Skyscrapers

We love to say that we treat everyone equally, but in reality we’re building skyscrapers in our heads where we conveniently happen to occupy the penthouse level. Learn how to look at life differently through the eyes of Jesus.

Transcript

 INTRODUCTION / PASSAGE

Morning.  David Sorn. 

Before I get into today’s message, I want to take a minute and talk to you about what is probably the most serious thing happening in our church right now.

 As many of you know, 18 months ago, we began raising money to purchase land for our growing church.

Our desire is not just for a building one day…but more importantly, and foundationally, to have more space, so we can reach and disciple even more people for Christ.

And so for the past year and a half, we’ve been working hard to find land to purchase for our future church building.

And we’ve encountered road block after road block.

And the Lord has just put firmly on my heart that we need to stop trying so hard in our own strength, throw up our arms, and pray. 

All of us.  Together.

Listen, 18 months ago, when we saw over $600,000 of pledges made…in 3 year commitments…it was a move of God.

I fell to my knees when I was first informed.

This is happening…because of a move of God…so we’re not now going to do this in our own strength.

God is just not going to do this for us in a way that we get the glory.

And so we need to pray.  All of us.  Together.

So here’s what we’re going to do.

14 days from now, on July 24th, we’re going to start a week of prayer dedicated to this.

And we’re going to pray, every day…each of us, in our homes that God will do this.  Provide us with a piece of land.

We’re going to collectively pound on the door of heaven until God hears us.

That’s what his word tell us to do.

Ask…seek…knock.

Ask and his name.

Tell this mountain to go over there.

And then at the end of that week, on Sunday the 31st…that night, we’re going to come together that evening…collectively…and bang the gong right outside the door of heaven…and say, “God we need you…do this”

Please be a part of this with us…this is a critical and important moment in the history and future of Renovation Church.

You’ll get some more details in announcements on how to be a part of this…but please…pray with us.

Let’s get started in our message.

Some time ago, a journalist from Time Magazine set out to find if there was one universal joke…told everywhere around the world.

He found out there was. 

And it wasn’t “knock, knock” or “why did the chicken cross the road”

It was this:  Every culture had a joke about some group of people…they didn’t like.

Minnesotans joke about people from Iowa.

The English roll their eyes at the Irish

People from the Dominican Republic laugh at the expense of Haitians. 

Fascinating, but sad…all at the same time.

This morning, as we continue on in our “More Than Words” series from the Letter of James in the Bible…we’re going to see James come to a topic concerning one of the few sins that American culture agrees with the Bible upon.

Favoritism.  Discrimination.

And they’re right.

So we may share a moral position with the culture…but our present motivations for doing so are now completely different.

Our culture has simplified the issue to “people have rights” and “we just shouldn’t show favoritism”

That’s a nice idea…but I’m usually not that motivated by “Just don’t” J

So we’re going to dive into the Bible today, and discover why this idea of equality, treating people equally, matters in the first place.

And we’re also going to look into our hearts…because we need to.

Honestly, when I say discrimination, 75% of you just checked out.

You said, “Hmm, well this doesn’t apply to me, I don’t struggle with this, what’s on Facebook?!”

And yet, this is probably one of the most broadly applicable messages I will give this summer.

So let’s let the Word of God penetrate our hearts this morning.

Open with me to the Letter of James

(Page 979)

(Renovation app)

(James 2:1-13) – NIV

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: 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?6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”[a] you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,”[b] also said, “You shall not murder.”[c]If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

 

 

CREATION OF A SKYSCRAPER

So James starts by describing a situation that is likely happening in some of the house churches in the 1st century.

 Many of these Christians were giving obvious priority to the rich over the poor.

They’re making different categories of people.

Showing favoritism. 

And we do this too all the time.  Every day.

We can’t help ourselves.

And this is significantly more extensive than merely just the traditional hot-button issues of race or gender

Let me start this off by just being vulnerable.

This is a hard passage for me. 

Like most of us in this room: I’m prideful…and to be prideful…prideful folks have to make categories of folks lower than themselves, so they can feel good about themselves.

That’s how it works, right? 

So for example, on Monday, we took our kids to the fireworks.

Fireworks are a great example…because they put us into a place where unlike almost every other social setting we encounter; we don’t choose the people around us.

And as we were walking around and going on rides before it started, I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of people that weren’t like me.

And I don’t just mean race.

My wife is technically a different race…that’s not a massive obstacle for me.

I mean, people dressed differently than I did…

More tattoos than I see in your typical Renovation Church Crowd

And their grammar doesn’t sound like they went to graduate school.

And in my sinful heart, I’m creating categories all over the place.

It’s like I can’t stop categorizing people into different boxes. 

And I’m trying to stop…I feel bad…

But the Bible tells me that I’m not the only one… but our hearts want to label…and categorize.

James says in verse 4:

(James 2:4) – NIV

4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

To discriminate is to distinguish…it’s to create different labels or classes.

Humankind has been doing this since the dawn of creation:

Jew, Gentile, Slave, Free, Nobility, peasant, the caste system, lower class, upper class, blue collar, white collar…you name it.

And let me explain how our prideful hearts operate:

We want to feel good about ourselves, about our lives.

And so we tell ourselves a narrative in which the things that we know, and the things that we do, are superior to what others know and do. 

And so we start to categorize other people into different levels…like different floors of a skyscraper.

And on the bottom of the skyscraper…are the people you really despise…the people who can’t get their life together.

No, I get it, you’re a Christian, you love everyone…the message on “Lying” is next week.

And as the skyscraper goes up in our mind, we have all these different categories of people who are “beneath” us…in our penthouse suite on the top level.

And listen, you can create different levels of people…for literally hundreds of different reasons.

People that classify as inferior to you because of their:

Race, or gender, or age, or because they identify as gay or lesbian

Because they didn’t go to as much schooling as you

Or the size of house they live in…

Because they’re a liberal…or conservative

They’re divorced.

They commit a sin you don’t

Because they don’t work out all the time like you

Because they don’t eat gluten free like you.

And we create our skyscrapers off of what we know and we do and excel in.

And there is a world of people below us.

And the crazy thing is, everyone’s skyscraper levels are determined differently.

So one guy is in his penthouse suite on the top floor because he:

Works HARD as a welder (not a lazy cubicle job)…he drinks harder than his buddies…knows more about fixing cars than anyone else…and takes great care of his dog.

While the woman who’s driving in the car next to him on the highway is in an penthouse suite in the ”skyscraper of her” mind…for ENTIRELY different reasons.  She’s on the top because:

Stays home with her kids unlike those women who work and miss out…she’s not stuck in summer 2014 fashion (unlike some others she see at church)…she has a nice walk-out basement…and she actually finds time to work out and keep in shape unlike those lazy people.

We all do this.

I invent floors of my skyscraper daily…just so I can make sure I’m still on top.

And there’s another sad layer to this, and this is what James is getting at:

The people that we treat with kindness (favoritism) are the people that are most like us.

Their floors on the skyscraper are closest to ours.

The reality is…we’re most comfortable with people that look like us or are similar to us.

That’s somewhat to be expected (it’s likely you’re going to make friends with people who have similar interests), but we need to ask some deeper questions around it…because most of us just use that as an excuse to avoid people who DON’T look or act like us all together.

Why do we show partiality and preference and often favoritism for those who look and act like us?

Our deeper motivator is that we are looking for ways to benefit ourselves.  

We want to be happy.

And if we can find some benefit from this person who thinks like us and acts like us…we’ll take it.

Or maybe they’re even richer than us…or, shockingly, we think they might even be better than us…if so…we’ll take it!

We’ll TAKE it.

All this taking and benefiting doesn’t sound a whole lot like Jesus.   

 

 

HOW YOU MIGHT BE BUILDING YOUR OWN SKYSCRAPER

And so we need to stop and ask…how (and where!) might we be building our own skyscrapers?  Where are you doing this?

One of the best indicators is where you feel pity for someone.

Not sympathy.  Not empathy.  Pity. 

“oh, that’s too bad that person is overweight (cue: unlike

me”)

“Oh, that’s too bad they let their kids have a cell phone already, or go to public school, or go to daycare” (cue: unlike me)

When you feel pity…when you’re talking to your spouse about how it’s sad how another person…or another family doesn’t know….

Just know that you’re putting another floor beneath you on your skyscraper.  

Another indication that you’re adding floors to your skyscraper can be found in your attitude.

The people of the church in James’ example are so excited to see the rich man walk in.

But when the really poor man walks in, their attitude completely changes.

“Hmm, I guess there’s a spot on the floor for you”

When you feel your excitement-level…your love-level lower for different people…know that you’re in skyscraper mode.

There’s a New Testament Scholar by the name of David Nystrom who tells the story of being asked to speak at an annual meeting of pastors at a conference which took place at a hotel.

While the meeting was getting ready to start, Nystrom noticed that the hotel staff was overwhelmed with all the work of serving so many people, that he pitched in for a few minutes and helped them poor soft drinks into glasses.

He mentioned that while he was pouring soda into the glasses, one of the men at the conference treated him in rough, inhuman fashion that anyone who has worked in the service industry knows all too well.

Nystrom attempted to engage him in conversation, but the man basically pretended he wasn’t there.

5 minutes later, the leader of the group proudly introduced their distinguished guest speaker, and New Testament Scholar, and the man who had just been serving cokes walked up to the front.

He said that man who had previously been rude and ignored him, turned pale…and later, after the session, engaged him in flattering conversation.

What changed??

I’ve been to places like Subway…even with other Christians…and I just cringe, as they say, “Tomatoes, lettuce, a few green peppers…I said a FEW green peppers!!”

Obviously the “sandwich artist” is on a lower level of their skyscraper.

You can see this sort of “skyscraper” thinking, tragically, even in Christian community.

A group of young mom’s bond in their small group.

And the single woman of the roughly the same age…never gets invited to their get-togethers.

Well, because, they don’t have kids…they can’t understand how stressful your life is.

Or they don’t have a significant other…you don’t want to make them uncomfortable at your summer BBQ…

They’re on a different floor…a few levels below, right?

Or a group of guys are together at House Group…they’re all chatting about the Golden State Warriors or fixing cars or whatever it is they have in common…and yet there’s a man…who’s maybe not as socially adept as they are…

and he’s just off in the corner…by himself…eating chips and pretending to be doing something incredibly important on his phone so no one will notice he’s incredibly sad about being alone in a room full of people.

It happens all the time…even in Christian community

We are basically saying to that man…or that single woman, “Here, there’s a spot for you on the floor.”

You’re not like us

I’m not sure I can “benefit” from you.

I don’t know the answer to this question, but I hope it’s not what I fear it might be:

“If a homeless man walked in here next Sunday does he have just as great of a chance of being talked to as the new visiting family with the physically-fit dad, mom with great hair, and 3 beautiful kids?”

Here’s a different way to think of it:

In just 3.5 weeks, I’ll be going with our team of TEN folks from Renovation to share the Gospel in Rwanda.

And as you might imagine, there’s a lot of flying involved.

And never do I resent people in first-class more than that trip.

When I went two years ago, I slept 45 minutes in 30 hours of travel.

But people in in first class got beds.  BEDS!

But the worst part is when they tell you that first class has their own bathroom and then, to rub salt in our wounds, the ultimate worst is when the flight attendant comes back and pulls that curtain shut between you and first class.

You…you’re not welcome up here…you lowly coach passenger.

And I think is a good question for you:

Where are you pulling the curtain on people?

 Because we can sit here all we want and say, “yeah, I guess I’ll try and think better of people…”

Great.  So you’re going to do nothing? J

Who is God calling you to open your curtain to?

And when will you do it?

When can you have them over? 

Relationships aren’t founded in what we can get, but what we can give.

 

 

DECONSTRUCTION OF A SKYSCRAPER

And that’s where we have to come back to our initial question:

What truly is the basis for why we shouldn’t show favoritism in the way we look at or treat other people?

It’s this:  Our foundation for how we treat and love other people is found in the person of Jesus.

Who He was…and what He did.

I know a lot Christians who don’t get drunk and don’t swear (publically), but I know few who really interact with people like Jesus did.

Jesus gave equal worth to everyone.

He constantly interacted with prostitutes, drunks, and the hated tax collectors of his day.

He rubbed shoulders with all sorts of people who looked nothing like him.

And he loved them.

And how does He do that and almost none of us (even though our professed goal is to be Christ-like) do anything remotely like that?

This is a MASSIVE DISCONNECT for a group of people whose goal is to look just like Jesus.  MASSIVE.

What’s our problem?

See, Jesus just loves people.  PEOPLE.

There is no rich, no poor, no special class of extra-righteous.

Just people. 

The categories are gone.

No hierarchies.  No totem-pole.  No skyscrapers.

We see skyscrapers…God sees ramblers.

For God, there is just one level…one class:  people.

The Apostle Paul, in speaking to Christians who still had slaves (think more like indentured servants here), says this:

(Ephesians 6:9) – NIV

9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

In other words, there is no distinction between “slave and master” with God, just…people. 

That’s how Jesus interacted with the world.

And it’s how he interacts with you.

See, before the Bible tells you what to do, it shows you who you are.  

This is where we find the true foundation in why we aren’t to show any sort of favoritism.

Who are you, Christ-follower?  Who are you?

Look back to the Old Testament…when Moses tells the Israelites, whom God had just delivered from slavery, of God’s position on favoritism & partiality.  

(Deuteronomy 10:17-19) – NIV

17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.

And here’s where it comes together.

You and I were once foreigners, outsiders, slaves, and in bondage to our own sin.

But Jesus Christ showed no partiality, no favoritism in picking you.

No favoritism in offering you forgiveness.

He could have said, “Look at their life.  It’s a mess.  Full of all these sins….or so prideful, they don’t even see their sins!

But he doesn’t.

Romans 2:11 just simply says: For God does not show favoritism.

He doesn’t create categories.

He just sees you…a person…and you have worth to Him…as a person.

Not by something you’ve done.

And if he accepts us and loves us not by what we’ve done or who we are than that’s how we ought to treat others.

We don’t show favoritism because Jesus didn’t show favoritism in picking us.

We’re stuck in this ironic place where we’re not loving some “categories of people” because they’re too different from us…and yet Jesus loved us even though we couldn’t have been more different than Him.

 

 

THIS MUST BE THE NATURE OF THE CHURCH

And this has tp be the nature of the Christian church: We don’t show favoritism in who we love because Jesus didn’t show favoritism in loving us. 

It’s one of our great and unique tenets that the culture has forgotten they stole from us.

This ethic of equality and human rights didn’t come from “survival of the fittest,” but was built off of the Biblical ideas of people being made in the image of God AND that God shows no favoritism, so we show no favoritism.

I read of a pastor in India who recently said, "Most of what happens in Christian churches, can be duplicated in Hindu and Muslim congregations in India. But in my area, it’s only the Christians that strive, however ineptly, to mix men and women of different castes, races, and social groups. That's the real miracle."

And listen, as much as our culture talks about this kind of stuff, the reality is, beyond some legislative advantages we have over other countries, most of us don’t really practice this.

We still just gravitate towards people who are the same socioeconomic status, who look like us, and who act like us.

And the church has an opportunity to really do this differently.

Not because “we should” or because we’ve had “diversity training,” but because it’s how Jesus treated us.

Let’s take this seriously…not just as another good idea we’ll never do anything with.

Because when we don’t take it seriously we dishonor God and Gospel.

We reveal that we don’t truly understand the Gospel and what He did for us.  

So let’s be a people being changed by God to change the world.

People who know that we’re just people…not different levels of categories on a skyscraper.

This is what James is talking about at the end of the passage. 

We all sin…we’re not different from one another.    

The world needs us!

Read the news…what another heartbreaking week.

The world needs us to come together.

Not stuck in categories, or classes, or races, or different levels on a skyscraper.

But together.  

Yesterday morning…I woke up and was reading news online, and the headline on CNN.com loomed large in huge letters, and it simply said this:  Who can heal America?

I’ll tell you:

It’s the same as it’s always been..

Who trumpeted the call for the abolition of slavery…first in England?

The church.

Who led the movement for equality rights of humanity…and the abolition of slavery in the US? 

The church. 

I don’t mean…the “Sunday morning services…church”

The PEOPLE of the church did.

What was really behind the strength of the Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement.

The people of the church.

And right now…our country desperately needs us.

Because the call to treat each other as equals…as people…as one…won’t be enough if you’re only motivation is “because we should”

But we bring something deeper.

We bring Christ.  The one who didn’t show favoritism to us.

We’re to be imitators of Him.

The world needs you right now. 

And we need to help the culture remember these foundational truths that once shaped us.

On that tragic morning of September 11, 2001, perhaps New York City’s most famous church, The Brooklyn Tabernacle, lost four of its members.

One victim was a police officer.  

The officer's funeral was held at the church building, and Rudy Giuliani, then the mayor of New York City, had been asked to share a few thoughts.

In his book You Were Made for More, Jim Cymbala, pastor of The Brooklyn Tabernacle, records what the mayor shared with the audience that morning.

And I want to share it with you…because I think it’s profoundly helpful in how we ought to see people…as a church…as Christ followers.

Here’s what Giuliani said in his speech:

"You know people, I've learned something through all this. Let me see if I can express it to you.

When everybody was fleeing that building, and the cops and the firefighters and the EMS people were heading up into it, do you think any of them said, 'I wonder how many blacks are up there for us to save? I wonder what percentage are whites up here? How many Jews are there? Let's see—are these people making $400,000 a year, or $24,000, or—?'

"No, when you're saving lives, they're all precious. And that's how we're supposed to live all the time.

How would you want the cops to treat you if you were on the seventy-fifth floor that day?

Would you want them to say, 'Excuse me, but I've got to get the bosses out first'? Not exactly.

Now I don’t know where Rudy Guilanni is spiritually, and I don’t think it matters for the point of this discussion.

But, as is often the case, the truth of what really matters is often revealed to us in crisis.

When your mission is to save someone’s life, it’s irrelevant what they look like or what they’ve done….

They’re a person.

And that’s our calling as a church.

It’s to love people…no matter what…and introduce those who don’t know him yet to Jesus.

Because He loves us…ALL of us…no matter what.

And we are to love people not because they’re like us…or we might benefit from them…but we love because HE loved

And so I pray that this isn’t just an idea in your mind…

I pray that this is ‘more than words’ for you.

And that God begins to practically transform the way you think about, treat, and interact with people.  

 LET ME PRAY.


Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN

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