no neutral ground

Why is community, why are relationships, so hard? You can replace the word ‘community’ with the following; school friendships, marriage, work place, church, sports teams, etc. In each of these relationships, community can be a challenge. Why is it that in high school, someone can say you are best friends and then a month later, that person takes an instragram picture of them around a fire put with their friends and you aren’t there. That hurts. Why is it that marriage can become very painful. It was cute when you dated them because they were always late, now 20 years later, you want a divorce over it. What happened? Church people, why is doing life with other church people a struggle, I thought church was supposed to be perfect. And sports teams? Oh my word. Is there a parent of a kid who is actually happy? Every parent demands their kid be striker or on the best travel team and if they aren’t what do they say, “It’s so political.” Actually, maybe their kid is isn’t good at all!

When you are deep in community, deep into marriage or deep into work relationships, it’s normally much more messy than you thought it would be. Because it’s messy, you can feel confused on what to do about it and it can feel defeating.

Jesus taught that there is a clear connection between the condition of our heart and what we do and say to others.

43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” NIV Luke 6:43-45

It’s in the context of community and relationships where we find out who we really are. You can attend a church and read the bible but only in community do you discover what is really on the inside. Community is hard because what is in our heart will come out in our behaviors and our mouth. If I have a bad heart, I will be completely self-focused and expect everyone around me to serve me. And the words that come out of my mouth are negative, critical and manipulative.   That’s how you know what is in your heart. How you treat others and what words come out of your mouth.

Before we go on, understand, how you behave and what comes out of your mouth is connected to your heart. Let’s jump right into what Jesus taught about communities and relationships.

27 “To you who are ready for the truth, I say this:

Jesus here is saying you might not like what I am about to say. I’m about to drop truth here and it might hurt a little. If you want truth, then listen, you’ll love what I’m about to say.

Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. 28 When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. 29 If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. 30 If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

31 “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! 32 If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. 33 If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. 34 If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.

35 “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never – I promise – regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. 36 Our Father is kind; you be kind.

37 “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults – unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. 38 Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back – given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.” MSG Luke 6:27-38

Jesus teaches that there are two ways to enter into the communities you live in. There are two ways to live in community. The one way is to how run-of-the-mill-sinners do it. They love the people who love them. They help only those who help them. They only give to others because they have expectations on what they will get back. This is how garden-variety sinners live in their communities. They are like stingy pawnbrokers.

This way of living in community, I would call toxic. It’s toxic because it may not kill you right away, but over time, it will kill every relationship and community you are in. It’s toxic because you are living out a bad heart. When we live out of your sinful nature, evil comes out. Our source for doing life comes from our dark side, our hurts and our wounds from that past. So we enter our relationships and community and do the least possible and have high expectations of others. It’s simply toxic. It’s godless, flavorless, everyone does it, every sinner lives like this.

An example of this would be when you go from dating to marriage. When you date, everything is easy. It’s fun, it’s relaxed and it can be sexy. Why? We have next to no stress in our lives and we are bringing our best to the relationship. What do you expect from the person you are dating? Nothing. You are just glad they instagramed a picture of you. Wow, they are perfect you think!

Then you get married. Over time, the stress of life builds and squeezes something out of us. You begin to struggle to give your best and you begin to expect more and more from your spouse. The relationship that used to be so life giving can become a toxic. Another way of saying it would be, tit-for-tat.

A quick time out here. Think about your friends. What comes out of their mouth? When you are with them, are they negative, critical and jump on people’s faults. The warning here is stay away from what is toxic or you will become toxic. You can be friends of course but be careful, their toxicity can influence you. As an example, have you been with other parents at a sporting event? I have. They can be the most negative people you ever met. Their kid is the best and should play the best spots and never be taken out of a game… right? If their kid is cut or second string… it’s political. Maybe the kid isn’t that good! Be careful with the people who are toxic around you.

Jesus said there is another way to enter into the communities of your life. It’s called ‘living out your God-created identity.’ This is completely different. You live out of God’s love for you. Your source of living is God’s love and grace and healing. You live out of a good heart. Here is what happens. You don’t pick on people. You don’t jump on people’s failures. You don’t criticize people’s faults. You are actually easy on people and you give your life away to serve others. This way of living is the opposite of toxic. It’s Godly. It’s gives. It heals. It brings life to others.

For comparison, a toxic marriage is filled with tit-for-tat living. I’ll do this if you do that. That is nothing more than cutting deals. A Godly marriage makes it easy on your spouse, you give your life to them and ask, “How can I make your day better?”

Why is community so hard? Because people are toxic. Toxic people mix with other toxic people and what happens? Together they pick on people, jump on people, criticize people. Every time, that toxic heart will do serious damage in the community. This is what happens at school, in every marriage, church, work place or sports team, etc.

So let’s get real. What do you bring to the communities you live in? How do you treat others, what words come out of your mouth?

In school, are you toxic or living out your God-created identity? Do you pick on people, jump on failures, criticize faults, live with expectations or do you give away your life? Do you as an upper classman make it easier on the freshman?

In your marriage, are you toxic or living out your God-created identity? Do you pick on your spouse, jump on failures criticize faults, live with expectations or do you go out of your way to make it easier for them? See, you can go to church, you can read your bible, but what is in your heart comes out.

Where you work, are you toxic or living out your God-created identity? Do you pick on people, jump on failures, criticize faults, live with expectations or do you give away your life?

In church, are you toxic or living out your God-created identity? Do you pick on people, jump on failures, criticize faults, live with expectations or do you give away your life?

Why are communities hard? Because people are toxic. They are living out of their bad heart. That means they are living out of sin and past hurts and wounds.

Paul said it like this.

1b Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. 2 But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done. MSG Romans 2:1b-2

When you are toxic, you criticize, and every time you do that, it should be a red flag to you. Your toxic nature is exposing that you have heart issues that you refuse to deal with. It simply means you don’t have enough spiritual health to give your life away.

What do we do? Jesus continues in Luke and says.

41 “It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. 42 Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this I-know-better-than-you mentality again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your own part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor. MSG Luke 6:41-42

If you are toxic, you have heart work to do. Wipe the ugly sneer off your face, quit judging, picking, criticizing and condemning people, make it easy on them.

Let me ask you: are you toxic? Do you have enough spiritual health to live out your God-created identity?

What would your spouse say?

What would the kids at school say?

What would people at your work site or church say?

What would other parents on your kids sports team say?

Are you toxic or do you make life easier for others?