great tune, and I’ll put Bob Hartman’s guitar riffs up there with anyone’s. I’m going to post the video here. Listen to the lyrics, they sum it up pretty well. Then maybe think about how you can be “Seen and Not Heard.”
Also, enjoy the 90s hair and the Keytar!