My Title: The Right Thing in the Wrong Way
When I left my shoes and socks outside and when I put my socks on the next morning I felt something that felt like a little stick in my shoes so I pulled it off I went and grab the stick and it was actually a big spider that was in my sock. And in the span of 1 second, I jumped up, I throw the spider, I screamed, and I stubbed my toe. That was the most action packed second of my life. And it was just reacting.
It's amazing how quickly we can jump into a defensive position when something unexpected happens.
And I'm very confident that none of us expected these last 4 months to go the way they did. And then how everything made this super drastic pivot from Covid stuff to conversations about race due to the tragic loss of life that recently occurred.
And for me it makes sense that a lot of people, a lot of good people went into this defensive mode, it's very natural when things seem to be spinning out of control to dig your heels in, and start pointing fingers and just trying to understand what's happening.
Those are not usually the times when brilliant ideas surface. It's just this reactionary phase which can get kind of ugly. The still small voice of the Holy Spirit can often get lost in all the voices.
But I'm hoping that now that at least a few weeks have passed, we're able to come out of our protective shells a little and honestly consider what posture God might want us to have in all of this.
I wrote this sermon last week and my wife told me it was no good so I deleted it. Then rewrote it and that time I thought it was no good, so deleted it again. So this is version 3.
My intention this morning is not to spank you. We've all been spanked to death over the last 3 months. I think all of our butts are red and bruised. My intention is not to spank you, but it is to teach you.
The temptation is particularly high in a sermon like this to be thinking about how this applies to somebody else. "But I sure wish Steve would hear this." Or "I hope my brother is paying attention to this." In whatever way I can encourage you to NOT do that, because we ALLLL have a ton of learn from something like this.
I think mutual understanding is running very low in the world right now. And so I want to start off my saying that it's very important to me that we understand each other. It's important to me that I don't misspeak and it's important to me that you don't mishear.
So what I want to do as we get started is simply to pray that God would help us with that.
(Pray) The grace to not say too much or too little. To not push too hard or back off too much.
This is a story that seems like a fairly minor story. I've rarely heard it preached on, but I feel like it's very challenging and even prophetic for the world we find ourselves in today.
Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. (Acts 16:16)
Paul is going around preaching. So he was 'On Mission' doing what he believed God had for him to do. And while they're on their way, they encounter a woman.
And there's 2 things I want you to notice about this women:
So this slave girl was in captivity both in a physical sense and in a spiritual sense.
She followed Paul and the rest of us (As Paul passes by, she picks up on something about him. She's able to see who he is.), shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” (Acts 16:17)
She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. (Acts 16:18)
When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. (Acts 16:19)
So this woman follows Paul and his companions and shouts: “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”
Over and over she would say this. She does this repeatedly for days. Incessantly. She keeps saying the same thing.
Please remember, she possessed by an evil spirit. She is under an influence that is not of God. But, she says a truthful thing. Now I want you to really think about that. Look at what she says. What's incorrect about this? This is something that Jesus would agree with. What's wrong with saying that these men are servants of God? They are. What's wrong with saying that these men are telling you the way to be saved? They are.
That's what's so fascinating and frightening about these passages. To an outsider, it would probably look like she's HELPING them. "These men are servants of the most high God!" Oh cool. So this lady is on our side. Right? She's on our team.
But that's the thing.
It's possible for the wrong spirit to say the right thing.
And on the surface, it looks good. Might even look 'Biblical'. But as we read, ultimately the things she was saying only served as a distraction.
Hard to Tell As let me say that sometimes it's hard to tell. What is the message and what is a distraction.
I think it takes a lot of discernment. And that's a phrase that keeps coming up for me: Discernment. Because there has never been a time in my lifetime where discernment is more needed than it is right now.
Especially when you're in a season where there's a whole lot of LOUD VOICES.
There's a whole lot of people
I grew up in the charismatic tradition. I love it. I identify with it. But let me ask you, in a lot of charismatic, pentecostal churches, how is that you identify who's anointed? Volume, my friends. Volume.
You preach LOUD enough. "That's the anointing!" Or how about this one. If you preach MAD ENOUGH.
Some of the maddest people I've ever met in my life were preachers. "Wow, that guy gets mad at everything. He must be so anointed."
And lest you chuckle and think "Those gullible Christians" - Is encourage to look at modern culture who almost always follow the loud, angry voice.
Especially the loud, angry voice. Even if they're not saying anything intelligent or important.
We're drawn to power. And the LOUDER it gets, the more convinced we are that what they're saying must be right.
That's why we need discernment. And in times like this, I think it's particularly difficult to tell the difference between someone who speaks LOUDLY and someone who speaks in the name of the Lord. Hear me people, that's not the same thing.
Without discernment, we can't tell the difference between someone who speaks in their own authority (or even in the case of this story a demonic authority) and someone who speaks in God-given authority - ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY'RE SAYING THE SAME THING.
Just like in the story, there can be things that are TECHNICALLY RIGHT, but if you walk in discernment, you just have this understanding 'Something's not quite right about that.'
Voices that instead of bringing the fruit of the spirit, instead divide and increase hate. But hey, they seem to be saying things that are technically true, but from the wrong spirit.
But in the end, they simply become elaborate distractions from the gospel.
Even if people are quoting the Bible. Let me remind you that Satan quotes plenty of scripture. But always for his own purposes. He will locate and quote scripture that backs up what he already believes. I gotta be honest with you, there's scripture for a lot of things. And if all you need is for someone to quote scripture on their instagram post and you automatically assume they're force for good, then you're gullible.
You can say the right thing in the wrong way, and ultimately only serve as a distraction from God's work in the world.
You can see what finally happens with Paul. Eventually, the man of God has enough. He's had enough of people who don't speak for God acting like they do.
And in his REAL authority, not his self-appointed authority, without needing to yell, he simply says "In the name of Jesus, come out." In the name of Jesus, stop talking. What you're saying might be correct, but your incessant talking is just adding to the noise.
So the question then becomes not just "How do I stand for the right thing" but "How do I stand for the right thing in the right way." And again it's all about the spirit behind what you do.
Humility is kind of an abstract concept. It’s almost hard to talk about.
Can you brag about being humble? I don’t think so. Because then you wouldn’t be humble.
Wouldn't you agree that we all have wrong ideas in our heads right now? Problem is we don't know which things we're wrong about, or we'd change them. But with that comes a certain degree of humility. Your understanding of any subject is not perfect.
Every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
And I'll be honest, this has made a huge difference in my life.
I don't know if this is a blessing from God or a curse from the devil, but I can destroy just about anyone in a debate. I just can. It's like Kung-Fu, I use your own points against you.
But learning to get into this posture of learning from people. That I don't have all the right answers, I don't even have the right questions a lot of the time.
And so understanding that, I'm going to talk to you respectfully and kindly.
And let me tell you, humility will open the door for you to be heard.
When people see that you're still learning, you're still growing, that you're interested in hearing opinions that are different than your own, they become open to what YOU have to say.
But so long as people just scream and call each other idiots, no one's message is getting through.
Resist the tendency to draw lines between YOUR people and THOSE people. Where your primary focus is blaming and condemning "THEM".
Rene Girard talks about how every culture and subculture finds a scapegoat to attach blame to. And he says that for a lot of people, the way we know there is an 'us' is by identifying a 'them'.
Crowds love Scapegoating. Always have, always will. Crowds FEED OFF having an enemy. It's the most powerful drug in the world. Who needs heroin when you can be RIGHT.
It's how we cleanse ourselves on someone else. It feels righteous. "THEY'RE the problem." There is an energy to that that FEELS spiritual. And the reason it feels spiritual is because it IS spiritual. Everything that is happening right now is spiritual.
Painting with an overly broad brush is unintelligent and unfair.
What do I mean? I mean when you ascribe the actions of the few onto the group as a whole, you've made an error. A mistake that Jesus doesn't make even one time.
It FEELS good to take all your anxiety and anger and place it on someone else, but it's not how you bring about change.
MLKJ understood this. He talked about achieving equality and at the same time he talked about winning the hearts of his oppressors.
”Jesus said: 'Love your enemies, that you may be children of your Father which is in heaven.'
Of course you say, 'All this about loving enemies is not practical. Life is a matter of getting even, of hitting back, of dog-eat-dog. Well, maybe in some distant utopia the ideal will work, but not in the hard cold world in which we live.'
My friends, we've followed the so-called practical way for a long time now. Time is cluttered with the wreckage of communities which surrendered into hatred and violence. We are going to follow another way: we will not abandon our righteous efforts. With every ounce of our strength we will continue to rid the nation of the incubus of segregation. But we will not in the process relinquish our privilege and our obligation to love. While abhorring segregation, we will love the segregationist. This is the only way to build the beloved community.
To our most bitter opponents we say 'We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will continue to love you. … Throw us in jail, we will still love you; send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community and beat us, and we will still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down.
One day we will win freedom, but not only for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and so our victory will be a double-victory. The great military leaders of the past have gone, and their empires have crumbled and burned to ashes, but the empire of Jesus, built solidly and majestically on the foundation of love is still growing. May we solemnly realize that we shall never be sons of our Heavenly Father until we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us as He did for us." (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
With all the love and respect in the world: Social Reform without Jesus is a Band-Aid
Band-aids are cool. I use bandaids. My 2 year old is obsessed with band-aids. We buy bandaids by the truck load. I probably have a Toy Story band-aid on me somewhere. When you have a tiny little cut, a band-aid is perfect. But when you have a serious issue, lets say a brain tumor, a band-aid is not going to cut it.
And something that really concerns me right now is that people are working really hard to find a solution to all of this outside of Jesus. It's not going to work.
I have never been more convinced in my life that Jesus is the last and only hope for humanity. And not in some general sense "Jesus stood up for justice so we should too". No I mean specifically putting faith in Jesus Christ as the son of God.
As followers of Jesus, we not only stand for what Jesus stood for, we emphasize what Jesus emphasized. Some of you need to remember that. Did Jesus spend 80% of his time talking about blood moons? Or global warming? No? Cool, then neither am I. Did Jesus spend the majority of his time on social reform? No? Cool, then neither am I. Not because it's not important, but because I'm here to do his business. And he sets the agenda to that, not me.
So a faithful presentation of the message of Jesus will include those 3 things. And it's the message of Jesus that has the power to change the world. Everything else is a band-aid.
You might be the best band-aid applier in the world. But at the end of the day, if your "message" isn't centered around the message of Jesus, it can still bring change, but it won't be the biggest change.
You can say the right thing from the wrong spirit and only cause harm. Your words can be technically correct, but when spoken from the wrong spirit, they may become an elaborate distraction from God's work in the world.
As followers of Jesus, we must do the interior work required to say the right thing from the right spirit. Our speech and our actions must always be marked by humility, unity, and love. We must never forget that Jesus is the only way the world will be healed– healed of our hostility, our hatred, our unforgiveness, and our pride.
What Spirit is at work in me?
Is it a humble spirit? A kind spirit? Or is it a spirit of anger? Hatred?
And here's the good news: You can't do any of this. Not on your own. Only God's grace has the power to change a heart of hostility into a heart of love.
So let's pray for each other.