Reflecting The Character Of Christ
I have in my files an old story from the Dallas Morning News about the Davenports. According to the paper the elderly couple was sitting at home one evening, enjoying a quiet supper together. They had been talking about their day and what lied in store for them in the next few days when they heard their front door come crashing in. Mr. Davenport jumped up to see what was going on when he was met in the doorway by a young man holding a gun.
The burglar screamed at Mr. Davenport to sit down on the couch and then turned to Mrs. Davenport and told her to gather up their money and jewelry and lay them on the coffee table. While Mrs. Davenport frantically searched through her pursue for some money, the burglar noticed that the television was on, so he asked Mr. Davenport what they were watching.
Mr. Davenport told the burglar that they were watching the, The 700 club, and that he would turn it off if the burglar wanted. The burglar pointed the gun at Mr. Davenport and asked him if he and his wife were Christians, and where they went to church. Mr. Davenport replied that they went to the Methodist church. The burglar said in all seriousness, Me too, but I’m a Baptist. Then he told them that he felt that it was wrong for one believer to take from another and left the house.
The sad part of the story is that the criminal honestly believed that he was a Christian. But do you really believe that his character was that of a man who had given his life to God? All too often we claim to have a relationship with God but our lifestyle and character tell a completely different story. Jesus says in Matthew 7:16, "By their fruit you will recognize them”
It’s easy to say that we are Christians, however the truth is, that our character, not our tongues, will reveal who we really are. This struggle is not a new one. Look at how Paul addresses this very same struggle in Romans 2:17-24 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth - you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
As Christians, our character should be like Christ's character. We teach against the sins of this world and we say that Christ is our Lord but do our lives tell the same story that our mouths tell? We say that we strive to be like Jesus, but how is your character? Is your character like Christ's character?
It doesn’t really matter what you preach if your character doesn’t match your words. You can preach Christ and Him crucified; but if you do not reflect the character of Christ, your words will come out hollow and void. Today I want us to concentrate on two personal characteristics of Christ that we must have in our lives if Park Central is going to be a Renaissance Church.
First, Christians in a Renaissance Church must be kindhearted just as Jesus is kindhearted.
One of the greatest characteristics of Christ was His kindness. And the reason that His kindness stands out is not because He was kind to those who deserved His kindness, but because of the great reversal. Jesus showed kindness to those who were shunned in the community.
In the first century women did not have the same rights and position that men did. Many folks thought that women were at best a necessary inconvenience. But not Jesus; time and time again we see Jesus showing kindness to women. In John 4 we see the compassion and care that Jesus showed to the Samaritan woman at the well. When no one else would give her any respect, our Savior not only respected her, but loved her.
Then there is the woman caught in the act of Adultery in John 8. The religious folks wanted to elevate the law even if it meant destroying her life. But Jesus showed her kindness, and reached out to save someone who couldn’t save herself.
What about the Widow of Nain who lost her only child in Luke 12. Jesus broke social customs by touching this woman’s dead son and returning him to her. His show of kindness gave her the ability to not only have her son again but to have someone to take care of her.
But it is not only women that Jesus reaches out and shows kindness to. Look with me in Mark 10:13-16 where here we see Jesus caring and showing kindness to another group of people who didn’t deserve it, little children. (Read Text)
In this passage, several parents were bringing their children to Jesus hoping that He would bless them. Does it shock you that once again we see Jesus showing kindness to someone society thought didn’t deserve it. If women were possessions then little children were worse. The disciples, acting like their culture, thought that Jesus had no time for the children, so they scolded the parents, shooing them away and telling them to leave.
But Jesus once again showing the great reversal that takes place in His kingdom tells His disciples in a firm and patient voice “Let the little children come to me.”
Let them come to me because they matter.
Let them come to me because they are important to my Kingdom.
Let them come to me because my heart reaches out to those who need kindness the most.
If we are truly going to be a Renaissance Church we have got to show kindness, not to those that we are trying to impress, not to those who we think are deserving, but we are to follow the great reversal and be kind to those who cannot offer us anything in return. We are to be kind to those who are struggling, and hurting, and more than anything else in this world need a little of the kindness that only Christ can produce in my life and yours.
I love the story that Dan Clark wrote: Once when I was a teenager, my father and I were standing in line to buy tickets for the circus. We had waited for what seemed to be an eternity and finally, there was only one family between us and the ticket counter. This family made a big impression on me. There were eight children, all probably under the age of 12. You could tell they didn’t have a lot of money. Their clothes were not expensive, but they were clean. The children were well-behaved, all of them standing in line, two-by-two behind their parents, holding hands. They were excitedly jabbering about the clowns, elephants and other acts they would see that night. One could sense they had never been to the circus before. It promised to be a highlight of their young lives.
The father and mother were at the head of the pack standing proud as could be. The mother was holding her husband’s hand, the dad was smiling and basking in pride. The ticket lady asked him how many tickets he wanted. He proudly responded, “Please let me buy eight children’s tickets and two adult tickets so I can take my family to the circus.”
The ticket lady quoted the price. The man’s wife let go of his hand, her head dropped, the man’s lip began to quiver. The father leaned a little closer and asked, “How much did you say?” The ticket lady again quoted the price. You could tell that the man didn’t have enough money, and now he was going to have to turn and tell his eight kids that he didn’t have enough money to take them to the circus.
Seeing what was going on, my dad put his hand into his pocket, pulled out a $20 bill and dropped it on the ground. (We were not wealthy in any sense of the word). My father reached down, picked up the bill, tapped the man on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, sir, this fell out of your pocket.” The man knew what was going on. He wasn’t begging for a handout but certainly appreciated the help in a desperate, heartbreaking, embarrassing situation. He looked straight into my dad’s eyes, took my dad’s hand in both of his, squeezed tightly onto the $20 bill, and with a tear streaming down his cheek, he replied, “Thank you, thank you, sir. This really means a lot to me and my family.”
My father and I went back to our car and drove home. We didn’t go to the circus that night, but we didn’t go without.
When I read that story I immediately though about the kindness that we are to have as Christians. The kind of kindness that reaches out to others with the love of Jesus. Not because they deserve it, but because they need it. Not because they asked for us to give them kindness but because they require it. When we are kind to others, people can see Christ living in us.
Secondly, Christians in a Renaissance Church must be empathetic just as Jesus is empathetic.
Empathy is one of those words that we know about but we really don’t know much about it. A good working definition of being empathetic is to experience someone else’s feelings from their point of view. And that usually comes from remembering. If you were to look at John 11 you would see a beautiful picture of the empathy of Christ.
You may remember that Lazarus, one of Jesus’ closes friends, has been dead for three days. Jesus knew that Lazarus was going to die, and He knew that this had happened so that the glory of God could be shown by his resurrection. Jesus was in control of the situation but when he finally makes it into town He is met by Mary, Lazarus’ sister. She has met Him to confront Him and probably to share some of her grief.
John 11:33-35 reads When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.
Now if Jesus knew all things, If Jesus knew that Lazarus had died, and that God was to be glorified by his resurrection then why do you think that Jesus was crying?
The answer lies in His character. Deep in the soul of Christ lies empathy and deep in our souls as well we must cultivate empathy. Jesus was in pain because His friends were hurting. And the pain that He felt was very real, and moved Him to tears. Too often we in the church want to sympathize with folks, and sympathy and empathy are not the same things.
Moving around as much as I did as a child I picked up the habit of picking up things very easily. I can pick up an accent, mannerism, or phrase in a matter of minutes, and while that helps me acclimate very quickly it tends to drive Trista a little batty. While working in Nashville with Jerrie Barber I picked up on the Barber Grunt. It is a catch all expression that usually shows I am listening and sympathy.
“Jeremy my mom just passed away” and I go “Grunt”
“Jeremy I just lost my job”, “Grunt”
“It’s Cancer” “Grunt”
But the problem is that that’s usually as far as it goes. Sure I add you to my prayer list. I talk to God about it but where do we go from there.
You see sympathy is empty at best and patronizing at worst. Being sympathetic does not call me to any action, it does not move me from my position of comfort, and it definitely does nothing to help you in your situation.
But empathy calls us into action. If you are empathic you cannot leave it at a grunt you have to move. Maybe moved to tears, or maybe just moved to action, but you will be moved none the less. Just as Jesus was empathic, we must do the same. We need to genuinely care for people and move to make a difference in their lives. Sympathy causes calloused hearts, but empathy moves those hurting to the heart of Christ.
Jesus empathized with the sick and blind and restored their lives.
Jesus empathized with Mary and Martha, and the widow of Nain, as well as Jarius and gave them their brother and children back.
Jesus empathized with crowds wandering like sheep without a shepherd and pointed them to a heavenly Father that would give them everything it takes to get close to Him.
There are people that we meet every day that are drowning in people’s sympathy and need the rescue that only empathy can offer. What are you doing personally to point them to the peace that only God can offer? There are those you know that right now are reaching for someone, anyone in their grief, what are you doing to point them to the Prince of Peace?
If Park Central is going to be a real Church of Christ, filled with folks who are living and acting like Christ in our community then we must be involved in the work of the Father. You must tell, with you lives, about a Savior who came from Heaven above to walk this earth. How He sacrificed His life daily, as He worked, toiled, sweated, and was tempted but still refused to sin. You must show the love of the Lamb of God who spilt His own blood on the cruel cross of Calvary, but was not satisfied ending the story there. You must show the hope that we get from the empty tomb that Jesus has been resurrected and now sits at the right hand of God.
Questions To Consider
Can you remember a time that someone reached out to you in a time of struggle and pain? Can you explain what that meant to you?
Can you remember a time that you got involved in someone else's pain? What was your experience?
How can your struggles help you get ready to help others in times of struggles?
How does participating in the struggles of others drive the feeling of community and connectedness?
What are some of the things that keep us from opening our hearts and lives on a level that will allow us to be truly known by others?
Finish the following statements:
I experience the most love from others when they ….
I am most comfortable expressing empathy and love by ….
I struggle receiving help and love from others because ….