Like One From Whom People Hide Their Faces

My friend Anne referenced some writing by John Piper where he compared the “becoming” we do as Christians to be more like tadpoles becoming frogs as opposed to caterpillars becoming butterflies.  Caterpillars go in to that wrapped up cocoon and when they’re fully transformed, “POP!” out gloriously to the world in their new,elegant and beautified state.  Tadpoles, on the other hand, wriggle in plain view with an awkward (and kind of grotesque) transformation of little leg buds poking out unevenly and ever so slowly growing bumpy parts and slimy pieces that ultimately identify them as frogs.

While elegance and glory are promised ultimately, it seems that slime and awkwardness, dismantling and disillusioning are the preferred means to the end for the images of God.

For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.  Hebrews 2:10

We are made perfect through suffering.  Many kinds of suffering.  All kinds of suffering.  But indeed, suffering.  The balding, emaciating suffering of chemotherapy to eradicate cancer from a body to make it clean and clear might describe what some of being re-made into His image feels like.  It hurts.  It makes me want to climb into bed, pull the covers up and keep all the lights off.  It makes me want to keep searching for that chrysalis that I can hide in until I’m ready to be seen in admirable splendor.

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.  Is 53:2-3

The brand new sponge has to become unsanitary to effectively clean the mildewy shower.  To restore the filthy surface to beauty, the cleaning tool has to take on the dirt.  To clean up the blood from the wound, something else has to take it on itself.

Nothing of value comes without cost.

What was Jesus about that allowed Him to be “like one from whom people hide their faces”.  Our world emphasizes beauty to be heard, positional titles to have influence, money to make things happen.  What Jesus didn’t need was the kind of marketing value I think I need.  He could do what He came to do without beauty, as one despised(which was repeated!) and rejected, as one held in low esteem and as one from whom people hide their faces!  It only takes my experience of one of those things to send me to bed, spiral my whole confidence and sense of purpose into great despair and darkness, and convince me that I might not even need to exist.

He came to bring light, to speak truth, to bring life in abundance, to bring the sword and take it on Himself, to satisfy the demands of the Law, to give away His life so that others may have it.

Interestingly, the butterfly lives anywhere from one week to nine months while the frog lives between 10 and 40 years.

 

The Offended Pharisee

Last night we had our monthly neighborhood prayer time in our living room.  We have so wanted to gather our neighbors, particularly those who have been here for decades, so it isn’t just the new white people huddled together.  Each time we have had an increasing number of neighbors show up and each time we’ve had a lovely though somewhat stiff time of prayer together.  It makes sense that it would take time to be completely unguarded as we bring different denominational backgrounds together from different theological traditions among two divided races.  Until last night.  Last night, the neighbors took the reigns and there were spontaneous hymns sung throughout the time (none of which the white folks in the room knew but all of which the black neighbors from all different socio-economic positions knew. )  The Spirit was called upon to ease arthritis and to rescue a son in the throes of addiction.  Someone else burst into song and the others followed.  Some of the prayers followed a singing cadence and there was lots of “Amening”.  My neighbors were at home in my living room and one of the older men commented on his way out that “This is how revival starts.”  On earth as it is in heaven.

And throughout that whole prayer time, I was annoyed.  I was irritated.  I was offended.

Why?  Because I had a plan that seemed to have gotten hijacked.  Because there was some prosperity gospel being prayed in there and I had lost theological control of the room.  Because with all my training in small group leadership, there were still a couple of people doing all the praying and others not getting the chance.  And our hour was up and someone else burst into song.  It was out of control.

Well, it was out of my control.

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked,  “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?  For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’  they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.  You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’”

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand.  What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”  Matthew 15:1-12

The Pharisees somehow claimed the position of religious authority in the land of their day, which also bled somewhat into social dominance.  They put themselves at an altitude comfortably above others upon whom they might occasionally notice long enough to look down upon them.  It is understandable, then, that they would feel offended when Jesus refused to look up at them but instead gazed evenly and directly at them, penetrating not only their sight of vision, but their hearts.

 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long;  they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues;  they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.  And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.  Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.  The greatest among you will be your servant.  For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.  Matthew 23:5-12

Everything they do is done for people to see…they love the place of honor and the most important seats…they love to be greeted with respect…sound familiar?  It sounds a whole lot like me, for one.  Can I blame my American, middle class white culture for training me thus?  Maybe.  Is it typical behavior associated with “whiteness” to those in a minority culture?  Certainly.  Is it also the very same heart I inherited from Adam and Eve?  Absolutely.  I will be servant to nobody but will be my own god, determining for myself what is right and what is wrong.  My way or the highway!  Particularly since your way is unfamiliar, awkward to me, and just really uncomfortable.  I like my way better, which obviously means my way is better, right?

When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.  Acts 16:24-26

No different than the Pharisees before me, I’d rather keep everyone in chains with heavy burdens and maintain order than humble myself and recognize that there is only one Messiah, and I am not He.

A month ago, one of the ladies in the neighborhood was scolded by the neighbor who brought her to our house for inserting herself too much because they were visitors and this was not “their thing”.  I think last night, our neighborhood prayer finally became just that…a prayer time that belongs to the neighbors.  In most gatherings of mixed race, guess whose terms typically dominate?  Why do we think its so hard to find truly diverse churches on Sunday mornings?  Last night Jesus gazed directly into my heart and showed me a little of why – because I for one don’t want to give up control, authority and power.  Lord have mercy on methe least of these.

The arrogance of man will be brought low
    and human pride humbled;
the Lord alone will be exalted in that day,
and the idols will totally disappear.  Is. 2:17-18

And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
    to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
    and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
    and who hold fast to my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain
    and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
    a house of prayer for all nations.”  Is. 56:6-7

 

Anesthetized

The first time I had any kind of significant medical issue requiring anesthesia, I remember trying really hard to resist the pull under into unconsciousness.  The reason I held on was because as a ninth grade girl going in for a knee reconstruction, I was very anxious about the fact I wasn’t allowed to be clothed under the sheet that covered me.  I didn’t want to fall asleep and have that sheep removed!  Not too long after the nurse said something to assure me, I was out to the world and woke up with bigger issues of concern…like rehabbing this newly reconstructed knee.

As a Christian, there are times when God’s Word seems so clear and so true that everything else fades into insignificance.  But then, daily life seems to pull so hard at my thoughts and emotions, like the anesthesia,drawing me into numbness.  This morning was one of those times, as I prepared a Bible study for Ellie and her friend to do, when I was reminded that the heart of all I believe is actually truth from God’s word, not some movement or public figure or latest cause.  It was startling, really, to recognize how my faith has faded into such an anemic place because my confidence has shiftedaway from resting on God’s Word to hoping in His creation.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.  Mark 13:31

And then it also hit me:  As much as I hate that life pulls me under, leaving me listless and in darkness like the power of anesthesia to render me inactive in my faith, the Surgeon can’t get to work until I am still.

There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.  1 Cor. 12:6

for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.  Phil. 2:13