Tuesday, January 26, 2010


For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  ~ 1 Corinthians 1:26-27 (ESV)

In the movie, Legally Blonde there is a scene where the main character, a stereo-typed, California sorority girl is introduced to her classmates at Yale Law.  Within the briefest exchange of dialogue, the differences between this girl and the members of her orientation group become painfully obvious.  All but the lead hold multiple graduate degrees from challenging programs, most have years of extensive volunteer service, and each is confident of their place at Yale.  The heroine has only her life experience to offer as her qualifier for her admission.  And that is seemingly hollow and superficial.

Have you ever felt as if you were the glaring misfit in a group of highly qualified individuals?

Recently I had the opportunity to be introduced to a group of men and women who all held what I consider to be the Christian Pedigree.  Most of these individuals’ stories resemble the following:

  • saved at young age (4/5 yrs old)

  • families strong in ministry (children of pastors or missionaries)

  • home-schooled or private Christian schooled; appropriately followed by attendance at Christian University

  • met spouse in youth group (junior high/high school)

  • engaged faithfully in decades (if not multiple) of service (missions, orphanages, homeless, at-risk inner-city youth, etc…)

  • certain, in the absolute, in what God wants to do next in their lives.

This information was gleaned as we sat around a table, introducing ourselves and explaining what had brought us to this particular venture.  I had the privilege of going last, of listening to the 15-plus individuals share their shining histories, seemingly unmarred by the world.  May I tell you that during this experience, I vacillated between sinking lower in my chair and arching my neck in self-preserving pride?  It wasn’t pretty.  In situations like this, I have a tremendous propensity to measure myself against other believers.  This particular tendency was more pronounced than ever in this room full of people with whom I was all together unfamiliar.  The seeming religious élite.

I, in my mind, smacked of this world.  Literally reeked of it.   I was tempted to gloss over, yadda-yadda, through certain parts of my story; then in the next instant, enticed to test the acceptance of these alleged little-Christs by flooding them with gory details.  Would their eyes bug out of their heads, mouths hang agape?  Would I be able to read the judgment on their faces?

Upon contemplation, I was reminded that my path puts me in the company of another woman for whom Jesus displayed a great tenderness.  In Luke 7:36-50, we find Jesus dining at the home of a Pharisee called Simon, one of the Israelite Pedigrees of His day.  No doubt Simon had the right family, he had certainly been educated in the appropriate schools; he had undoubtedly pursued a relative form of higher education and internship under a notable teacher of the day.  Simon’s acts of service were most likely judged by his entire community and deemed worthy of a man in his position – a religious leader.  While we are not sure why he invited Jesus to dinner, we can not assume it was to merely laud his own position.  Perhaps this Pharisee truly wanted to be close to Christ, to know Him, to come into a relationship with Him.  As voyeurs into this brief moment, we can not judge Simon’s heart.  We can only observe what is revealed to us directly through Scripture.

At some point during the meal, a woman “who had lived a sinful life” enters the Pharisee’s home with an expensive jar of perfume (37).  She positions herself behind Jesus, weeping, wetting His feet with her tears.  To dry them, she uses her hair and then kisses the feet of the Master.  She finishes her act of worship by bathing Christ’s feet in perfume.  This moment is so personal, so tender, so completely unavailable to us distant observers, that there is no dialogue.  It is an act solely between a broken sinner and her Savior ~ her heart to His.

This intimate act was likely unsettling to those who were immediately privy to it.  The Pharisee, while observing the silence, has an internal monologue, noting that if Jesus was truly a prophet, He would know that this woman at His feet was unworthy of touching them – that she was a sinner.  Christ, however, being able to hear the thoughts in Simon the Pharisee’s heart, responds with a parable: two men owed money to a lender, one indebted 500 denarii, the other 50.  The moneylender forgives both debts.  Jesus then asks, “Which one will love him more?”  Simon responds logically: the one whose debt was greater.  To complete the lesson, Jesus points out to Simon all the differences between his actions and those of the sinful woman:

  • Simon offered no water for Christ to wash, the woman wet His feet with her tears

  • Simon did not greet Jesus with a kiss (as was custom), the woman did not stop kissing Christ’s feet

  • Simon provided no oil with which to anoint Jesus’ head, the woman bathed His feet in perfume (the more expensive of the two).

Jesus ends His lesson with these words: “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." (47)

When my turn finally came, I landed where I generally do: truth.  In God’s perspective, we are all the same ~ Christian Pedigree or sinner.  Their pedigree is mine, in that we share kinship as children of God.  These saints are as depraved as I without Christ.  Their birth rights no nobler, influence in the kingdom no greater, nor sins no less than mine.  These pristine sheep simply walk a different path.  And in that, I am called to share my experiences, not to shame my kinsmen, but to glorify the name of our God.  We are each members of one body, useful in different ways, and all completely dependent upon the sacrifice of Christ.

As for the table full of believers, of whom I was unsure would count me worthy, they did not judge.  They embraced me as a sister in Christ.  Alongside me, they acknowledged and offered praise for the grace and mercy in all our lives ~ and the source from whence it comes.  Christ alone.

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don't see many of "the brightest and the best" among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these "nobodies" to expose the hollow pretensions of the "somebodies"? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ.

~ 1 Corinthians 1:26-32 (the Message)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Thoughts from the treadmill

It’s January.  And as I have done for more times than I care to discuss here, I have resolved to exercise.  Along those lines, I let slip to my kids (who are white belts) that I should take an adult karate class. So at the strong encouragement of my children, who delight in the idea of their mom kicking and “ki-ah-ing” right along with them, I spoke with the Sensi of their dojo. He was very enthusiastic, but did caution me that I shouldn’t eat dinner before coming to class. “Why,” was my naïve response. With what I consider a truly wicked grin, he responded, “So you don’t puke on the mats. Most first-timers do.”

Excuse me? Did you say, “puke?!”

As you can imagine, I am oh-so excited to start karate. In fact, I’m wondering exactly how long I can put off joining this class. I do have to see Sensi four times a week for my children’s classes, so I can’t completely avoid him. However, to make my yes be yes, I have resolved to get in shape (at least develop some muscle and endurance) before I start karate classes. Because, frankly I can imagine few things more humiliating than vomiting in front of other adults due solely to the fact that I can’t hack the workout. Yeah, it’s a pride thing. But I don’t think I could summon the strength to show my face at the dojo again, which would be a tragic way to end my kids’ budding karate careers.

As I was sweating profusely on the evil elliptical (right beside Barbie, who had been on her machine 30 minutes longer than I, and was only glistening the way aerobic-video instructors do, not the way people drenched in their own perspiration shine), I was commending myself for my resolve to get into shape so that I wouldn’t be embarrassed when I took a class to get into shape. “Ha,” I thought to myself, “I won’t throw up, I will even be able to keep up.” (Yes, if you must know, that was most likely the delightful cocktail of endorphins and peppy, workout music on the mp3 player talking.) And then, I had a sobering, more realistic thought flit into my brain: “what if, after all this personal preparation, I still puke?” I stole a glance at Barbie, to make sure she couldn’t read the mortification in my thoughts. Thankfully, she was grinning as happily as ever, flaunting her feat of sweat-free elliptical endurance.

It was then that I realized a number of the body of Christ approach our God this way. “Thanks for the invitation, God; but I’ve got some messy stuff I have to take care of first. After I deal with all of that, then we’ll talk.” Oh, I’m not just talking about people on the verge of conversion; I am primarily referring to those among us (myself chief amongst us) who consider themselves unworthy of serving, evangelizing, disciplining.

When we experience the invitation to serve, we reason that first we must get our act together. We need to whip ourselves in to spiritual shape before we can be useful to God. In our current state, we are too depraved, too messy, too fleshly. We need to be the model mother/wife/friend/daughter/neighbor/domestic diva/culinary whiz (one does need to entertain, does one not, when becoming a servant?), etc. We need to be better versed in Scripture, increasingly well-read, a stronger apologist, a more motivating leader, a more humble person, a little more mature, more organized, more articulate, more empathetic...Until our personal lists extend beyond our ability.

Granted, there are biblical qualifications for leadership, laid out in Titus 1-2 and 1st Timothy 3, to which we should adhere. However, God does not expect us to fix ourselves before serving Him. Quite frankly, He is all too aware that we can’t fix ourselves. Only an intimate relationship with Him can enable us to deal with our mess. Scripture, in fact, tells us that [God’s] grace is sufficient for you, for [His] power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9). When we enter into service, not under our own power or abilities, but with the full knowledge and admission that we can NOT do anything apart from God, to whom are we assigning glory? Certainly not ourselves, in our weak and flawed flesh. We accept that, without God, we are insufficient. And through our weakness, our junk, our messes, He is evident, He is perfect, He is glorified.

The more humbly we submit ourselves and our mess to Him, through service, the more we have to rely on His power to get us through. The more evident it becomes to those we are serving, that we are not the ones responsible for our seemingly endless grace or love or wisdom. It can only be God.

And isn’t that how it should be? All the glory, honor, and praise going to God, instead of to ourselves in our own abilities?

So, instead of hitting the spiritual elliptical (whatever that looks like for you: becoming the model Christian, strengthening your apologetics, or waiting for maturity to smack you upside the head), hit your knees. Admit that you can’t do whatever it is you’re being called to do. Tell God that this task is so far outside of your abilities that you’ll puke on the mats (figuratively, of course). Beg His help, His guidance, His presence.

And then get up and do it. Because His grace is sufficient for you; God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Cor 1:27). God chose you. He is with you in your obedience. Joshua 1:9 assures us of this promise: Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

So get off the spiritual treadmill and get on your spiritual mission.