Wednesday, May 12, 2021

What's In a Nickname?

Men love nicknames. What is that all about? And they don't hold back when it comes to awarding someone a new moniker. They will call a buddy Cross-eyed Cole in a New York minute. And Cole will think it's great! Imagine being known throughout history as Fat Jack or Rick the Stick. When it comes to evaluating others, however, we love to think we are above passing judgment based on the wrapper God gave them; we're really not. If you owned a factory, would you hire the tall, thin, athletic-looking guy, or the guy who's as wide as he is tall? Chances are you'd hire the athlete. Why? Heavier people are characterized as being lazy, or sloppy in their work. If you searched a crowd for someone to hang out with, would it be the little, skeezy-looking guy rubbing elbows with the politicians? I doubt it.

We just started a devotional called Nobody Left Out: Jesus Meets the Messes, by Michael Murray. The author was born with cerebral palsy; he is no stranger to being judged and he knows God uses whom He chooses. The first encounter is Jesus' call to Zaccheus. You know the guy -- "Zaccheus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he..." Yep, that's him. Now, the first thing Luke tells us about him is that Zaccheus was a chief tax collector, and his job had made him rich. Tax collectors in those days worked for Rome. The Roman government set the prices and the people who collected the taxes added on their own surcharges. Essentially, Zaccheus was gouging his own people. I'm sure he didn't get invited to a lot of backyard barbecues. The second thing Luke reveals is that Zaccheus wanted to see who Jesus was. Why? He saw the crowd? He'd heard the stories? Maybe something was pricking his conscience. Luke doesn't say. And the third thing is the thing that has probably stuck with Zaccheus longer and more vividly than anything else -- at least among us, the patently superficial -- he was short. Luke's point is that because of Zaccheus' disadvantage, he had to climb a tree. Jesus saw this grown man, hated by his own people (and maybe well-deserving of their hatred), possibly having a "Napoleon complex" before even Napoleon, perhaps picked on all his life, willing to risk further ridicule just to see who He was. Jesus invited Himself to Zaccheus' house and wat a blessing came upon that place! Zaccheus pledged half of his wealth to the poor and committed to paying the victims of his shady dealings back fourfold! What a transformation! 

Now, I get it, Zaccheus wasn't despised simply because of his stature; he didn't have the popular vote either. But, what if his choice of occupation was a first-century way of overcompensating? Perhaps he'd been slighted all his life and decided to get back at the tall, thin, athletic-looking crowd. Despite his size, Jesus chose him. Maybe because of his size. After all, Zaccheus didn't let that stand in the way of satisfying his curiosity. That took some moxie. And the people watching, particularly those who may have been repaid fourfold because of Zaccheus' transformation, probably never looked at him the same way again. Maybe in that part of town, Zaccheus' height became less of an issue and the size of his heart was more the focus. Whatever the long-term results, Luke ends the record with the fact that truly matters: "And Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.'" Zaccheus may have gone down in history as a wee little man, but he went down in eternity as a blood-bought child of the King.

Monday, May 10, 2021

One Under God

We live in the United States of America. Sadly ironic these days. But how should united look like in a country also known as a "melting pot" of cultures and races? What did united look like in the early church as it spread from one region to another? What is the purpose of our union as a human race?

Read Paul's words:

11 "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—"                                                                           ~ Ephesians 4:11-15

Did you catch that? Did you catch the diversity for the purpose of unity? God, through Paul, is explaining the importance of diversity in Kingdom work. In this case, He refers to commissions. I am going to assume there was something about those appointed to evangelize that made them different from the prophets. I'm also going to assume the qualities that made one suitable for the office of prophet were unlike those suitable for that of teacher. A variety of talents, circumstances, education, finances, etc., equipped them for their calling with the purpose of one goal: a ministry that would build up the body, bring individuals to a place of unity and maturity for the glory of God.

God created diversity and uses it to bring glory to His name. No one should be ashamed of anything God has given them; not their pigmentation or features, or their talents, or their heritage. It's not like we have a say in those things. Diversity is cause for celebration, not segregation or intimidation. Hiding or denying our differences leads to over-correction. Hating or demoralizing another race in an effort to fix the hatred and demoralization of another is still racism. None of this leads to unity. Unity is understanding there is one goal -- to glorify God -- and seeking His guidance in blending those differences to reach that goal. Without people of different backgrounds and talents banding together and teaching the truth about God and His work, the disciples in the above text would have remained children -- immature in their faith and tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine; they would have never known the unity of the body of Christ (v. 14-15). How powerful it is when people of obvious differences come together and testify to the same truth! 

Sadly, discrimination and injustice do exist. Sin demands that those things exist; Satan demands those things exist. But, diversity and unity exist as well, by God's design! In Christ, there is forgiveness of the very sin that causes us to pervert diversity, and in Christ, there is the redemption of broken vessels. The differences given us by God -- talents, backgrounds, education, culture, geography, and yes, skin color -- facilitate the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the only hope for a cursed world (a world created by an infinitely imaginative God), to every square inch of that world. Lifelong relationships can be formed based on things we perceive in the first few minutes of meeting someone. When the gospel is spread by diverse individuals to other diversified groups, those relationships can be a catalyst for God's glory. The glory comes in the purpose for the relationship and the fruit it bears, not in whether it appears diverse or homogenous to human beings.

Dare to live differently. Dare to love others for their differences. Dare to take this country back to one nation under God. And we'll give Him the glory together.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Everybody's Better Than Me. And That's Okay.

Okay, so you're better than me. I mean, you have the Benz and I have the FoMo; you have the shore house (They're "shore" houses in Jersey) and I get to sit in my yard and look at the neighbors' yards. You have the degree; I'm the world's oldest living sophomore. You retired as a lieutenant; I just retired. We could sit here and count the ways, and I'd be okay, but does that makes me humble? Is being humble having the power to crush someone, but not having the interest in crushing anybody? Is being humble knowing someone is wrong, but refusing to out them publicly? It is so much more. Just listen to this verse:

2 Chronicles 7:14 ~ "if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land."

The Hebrew word translated "humble" in this verse is kana. Kana means to bend the knee; hence, to humiliate, vanquish:—bring down (low), into subjection, under, humble (self), subdue (Strong's). To humble oneself is to submit, to bow before someone (in this case, God) and to be willing to endure even humiliation. Imagine what it might mean to bring yourself low. In this world, it's the higher ground that gains you a military advantage; it's being at the top of the list that gets you the transplant; it's having the highest grades or the highest IQ that opens up opportunities in universities worldwide; it's the highest number of likes, of album sales, of awards, of followers that we are taught to worship or seek after. The lowly get crushed. That may be, but if we truly believe all things work together for good to those who love God and are His called (Rom. 8:28), there's nothing to worry about, right? 

Or, how about this verse? (You might wanna say "ouch" after you've taken a moment to let this one sink in. I did.):

Philippians 2:3 ~ "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself."

No need for translation there. "Let each esteem other better than himself." That means you're better than me. Even if you aren't. (But you are. Because God says so.) Now, we're not talking about "poor me, I'm not worth anything." The Bible is full of verses affirming our inestimable worth in Jesus Christ; in fact, it's the worth He ascribes to us that is the reason we ascribe worth to others, greater than the worth we ascribe ourselves. (Did you catch that?) When I speak of you, I speak more highly than I do of myself. When there is one chair remaining, I will stand. If you answer me harshly, I will answer you gently. If you have done something to offend me, if absolutely necessary, I will discuss it with you prayerfully, respectfully, and in love. If, through prayer, I find it is something I need to let go, I will do that. I'm not talking about tip-toeing around you as though you are fragile; I'm not talking about sucking it up to spare your feeling or avoid a confrontation; I'm certainly not talking about stewing quietly. I am talking about each believer resting in who they are through Christ, so that they can love others selflessly (agape*) and serve them daily. And I am certainly talking to myself as much as anyone else today.

So, you're better than me, and that's okay. Hopefully, I'll give you my seat one day.

*agape: (Greek) a love that is goodwill, benevolence, and willful delight in the object of love. Agape love involves faithfulness, commitment, and an act of the will.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Is That Your Alarm? Maybe Not

My husband uses an alarm clock. I'm not referring to the alarm on his cell phone; I mean a bona fide, plug-it-in, glowing red numbers alarm clock. In fact, when the last one started to raise the white flag, I had a terrible time actually finding one. Yeah, he wasn't real keen on online ordering at that point either. Big surprise. There was a time, though, when we both awakened to an alarm. We worked different shifts, so we needed two separate sounds. He'd have some *beep, beep, beep*; I'd have some *wonk, wonk, wonk* -- two very different sounding alarms to distinguish one person's alarm from the other. Even though the other's sound might still awaken you from time to time, you knew not to pay it any mind, it wasn't talking to you.

This morning I was reading Colossians 2:11-12:

11 Also in Christ you had a different kind of circumcision, a circumcision not done by hands. It was through Christ’s circumcision, that is, His death, that you were made free from the power of your sinful self. 12 When you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and you were raised up with Him through your faith in God’s power that was shown when he raised Christ from the dead. (NCV)

Briefly, physical circumcision was commanded by God to Abraham and his descendants as a sign of His covenant with them. In the New Testament, Paul uses the practice metaphorically, as in the circumcision of our heart (God's intent from the beginning): a symbol of our covenant through Christ as believers, having hearts set apart to God by the work of God's grace and our faith in it. The circumcision we receive through Christ's death frees us from the power of sin and death. Those things are cut away from us, like the flesh cut away through the practice of circumcision. Just as the flesh would never again be joined to the body, sin and death will never again be joined or made a part of us.

If you are a child of God through Christ, you are no longer a part of the world; you are no longer born in the flesh. The sheep of the Good Shepherd hear His voice, and are held in His hand and kept by Him for eternity. When the bank account is nearing zero (or maybe has gotten a bit past that point) and the image on that little slip of paper runs through your mind a dozen times a day, if you are praying and waiting on the Lord, you don't have to panic. That alarm is for the old worrisome you, and he's not here anymore. When a friend calls, and they want to talk about everything that went down at the latest AA meeting, you don't have to engage. That alarm is for the old gossiping you, and she doesn't live here anymore. When the dog is barking, and the kids are fighting, and the washing machine just went off balance, and your Zoom call starts in thirty seconds, you don't have to react. That alarm is for the old angry you, and he left when the Holy Spirit moved in. When traffic is backed up for the next six miles, you have got to use the bathroom, and the clown next to you keeps jackrabbitting from lane to lane -- getting nowhere except on your nerves -- you don't have to leave him there, and you don't have to communicate with him via hand signals. That alarm is for the impatient, unkind you, and she no long lives here. 

All those things that want to suck us in to the way we used to respond are someone else's alarm. We may have been like Pavlov's dog, responding every time we heard that bell; we might have reacted with every whiff of trouble or temptation, but believers in Christ listen to the Master's voice. The faithful follow the peace and gentleness and wisdom and grace He speaks, and are becoming like Him, speaking that language, as well. The alarms may never stop and on occasion, we may hear them and be tempted to respond, but if we belong to the Shepherd, His sheep hear His voice and follow.