Friday, April 1, 2011

Talk doesn't cook rice.

Recently I heard someone tell this story:

Imagine a gymnast about to perform in the Olympics. The millions watching on TV, the thousands filling the stadium, and the prestigious judges are all waiting for the gymnast's performance. She enters the arena and walks up to the balance beam. A hush rushes over the stadium. In silence, the gymnast climbs on top of the beam and raises her arms. Everyone is expecting to see a inspiring display of skill and athleticism, but instead, she does something strange; she kneels down and wraps her arms around the balance beam. She lays down directly on top of it and just holds on. And she does so for about a minute. After the longest 60 seconds that any audience has ever experienced, she gets off the balance beam, raises her hands in the air, and smiles.

The crowd is silent. Then, out of the silence a few claps and cheers emerge. However, the only ones clapping and cheering are the people that are closest to her-- the gymnast's parents, friends, and coaches. The rest of the crowd is not impressed. They are more confused, some even angry. Feeling good about herself, the gymnast continues to smile.

The judges begin to display their scores. The first judge reveals his score: 0. The second judge: 0. The third also gives the gymnast a 0. All the way down the line, every judge gives her a 0.

She's shocked. "A zero? But I didn't fall off! I didn't mess up!" Her smile quickly disappears and her family's cheers fade. With a look of confusion and disappointment she walks out of sight.

Here's the thing... sadly, many Christians are just like this gymnast.

Many people who call themselves Christians have taken a step of faith--we have gotten on the balance beam--but just like the gymnast, we don't do anything once we get on it. Getting on a balance beam and doing flips, and turns (and all the other things gymnasts do on balance beams) involves risk. Standing on a beam and twirling about isn't a very comfortable thing to do. Jumping and flipping while trying to land on a surface thats just a few inches wide is not easy. There's a chance of injury and failure. Laying down and hugging it is much safer and a lot more comfortable. The problem with many of us Christians: there is no performance, no action. Its like we are scared of injury, afraid of failure. We'd rather avoid the negative possibilities and get in a more comfortable position. Our faith, like the balance beam, is not being used correctly. There's no action! Our feet never leave the beam.

And the audience is not impressed.

Who is the audience? The world. For the most part, the world hates, ridicules, and frowns upon Christians. No one in the world is applauding the church, there is no one cheering us on. No one except the one's closest to us--our fellow Christians. But the world is not fooled. Anyone can put themselves on a balance beam. I can do that! But I am no gymnast (don't let this strong, athletic, picturesque physique fool you!). In order for me to be considered a gymnast, I must do more than be seen on a balance beam; I must perform. I must prove with my action that I am a gymnast. Anyone can say they have faith and call themselves a Christian. Anyone can be seen in a church. But our performance, our action, shows the world what we really are. "A person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone." (James 2:24)

G.K. Chesterton once said, "Just going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car." Its not about where you stand, its about what you do.

Like the gymnast, many of us feel we can climb up on the balance beam and just get comfortable. I guess we think that will be enough to get our judge, being God, to just clap and cheer for us. We expect to be comfortable our whole lives, do nothing, and get to heaven and still hear God say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant." But how surprised we will be when God holds up our scorecard and it reads, "0." After all, we did nothing. The audience was watching, and we did not perform. We claimed to be gymnast, but we didn't offer any proof to the judge that we were what we claimed to be. Sure, we didn't fall off and we didn't mess up, but thats not good enough.

I feel like we spend so much time worrying about the things we shouldn't do, we forget that there are things that we should do. We're all about "don'ts" and not so much about "do's." But If you claim to be a Christian, you have to perform! And a Christian performance looks like this: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts, share your food with the hungry, invite the homeless poor into your homes, clothe those that are cold, and be available to your own families (Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25). It is to perform tangible, real actions. Not just praying for people, talking about how you have compassion for them, and worrying for their spiritual well-being, but meeting their physical, tangible needs. We are commanded to love, and this is love! Love is not just a feeling or emotion. Where true love is, action will be also. Consequently, where there is no action, there is no love. Period. End of story. Some of us need to dust off that old DC Talk record and listen to "Love is a Verb" again. Some of us also need to dust off our Bibles and read John 13:35 and Matthew 22:36-40.

Check out what James said: "Dear friends, do you think you'll get anywhere if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, "Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!" and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn't it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?" (James 2:14-17, The Message). James said it: "Talk without acts is outrageous nonsense."

I just read this and it blew my mind. There's an old Chinese proverb that says, "Talk doesn't cook rice." Wow. It's so simple. But If you love rice as much as I do, that just changed your life.

Actions do speak louder than words. I've often heard of married women who are frustrated with husbands who say "I love you" but never show "I love you." Likewise, I've often heard of a world that is frustrated with Christians for the same reason. We're real good at talk, not so much at action. We know a whole lot of scriptures, parables, and theology. And I truly believe we are willing to give our lives for our faith. But in the words of Leonardo da Vinci, "Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do."

I hope those three words echo in our heads for the rest of our lives--we must do.

The world is hungry. And talk doesn't cook rice.