Today we are going to talk about what it means to bring integrity into your relationships with others, so we are talking today about bringing God into our relationships or our dealings with people in this world. And I am just going to start by telling you something, that I know is true but wish at times that it wasn’t true and it’s this…the world, and the people of it really don’t like you standing as who you were created to be. Integrity, God principles applied into your life and your actions will mean that you look pretty odd to people in this world with no integrity, and no sense or priority for God. I’m not sure there is anything more challenging than trying to be a man or woman of God, with character, and principles, and priorities, and boundaries, and honesty in a world that doesn’t necessarily share those convictions. I’m going to tell you something right here on the front end of this talk today that to be very honest with you frustrates me, and on my worst days hurts my heart. When you stand as the person God created you to be, the world and its people will stand against you. Listen, being a person of integrity (meaning you are the same person in every aspect of your life) won’t always allow you to fit in well with our culture and it won’t always endear you to the people around you. In fact, in many ways everything around you will probably continue to push against you being or standing up as a man or woman of God in all aspects of your life. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a moment and look at just a few areas of life.
We could start by picking up our smartphones and heading to social media. Think about this, are you seeing a lot of real moments out there on Instagram and Facebook? I think everything in this social media world is sending us a message. It is teaching us that what we look like matters much more than who we actually are…which would be the opposite of what God says.
How about we head into the school system with our children and take a look around. Do you see a lot of children in there being celebrated for being different? No we see a lot of kids wearing the same clothes, using the same language, with the same haircuts. I often wonder who decides what is cool in the schools. I mean someone when I was in school decided we should all cuff our jeans at the bottom and wear two different color Chuck Taylor sneakers, and the girls of my time were taught the bigger the bangs the better right? So all of these young people are learning, fit in…conform…even though God created them all different, the world says just be like everyone else.
How about we all go to work for a moment…sorry I know your trying not to think about Monday morning right now, but indulge me for a moment. When you head out into the work place are you celebrated for your faith? I can tell you from my time in the Construction Industry that was a very challenging work culture and environment whether in the field or in the office and I’m sure your work isn’t much different there but it’s a similar message right? Just be like everyone else.
It’s amazing but in every environment we move in and out of(outside of church on Sunday) we seem to have people and this world and culture really pushing in on us…and if you are a person of integrity odds are you can confuse people at times with this crazy thing called honesty. You can unsettle people by not joining in on the complaints of your supervisors, or taking the proper time for your breaks, or not cussing like a sailor, or bagging on your spouse. You make them uncomfortable because it’s so different. I often say it’s like the world is going one way, which creates this current or momentum flowing with it…which is interesting but the challenge becomes this…God’s way of living is the opposite, we have to be careful that as we walk against this current or momentum, that we don’t get swept downstream with everyone else. And really as we talk today about bringing God into our relationships and friendships today that is what I want to talk about and I want to do that by showing you somethings Jesus said and did that can help us avoid this pull or momentum of our culture today. The world goes one way, and God asks us to live another.
Listen life with people is messy and challenging. Standing with integrity as the person God created you to be is hard to do in a world that is pushing the opposite direction, but it’s so important and I will tell you why. It’s because there is true freedom when you can stand up as the person God created you to be, and break free from the bonds, traps, conformity of this culture we live in today. So let’s get rolling by looking at Jesus’ words here, where we learn the two most important things Jesus says we can do.
Matthew 22:334 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” NIV
I really enjoy taking people to this particular moment, because Jesus is taking all the complexities and nuance of a very complicated Law Code that the church goer’s of this time were required to follow and he was really lowering the bar on religion while raising it on love. I think this is an awesome moment, and one we talk about a lot here at MRC but I want you to think this through. I know so many people who don’t or won’t attend church because of how hurtful the people inside the church building are…which is so heart breaking…and a huge set up right? I mean first people inside the church are simply people who know they need Jesus and hopefully acknowledging the fact that they imperfect sinners in need of a Savior, so there is that. But another tragedy in this is that the person hurt didn’t just quit on church but probably quit on God because of this set up. We exist to help people find Christ not push them away! And I think part of the reason people struggle with church people is the set up I just spoke of…kind of setting up the person who says they are Christian as perfect, which they are not…which would give someone an excuse to leave the church and to keep living life exactly as they want, but the other part would be that for a lot of Christians, we seem to do the loving God thing, while not understanding that the loving people thing is a big deal too. If we can’t love others well it’s a reflection of our relationship with God. Jesus is tying these two things together, here saying everything else hangs from these two pegs. When we experience a breakdown in our relationship with God, we will also experience a breakdown in our relationships with people. The connection between these two things is unbreakable. This is why I often tell you if you are struggling to love others, just keep loving God, and eventually you can’t help but love others well.
Jesus also tied our ability to love others to our ability to really show Him to a world full of people who need to know Him as we know Him! In fact this love for others is how we show the world that we actually are His disciples which is something we like to claim to be right?
John 13:35 “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” NLT
So I wanted to establish somethings here as we were getting rolling today. I wanted you to see the challenges of standing up and being a man or woman of God in the world we live in today. Between the people and the culture we seem to be trying to walk upstream, literally walking against the momentum of the entire world which can be a little overwhelming at times. But I also wanted to establish something that Jesus shared there. That everything in our faith starts with two things, loving God and loving others. Jesus literally tells us that these two things are the pegs that the rest of our faith hangs from and on top of that, we really can’t do one without the other and vice versa.
So I want to go back to and hang out in this imagery of the current, or momentum of this stream that we call life flowing one way while God instructs us to walk the opposite. Have you ever tried to wade up a stream or a creek? Depending on the depth of the water it’s not really all that easy. In many ways it can be tiring, and it would seem a lot easier to just turn and go with the flow right? Well I think that is the perfect imagery for what we deal with in life. Standing as the person God created you to be is so freeing, it’s so rewarding, and it allows us to really embrace that life to the full thing that Jesus told us he came to provide for us…but we have to stay focused, to not get distracted enough to get caught in the momentum of the current which pulls us the other way. We have to stay close enough to God so that we do not grow weary enough to give up and simply turn and flow with the momentum of culture or this world. We have to be careful not to get caught up in all that is happening around us so that we can continue to walk upstream. I want you to see this imagery. Think about it. We talked about social media, we could talk about TV, music, everything culturally. We talked about work and school. Everything in this world is pushing you to live a certain way, everyone around you is pushing you to live the way they are…and the worst part is, at times if we can’t stay focused on God, we can look around and feel like those going downstream have the better life, or at the very least an easier life!
Do you see the imagery? Life, people, culture with all of this momentum flowing one way…while God is standing upstream saying come to me. It’s hard to live a life of integrity with people, and the world just simply not living the same way. It doesn’t seem fair at times does it? Life with people and in relationships is so messy. It can be hurtful at times, and in all of it if you live a life with integrity you seem to be the odd person of the bunch. Everything of this world is telling you to conform…don’t stand in your God given identity, just turn around and float downstream with everyone else.
So I want you to understand a couple of things about life with people. First we were created to be in relationships…and I think deep down there is something in all of us that wants people to like us. This builds some tension because frankly not everyone will like you. It kind of pulls on us to be liked…to fit in. The other challenge is that we were created to be in community and in relationship with people, but life with people is messy. We live in a broken world, with a lot of hurt and pain, and if you have been around MRC for any length of time you have heard this before. Hurt people hurt people, and we live in a world of hurt people. So there is tension to be liked. There is challenges to fit in. There is painful moments and hurts to deal with as well. All of these things really can push against you and I making our way up stream to God. It’s amazing the hold that people can have on us. The tension and pull of wanting to fit in even though we weren’t created to be like everyone else. It’s so challenging. Everything in our culture seems to really pull on our human instincts, it’s the momentum of the stream, and it’s trying to get us to stop moving to God. I think Jesus actually shows us how to break free from the hold that people and life can have on us…but I think you need to be paying attention to really understand what He was doing and saying. So let’s go to the Sermon on the Mount and check out some things that Jesus said that can cause a little tension in our lives if we aren’t careful, but if we truly hear what He is saying…they can set us free. So remember the pull of life, the tension to go one way while God asks us to go another, then listen to what Jesus says here…frankly I think some of these statement from Jesus can really bother us if we don’t grasp how freeing this can actually be…
Matthew 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. NIV
It’s amazing how opposite God’s ways are right? I’m thinking you and I have heard this before right? Not just because we did an entire series on the Sermon on the Mount last summer here at MRC but who hasn’t heard the whole “Turn the other cheek thing?” So there is some tension in some of these statements from Jesus but I want you to hear me…Jesus is trying to free you from the momentum of culture here. So in our culture everything is a bit of a trap to keep you from living as God intended. Remember the world is pulling you away from God’s ways…like a stream flowing, you job is to keep walking against the momentum of that stream…and there is a lot tension points for us. A lot of fleshy moments where we want to do what the world does and Jesus is showing us how to stay free from this stuff…it’s bigger than just pacifism here…and I know, I said that in a BIC church but let’s think through these statements and we will start with verse 39…
Matthew 5:39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Ok, so when someone slaps you can we just say I am not sure that anyone’s first instinct is to say thank you and turn to the other side of your face and say “Could you clock me on this side too, please?” But let’s think about our theme today…the world going one way, while we are to go another. Everything and everyone is trying to bait us into doing the same things they are doing…all the while we are called to walk upstream to Jesus. So Jesus is challenging us here to rise above our own human instincts here…to let go of revenge or getting even. What’s interesting is that to the people listening to Jesus they would really understand the imagery because in that time, the Roman Empire ruled over the Jews. And often the Roman soldiers would actually slap them around trying to bait them into hitting them back! And if a Jew would hit a Roman soldier back, they were killed. It would literally cost them their life. It takes some restraint to not fall into these traps…and when we do turn and do what the rest of the world is doing, going with the flow…it can cost us our lives too. Jesus is helping us let go of that instinct of vengeance or revenge here. Do you see it? He does it again in the next verse…
Matthew 5:40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
Back in those days and still today people would sue each other looking to make some money off of each other. Jesus was saying here’s a different strategy…instead of battling just give away more, be generous…this would have been a bit of a confusing strategy to the person who is attacking you for your stuff. He keeps going here…
Matthew 5:41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
So one of the ways the Roman soldiers chose to humiliate people back in this time was to have them carry their stuff for them. It was a way to demean them by forcing them to do the work the Roman soldier’s horse would normally do. And Jesus says if they ask you to go one mile, go two. I want you to think about what Jesus is doing in these statements. He is freeing these people up. Everything in their flesh would push against these types of wrongs against them, and Jesus is saying what power do these people have on you if you stop fighting and do the opposite of your instincts here.
Jesus was giving His disciples and all of us an unexpected way to free up from culture and to move towards God in a world trying to keep us from moving towards God. I know you and I aren’t being ruled over by the Roman Empire forcing us to do terrible and humiliating things…but think about the culture and life we live. There is a battle waging inside of each and everyone one of us a tension or pull to live God’s way or like everyone else. Every instinct we have is to do what others are doing, and everything Jesus asks of us is so opposite that it just doesn’t make sense…but when we live His way there is true freedom. There is something in each of those statements that we just read that helps us let go of control a bit and walk in a kind of freedom that we can’t walk in if we are constantly fighting for control…constantly fighting our culture. Ok hopefully you don’t have someone forcing you to carry their stuff a mile, but I bet you feel a lot of tension to live as others live today, to win in many areas of life right? You may not have someone slapping you in the face, that you need to turn the other cheek to, but I bet you have been hurt by someone…probably many people and you have some choices to make in that process don’t you? What if you would stop fighting, stop taking the bait, not send that emotional email back or even better not hit them with a very vague and passive aggressive Facebook post…that will show them right? And instead of hurting back you defuse it all by doing something crazy and forgiving them. Do you see it? Everything in this culture is baiting you to live opposite of the ways of God and I think what Jesus is helping us see here is that we don’t have to take the bait. Generosity kills greed. Love kills hate. It takes God in us to turn the other cheek, or carry the pack another mile, or not get into the lawsuit battle, or to not compete at work with someone who is cutting corners, or not spread the rumors as they come flying to us, or to not envy someone else who is having success. Jesus ways are opposite of our human ways. I can tell you for me I feel the tension to live as the world says I should live versus living for God and the way Jesus asks me to live. This is why I really love the imagery of walking upstream today. We all feel it…and in these challenging words from Jesus, He is trying to help free us up to live our own lives rather than the life the world says we should live. It’s the difference between living like everyone else, and living as a man or woman of God…with integrity, and an inner strength and love that can only come from God.
So I hope you are tracking with me today…because I wanted you to see somethings that I feel are really important because we are all experiencing them. Life isn’t easy. Life with people is really messy…and at times standing as a man or woman of God is going to leave us feeling like we are walking upstream…and while everyone else seems to be having a great time floating down the stream on an inner tube just living the dream…are walk can feel hard. Well, that is why we look to the words of Jesus because I think in some of these challenging statements He is trying to free us up from that tension so that we can walk upstream with confidence and freedom…living in that life to the full thing that I bring up each and every week. So how do we do this? I mean turning the other cheek is not easy. Being generous to combat greed…peaceful to combat violence…loving to combat hatred…this is tough stuff, it’s so opposite…so what do we do? Well I’m glad you asked because I’m going to give you three very practical bits of advice as we close this thing down today…
You must surrender to God’s will. This really is how we break the tension I spoke of all through this talk today. Can you submit and follow God’s will for your life or do you fight it, always wanting what you want, when you want? Jesus models for us the kind of surrender that is required of all of us who want to be His disciples, in the moments before Jesus heads to the Cross we really see this so clearly.
Luke 22:39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. NIV
This is an unbelievable moment here as we see Jesus moments from the worst kind of death imaginable struggling with the pain and humiliation and anguish ahead…but what does He say? Please, if there is any other way take this from me, but in the end…your will not mine be done. WOW. He prays, and struggles with it but in the end Jesus submits fully to God’s will, and we should do the same.
You must walk in a relationship with God. You know I started this talk today by showing you how Jesus ties loving God and loving others together. You can’t really do one without the other. We must walk in a relationship with God. If you aren’t engaging God I’m not sure how you would stand up to the evils of this world, frankly I think you just will end up floating down stream with everyone else. You know when it comes to Jesus everyone seemed to have things for him to do, have you noticed that? His family, his friends, the religious leaders of the time, the crowds of people…everyone seemed to need something from him and everyone seemed to have a plan for His life. Yet Jesus never seems to get pulled away from His mission and I will tell you why. It’s because Jesus stayed centered on God. He spent time with Him often and because of that he was able to very clearly focus and remember what mattered, why He was on this planet, and what He should do. Because He was so centered on God, He was even willing to disappoint people in this process. Listen, to be the kind of person who not only has clear priorities but that stands strong in them is not easy, but it is essential and I think the best place to start is to look at Jesus’ life and realize that he was able to do this because of how tied to His Heavenly Father He was…
Luke 5:15 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. NIV
We must engage God, understand the clear priorities that we need to have as a Christ follower, and then stand in those priorities and I think it starts with learning from Jesus. The world needed Him. Everyone had their own plans for Him all the time, but he never lost His way…and I think the key is there in verse 16, Jesus stayed close to His Heavenly Father…and because of that he could say no. He was able to surrender to God’s will even though it was really, really going to hurt and He very clearly stayed in His priorities. Speaking of saying no…
Learning to say no. I’m just going to say this on the front end of talking about learning to say no…it is huge when it comes to being able be the same person in all environments…but it is easier said than done. It isn’t easy to say no to people, you know how I know this? It’s because this is a real challenge for me. I have been trying to show you the tension we all face…will we conform or won’t we. We want to be liked, we don’t want to disappoint people, but we need to see that Jesus actually said no often. He was able to look at His priorities, and the mission that His Father sent Him to live out, and He wasn’t going to let people pull Him away from what mattered. Jesus was willing to say no, even if it upset or disappointed people along the way…which is a very important lesson for us to learn.
Luke 4:42 Early the next morning Jesus went out into the wilderness. The crowds searched everywhere for him, and when they finally found him, they begged him not to leave them. 43 But he replied, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other places, too, because that is why I was sent.” 44 So he continued to travel around, preaching in synagogues throughout Judea. NLT
This is a big moment here. Crowds of people needing Jesus to heal and teach them, begging him not to leave them. Imagine the pressure he felt as he looks at all the need around him and what does he do? He tells them no. He is willing to disappoint people to do what matters most. He knows and tells them God sent me to do something and I’m going to do it. Jesus was willing to say no and disappoint people to stay on mission, and to be who God created Him to be. If you want to have integrity, and be the same person in every aspect of your life…you must be willing to say no.
So I want you thinking this through, life with people is tough. It is messy. Especially living as a man or woman of God with people and in this culture that seem to live so opposite of God. It’s definitely a challenge. Can I push through? Can I make my way upstream or will I just go with the flow? There is tension in this isn’t there? I wanted you to see some of the counter-cultural ways and teaching of Jesus. I wanted you to see that our God understands these tensions and not only taught us but modelled for us how to keep walking upstream in a culture screaming for us to turn and go with what everyone else is doing. Yes at times it would look and feel easier to just turn and go with the flow, but in the end we are called to so much more. We are called to life and life to the full…and we can’t get there by doing and living like everyone else. It’s our job to stand up and be the people God created us to be, which probably means we are going to look and feel pretty different in a culture trying to make us all look and feel the same. I know this can feel like pushing the ocean back with a broom, but in the end it’s all there for you as you walk and talk and engage God in a real way…and as you not only study and listen to Jesus words, but as you do what Jesus says we should do. I’m going to leave you with a scripture that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind lately that is found early in John…
John 1:9-12 The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light. He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t even notice. He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him. But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves. MSG
Where does our true self come from? It doesn’t come from living like everyone else. It doesn’t come from acting like everyone else. Even though everything in our culture and everyone around else is encouraging us to turn and go with the flow. Our true selves are found, in believing in Jesus…and DOING what He said…and I think as we believe and do, we discover that elusive freedom that we keep searching for.
So if you are out there today and you are tired of fighting the current, just know that you aren’t alone, and in the end it’s going to be worth it.