A Culture of Don’t
In our ministry at the Rio Coco Café, we are constantly dealing with the perceptions that the world has about “Christians”. It seems that the biggest obstacle that we have in reaching others for Christ is the experience that many have had with “Christians”. That seems strange, but it is true. And this is because “Christians” often live in a “Culture of Don’t”.
We followers of Jesus are often perceived by the world as people with codes of conduct that begin with the word “Don’t”. Here in the south, Christian Behavior is jokingly summed up in the phrase “Don’t Smoke, Don’t Chew, and Don’t go with girls that Do”. Do What? I have often wondered…..
We Christians are known to be fast to point out what others are doing wrong, and we tell them “Don’t do that”. When we meet a brand new believer who is excited about their new relationship with the Creator, we make sure to tell them the things that they should no longer be doing. The conversation goes something like this: “Now you need to make some changes to be a real Christian. You can’t listen to that rock music anymore, and you can’t wear that bikini to the beach anymore, and you have to stop smoking those cigarettes and playing cards. And you must stop using the F-word!”
While these may be good admonitions to give to a baby Christian, unfortunately it fosters the perception that theChristian Life is all about limiting our activity. Self Denial becomes the greatest virtue! I Though the greatest virtue was Love…..
This Culture of Don’t is only half right, focusing only the “Don’t”. It leaves out the most important part of what the Jesus and all his disciples had to say about the Christian Life. Here is one example from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians:
Ephesus Main Street
25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need.
29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit. (Eph 4-5)
The Biblical Message regarding Christian Behavior is one that combines admonitions with encouragement: “Stop doing what is harmful to others, and start doing what is beneficial to those around you and ultimately yourself.” This Christian Life is all about positive action in life- behavior that will cause things to change around and in you for the better. The “Don’t” is just the starting point.
James says it this way:
17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. 18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” James 2:16-18
We have opportunity each day to take the Message of The Gospel and put it into action in our lives in a positive waythat will touch those around us, and even many in far corners of the world. Many of you actively do this in your families and communities. Together we are doing it on our school project in Nicaragua and in the Rio Coco Café Ministry.
Jesus declared that “ The thief (satan) comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10
His intention is that once we become part of His Family, we should be experiencing Life to the fullest, and this “abundant life” will lead to positive changes in our communities. It’s because the Christian Code of Conduct includes at its core doing good things for the people around us.
The Culture of Don’t limits us to only denying ourselves. The complete message of the Bible is to Live our Life for Others. There is a subtle but distinct difference.
Laura is fond of quoting one of her favorite verses in the Bible in moments like this: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Gal 2:20
- “I have been crucified” (The Don’t Part).
- “Now I Live for Christ” (The Positive Action Part).
We Followers of Jesus should be known more for what we do, rather than what we don’t do!
And what are we told to do? Here is what Jesus said inMatthew 22:35-40
One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him,
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
37 And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (Deut 6:5)
38 “This is the great and foremost commandment.
39 “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Lev 19:18)’
40 “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Do you see any “Don’ts” in this passage?
We Followers of Jesus should be known more for what we do, rather than what we don’t do! And what are we told to do?
There are at least 612 laws that God gave His people through Moses. These are all found in the books of Exodus thru Deuteronomy, and through the Bible in other books and letters. These laws give us specific information what is important to God, and how He thinks we should be living. These laws cover relationships, community living, nutrition, sanitation, and most importantly how to order our relationship with God. Now some may say that these laws are out of date and now longer apply to us “New Testament Christians”, but that is not what Jesus, Paul, Peter, and others in the New Testament say.
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to explain more fully. Jesus in Matthew 5:17
The principles behind these laws are still applicable to our lives today! Listen to this conversation recorded in Matthew 22:35-40:
One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him,
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
“This is the great and foremost commandment.
“The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. ’
“On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Do you see any “Don’ts” in this passage?
Instead we are given two specific things To Do as followers of Jesus: Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love those around you as you would yourself. Christianity is all about “Doing”.
I read the article in the Rolling Stone this week on the new Pope Francis. It appears
Papal Balcony at the Vatican
that Francis is stepping out of the Papal Palace and into the streets and actually doing things to help individuals. Normally the Pontiffs stay in their Vatican Palace and address theological topics and issue decrees about Religious Behavior. Francis is an Argentinean who has worked for years with street people in Buenos Aries. He is used to getting out in the street and caring for drunks, drug addicts, prostitutes, street people, and those in the underside of life. In his new position as the head of the Roman Catholic Church it appears that nothing has changed. He is still doing things for people— things that other pontiffs normally don’t do.
I like Francis. He is part of the “Culture of Do”. He is like many of the Christians in your community- they are reaching out to the needy and making a difference. Those that belong to the Culture of Do are the world changers. Christian History records their selfless acts. They are the ones that turn cultures around. Through their individual acts of Kindness, they point many to Christ.
Interestingly, Jesus tells us to focus on this when He said:
You are the salt of the earth….“You are the light of the world. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:1
In our culture, since we use salt to flavor our food, so we might think this means that we are the flavor enhancers of our culture. In areas of the world where there is no refrigeration like the Rio Coco, they use salt to put on their beef and fish to preserve it. However in Biblical culture, Salt is something that you can’t burn and when you dissolve it in water and evaporate it, salt returns to its original state. Salt doesn’t change. In Numbers 18, God makes a “salt covenant” with His people and says that it is a covenant that doesn’t change.
Salt in the Biblical mind means “Loyalty & Faithfulness”. It means a being a friend that is always a friend. If I wanted to tell someone from the Middle East about our friendship, I would say: “There is salt between us”.
Leonardo Da Vinci uses this image in his famous painting “The Last Supper”, when Jesus announces that one of the disciples is going to betray him. Da Vinci records the reactions on their faces. Notice the third disciple on Jesus’ right. It’s Judas holding the money bag, and with his arm he has knocked over the salt bowl, spilling salt on the table. There is no longer any salt between him and Jesus!
Loyal friends doing random acts of kindness has the effect of bringing many into the Kingdom. That’s why Jesus tells us to focus on the positive doing.
TheCulture of Don’t has no place in True Christianity. It’s all about what we do.
Let me give you some reminders as we live our life in a Biblical manner;
1) The Christian Life is all about the process of Change — Sanctification.
Paul wrote to his friends in Corinth that
Laura at Apollo’s Temple, Corinth
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Cor 5:17
In the Greek, “new creature” is “Kainos Ktisis”. These words have deep personal significance for every true disciple of Jesus.
Kaino: fresh, new, previously unknown,
Ktisis: exclusively God’s work
Paul says that when a person receives Jesus as Lord, and the Holy Spirit takes up residence in that person, something miraculous happens—that person is transformed into a fresh, new, previously unknown creation that is exclusively God’s work!
John wrote in his first letter that in this process we are all becoming “like God”.
Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. 1 John 3:2
Paul told his friends in Philippi that this “growth” is a process that takes place between us and God. This concept is what separates Christianity from any world
At the Philippian Forum
12 Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. 13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Phil 2:12-13
2) In this Process, God says He will do His part, as we do ours
3 By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.4 And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. 2 Peter 1:3-4
This is exciting! We not only have great promises about our future made to us by God Himself, we also get to “share in His Divine Nature” and move away from the self-centered and ultimately harmful thinking and behavior so prevalent in the culture around us that tries to influence our lives. Peter continues:
5 In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.
8 The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins. 2 Peter 1:5-9
The verb “make every effort” is pareispherō which according theDictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek means to “do one’s best”. Let’s not get lost in the hyper grace message heard so often in today’s Christian circles and forget that we have our part to play in this process of spiritual growth.
3) True Change is produced by spending time with God and cultivating a relationship with the Holy Spirit.
19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Galatians 5:19-25
There are spiritual gifts, and there is spiritual fruit. These spiritual gifts are outlined in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12, along with other passages in the Bible. Gifts are freely given by God. But Spiritual Fruit must be cultivated! We must participate with the Holy Spirit to see these qualities produced in our lives.
There is a famous story often told of an Old Eskimo man who became a believer at his local church in Alaska.
“Pastor ever since that day that I invited Jesus into my heart, I have felt like there is a war going on inside me”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s like there is this white dog and this black dog, and they are fighting inside me”.
“Which one is winning?”
He thought for a moment and said:
“The one I feed the most”
In this process of change, we too will see the moment to moment victories as we feed the “white dog” in our spirits by spending time with our Lord.
The Culture of Don’t has no place in True Christianity.
Mik collecting salt at the Dead Sea
One of the things we learning in a parenting class years ago was that with your children it is always better to speak a positive encourage rather than a punitive warning.
“Mikaela, don’t drop that glass of water!”sometimes caused her to tighten her grip so much that she actually did drop the glass as she was carrying it to the table.
We learned it was better to say to her: “Mikaela, hold on to that glass carefully” and usually with that positive encouragement she was successful in delivering the full glass of water to the table.
I think this is the type of relationship that we have with our Lord. MB