When things feel out of order or in any way chaotic, it becomes imperative for me to impose new structures. As mentioned on numerous occasions, I come from a strong culture of achievement oriented living. We achievers like measurable goals, proven metrics to evaluate success, constant assessment of progress and accomplishment…and if we can wear a t-shirt that tells everyone about our mission in two to three words, all the better.
Unfortunately for me, God does not seem as impressed by this framework for living.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Matt. 23:23-28
Writing a check, though certainly painful in one way, does not require me to genuinely feel merciful affection for the one to whom I give the money. In fact, it often makes me feel smug, superior and like I’m pretty impressive. Is it faithfulness to God’s provision that I disperse what He provides or is it faithfulness to my own reputation or score card?
Cleaning the outside of the cup and dish, like making my home ready for guests, can be to make my guests feel more restful and at ease. But it can also be a self-indulgent monument to Self for others to be impressed by my home rather than lavished with undivided attention so that each guest feels my genuine interest in his or her story and life.
In our own neighborhood, it is so much easier to plan a cook-out for the whole neighborhood than to make time for one neighbor, celebrating any evidence of God’s activity and faithfulness in his or her heart. The former appeases my achiever need to have something to show for my existence while the latter directs the spotlight onto God’s.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matt. 25:40
Ward Brehm, who I heard speak when he was the head of the Africa Fund which directed U.S. Federal money to AIDS work in Africa, highlighted the fact that Jesus says, “ONE” of the least of these. How did I come to marry “go big or go home” with Jesus’ exhortation to serve rather than be served? Maybe its that photo ops make me feel that I can do both service to others while serving my need for recognition and approval at the same time? Jesus repeatedly told those He served, “Tell no one!” Jesus poured Himself out of the Love He already had in the Father and Spirit. I tend to pour myself out to attain that validation, affection or position. The latter is self-serving while the former is Love. I look at the outside, God looks at the heart. I want fruit that impresses even if by waxy finishes and genetic modification, but He creates fruit that lasts.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other. John 15:16-17The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and the one who is wise saves lives. Proverbs 11:30