Today’s Chronological Bible reading includes this verse, Romans 2:24, from the New Living Translation:
No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you.”
There’s a problem among Christians, especially in North America, and that problem goes by a one-word name: hypocrisy. Echoing the words of Romans, it is no wonder that people outside Christianity have no room for God in their lives, especially when Christians are so adept at saying one thing but doing another.
In their book entitled “Unchristian,” David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons explain that the third most common perception about Christians by young adult non-Christians is that churchgoers are hypocritical. (That’s #3 on the list, after anti-homosexual and judgmental.) When I look at how Christianity is popularly and publicly expressed, I say “no wonder.”
Far too many Christians have bought into the self-centered message of American culture: that everything is about me, my rights, my welfare, my eternal security, my hope, my peace, my comfort. As we discussed at our Men’s Breakfast last Saturday, this is an example of pride, one of the “seven deadly sins.” (We will be looking at the other six during future Men’s Breakfasts. More on that below.)
We call ourselves persecuted, even though we are the ones shifting uncomfortably in our seats because of the man in a turban in the next seat on the airplane. We cry out about a war on Christmas, even though there is, for yet another year, absolutely no threat to our peaceful observance of this religious holiday.
And at this time of year, we remember just how thankful we are for all of God’s blessings, even though we are turning “Thanksgiving” into “Thanksgetting.”
I first saw that word, “Thanksgetting,” on a TV commercial for Verizon this past Sunday night. That telecommunications giant is marketing its next big round of electronic sales with the term “Thanksgetting,” and Verizon is not mincing words: it’s all about getting more stuff, the newest devices, the greatest deals, the biggest discounts. “Get into the spirit of getting,” they proclaim.
Black Friday shopping starts on Thursday evening. People camp overnight, rush into stores, fight over products, make videos of people fighting over products, watch videos on YouTube of people fighting over products, all in the name of “Thanksgetting.”
Meanwhile, Christians stand idly by. Sure, we shake our heads in disgust at the mass consumerism of this age. But then we sit down at our dinner tables, say a brief word of thanks, and eat more food in one sitting than many people eat in an entire week, let alone a day.
You see, American Christians may very well rebel against Black Friday consumerism. All well and good. But most of us have bought into the idea that “Thanksgiving” is really about “Thanksgetting” a whole lot of turkey into our stomachs. “Thanks be to God for the bounty of this table,” we say, “but, Lord, please help those who don’t have enough to eat.”
If one of you says to [a cold, hungry person], “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:16 NIV)
No wonder people around us are turning away from Jesus.
This isn’t about creating guilt within ourselves, because that is just another manifestation of pride. Truly, this is about serving as the hands and feet of Christ in our community. This is about being transformed by the Holy Spirit so that it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us (Galatians 2:20). This is about rejecting the false narrative of our culture, which preaches that life is all about us. This is about adopting a new narrative, a new theme for our lives, a new way of seeing people, a new way of giving thanks: it is about a narrative rooted in washing each other’s feet, in giving away not one but two coats, in resisting the urge to cast judgment, in attending to the needs of those around us, in finding salvation not in things or food or money, but in the poor and the outcast and the refugee.
Let’s be frank. One of the seven deadly sins is gluttony. At last Saturday’s Men’s Breakfast, one of the men recognized how uncomfortable it will be for us to discuss this sin while fifty pancakes sit uneaten in the warming tray.
Let’s be frank. It’s easy for us to put hundreds and even thousands of dollars toward church maintenance and building projects. But for some reason we hesitate to meet the needs of strangers. Just yesterday, a lady from Saginaw called our church phone and asked for help with her outstanding rent bill of $225. I could say that it’s a shame that churches don’t just step up and eliminate needs like hers. But really I feel guilty for giving only one-ninth of what she needed, while I have a car and two motorcycles sitting safely inside a brand-new $20,000 garage. (Please remember that I am, honestly, grateful for this blessing from the congregation. I’m just a little conflicted, too!)
Lord, forgive us for living a lifestyle of “Thanksgetting” rather than a lifestyle of “Thanksgiving.” Transform us to live counter-culturally, sacrificially, pouring ourselves out for the sake of those around us. Make us less like hypocrites and more like Jesus.