December 22, 2015

The Faith of Misfit Believers

[As I do every year since 2010 I will re-post this article. Its hard to believe this is the sixth year. Ironically, every time I post it, it changes a little as I seem to add to it a little as the Lord continues to sanctify me. It seems to hit a familiar note with people and they always seem to like reading it before Christmas. It is long so buckle in for the ride...]

It is about the unlikelihood of our faith from a human perspective. But that isn't what it is really about is it? The human perspective? It is about God's perspective.

Some of the "heroes" of the Scripture read like a list of toys on the "Island of Misfit Toys" from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Misfits one and all from a worldly and secular perspective. The rejects of society, the rejects that the godless world doesn't want. I mean...good grief man! Look at what they did to Jesus. Even our Messiah Jesus Christ was ostracized by his own people who did not recognize Him as the Son of God. Rejected and sentenced deceitfully to death by crucifixion in the greatest miscarriage of justice the world has ever known.

We then have people like David standing in for King Moonracer who has a dysfunctional family an often times rebellious lot. There is also Abraham with his faith and faithlessness the equivalent of Hermey the Misfit Elf who lives a double life as a dentist and one of Santa's helpers. And of course we have the Apostle Paul who reminds me of the big bruiser "Bumble" (abominable snowman) who initially beats the living daylights out of mostly defenseless reindeer and has a thorn in the flesh. Paul who fell off his horse on the road to Damascus and bounced into the annals of Christianity as one of the greats in the Faith.  I could go on with the comparisons but I off we go into the land of misfit and rejected believers...

It is through God's eccentric lot that we truly see the glory and the power of God.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

It is through God's eccentric lot that we see the earth move and the sky catch fire. I sit in bemused amazement after reading the Bible and the stories of the societal rejects God picks to accomplish the amazing tasks we see in the Bible. He has continued to pick the same type of person when he picked you and I to be His disciples and to carry on the Good News. It is the very reason that he picked them (and us) to do His work too. Flawed vessels accomplishing great things in faith by the power of God. The very power that resurrected Christ from the grave.

"For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord!” ~1 Corinthians 1:26-31

"For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." ~2 Corinthians 4:6-7

It was once written by novelist Frederick Buechner that the absolute improbability of the Jewish and then subsequently the Christian faith succeeding based on its followers is astounding. It is exactly this reason though that brings all the glory to our holy God, our wondrous Savior, Jesus Christ.

In what other book besides the Bible would we read the story of the very first pair of people who would violate the only thing forbidden to them? They would eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

"And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” ~ Genesis 2:16-17

That God would select an old man in the middle of the desert where it had never rained before to build a boat the size of a modern-day aircraft carrier. This same man after having been afloat for months on a foul smelling cramped zoo on an inundated world would immediately proceed to plant a vineyard, hit the bottle and pass out stone cold drunk only to be looked upon naked by his son (or possibly violated) to his great embarrassment.

We would see Abraham the father of the nations have his faith accredited to him as righteousness. He would also leave his wife out to dry by basically giving her away to Pharaoh to protect his own skin...Sarah be damned. Very manly and chivalrous I must say [sarcasm intended].

"As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” ~Genesis 12:11-13

 Who could've imagined God would not pick Esau who was generally honest, capable, and a provider over the lying, duplicitous and conniving Jacob who was essentially a snake in the grass?

“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” ~Malachi 1:2-3

We see that God would pick the line of Judah for His Forever King Jesus to descend from, the same Judah that had a hand in throwing his brother in a well and then selling him into slavery. The same person that ended up sleeping with his daughter-in-law Tamar who he thought was a prostitute...two no-no's. "...but its not as bad as it seems, I only slept with her because she was a prostitute..." Ehhhh?

That God would invariably pick David as a King who would become the archetype of every king that would come after him until the advent of Jesus Christ to surpass him. The same David who was a known adulterer, murderer and for all intensive purposes a polygamist like his son would also be. He was man that really could not keep his house in order because he had been cursed by God for what he had done to Uriah the Hittite. This incident would drive him into exile from his very kingdom by his own son Absalom. David would also take a census of his military strength and not depend on the Lord in faith which would lead to the death of thousands.

Solomon who would be given the riches of a kingdom and wisdom from God that people would come from other lands to witness. Solomon who couldn't seem to put a clamp on what appeared to be a matrimonial obsessive-compulsive disorder. He also couldn't stop collecting horses, overtaxing his subjects and in the end allowed his nutty pagan wives to put a damper on things by introducing their false Gods and idols into the promised land. Solomon who was a perfect example of how a person can have wisdom but unless it is used is worthless.

Then we have Moses, who was a murder and was trying to outrun the homicide rap for clobbering a man on the noggin and killing him in Egypt. If it weren't for a twisted sense of honor he'd have also just as soon thrown his brother Aaron under the bus by letting Aaron go back in his stead to take the heat from the Egyptians.

We see the likes of Rahab whom the Jews well into the New Testament (Hebrews 11:31) viewed as a paragon of faith when she cooperated with the two spies from Shittim sent by Joshua. Rahab who was also a prostitute/harlot who literally lived in a hole in the wall of Jericho. After the walls fell, her and her family were the only survivors.

...and who could forget all those prophets of God both major and minor? The whole lot of which were probably nuttier than fruitcakes based on outward appearances. They wore camel hair shirts, leather belts, and ate bugs dipped in honey. Crazed disheveled men that screamed at the top of their lungs often times with spittle flying out of their mouths in the middle of the desert wilderness at everyone and no one in particular.

Of particular note in the Minor Prophets we should lightheartedly poke at Jonah, the most miserable excuse for a prophet ever seen. Jonah who, other than telling the Ninevites to repent, ended up serving God very little. The only other thing we learn from Jonah is how to serve as a bad example. Jonah, who after having be told to, "Arise, go to Nineveh" gets up and the opposite direction (180 degrees) towards Tarshish. He is a prophet that nearly gets an entire ship of mariners drowned because of his disobedience. A prophet that literally sounds as if he is chronically depressed throughout the book named after him. After telling the Ninevites to repent (and they actually do) he gets angry about it because he wants them to be destroyed. Instead of having mercy on them as God has done he still holds on to pent-up homicidal hostility. Instead he cares more about a vine that gave him shade after it has died. A man that clearly has his priorities mixed up.

Then of course we need to look at God's chosen people as a whole. Of all the peoples or races he could have chosen to be His "Nation of Priests" and His holy people, he chose the Jews. As somebody once said, "The Jews who are just like everybody else only more so like everybody else". When they were religious, they were more religious than anybody else and when they were piously hypocritical they were so pious and hypocritical that the term for being too pious and hypocritical is to be "pharisaic". When they were secular, they were secular as if they'd invented being godless."

The people of the Covenant whom God said to them, "And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people" ~Leviticus 26:12. The very same line of descendants of Abraham whom God said, "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." ~Genesis 12:2-3.

These very people God was speaking His promises to would then apostatize and build idols to worship literally before the last of His commandments had left His mouth and had been delivered to them at the foot of Sinai. A stubborn and stiff-necked lot of misfits.

Jump forward to the New Testament and we have the thick-headed Peter who denies Christ not just once but three times even after denying to Jesus that he would deny Him. The same Peter who is the first to confess Jesus' true identity when Jesus asks him, "Who do you say that I am?" and Peter responds, "You are the Messiah, Son of the living God!" Then almost immediately needs to be yelled at when Jesus tells of his coming death and Peter resists. Jesus' response? "Get behind me Satan!" The bumbling disciple never seems to get it right the first time. Even after Jesus' Resurrection Peter could've waited to until the boat reached shore but impetuously decided to swim instead in his impatience.

Finally, I mention Paul. The great apostle Paul who wrote more books of the Bible that anyone else (13) thirteen, (14) fourteen if we included Hebrews. Paul the expounder of the faith...and a slayer of the brethren. Paul formally known as Saul. Yeah, that Paul.

The list from the Bible could continue for a while, Thomas, Gideon, etc. If we look forward two millennium we now have similar situations in our church. Young idealists decked out in jeans, piercings and tattoos, share the pews with conservative white collar "suits". Teenagers and occasionally spouses tuning out sermons that others are straining to hear from the back of the congregation over top the whine of their children or other's children. Recovered and reformed drug addicts preaching from the pulpits. Former criminals, adulterers, miscreants and generally immoral people that have now become champions of the Faith. Believers gather together methodically and move through a centuries old ritual synchronized as dancers doing a waltz. Other congregations construct close intimate communities and have little or no ritual but tend to migrate together with herd mentality like the social creation they were meant to be. They seem to exist in a perpetual state of koinonia/κοινωνία or fellowship.

I often shake my head in disbelief at what appears to be outward incongruities and the absurdity of it all...but this is the way God has made it and this is the way God wants it. God's power is made perfect in our weaknesses. It has been done by his measure, for His pleasure, by His standards and according to His timeline. The idea that all these misfits and societal rejects could fit together often times near perfectly defies conventional logic. We begin to understand how something this diverse and disparate could be this way when we go back to a simple request from the Son to the Father...

"....Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one." John 17:11

This is the only possible way something this diverse and chaotic could possibly work. It sometimes looks like a zoo put through a blender. When they all sing out of tune it produces a cacophony of sound equal to that of a train wreck carrying cymbals but this is exactly how God planned it and wants it. How else could all these disparate beings become one  in the One? Only in Jesus Christ could these dissimilar cast-offs from society pull this off in unity. We are all to be one in the One, Jesus Christ.

"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. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also." ~John 15:16-20

I will wrap this with the thought about the Church. ekklesia / ἐκκλησία a feminine noun that means "the called-out ones." The bride of Christ. Christ's body. One must consider that more often than not, the world's rejects are God's chosen. He chooses them and "calls them out" specifically because they are the oddballs by the world's measure and because they are rejects of secular worldly society...myself included. We begin to realize that what God values and what people of this world value are two diametrically opposed things. The irony is that we do not stay rejects...oh, no, no!

We become indwelt by the Holy Spirit and we are made new. We become new creations. New like a rewrapped Christmas gift that the world didn't want. But because we come wrapped in the blood of the Lamb we are the perfect gift to the Father. Ironically, it is only through faith that we receive "the gift" of salvation given to us by the One the world rejected as a misfit also...and that gift we accept makes us acceptable to the Father. God works in a joint effort with us to make us more holy. Sure, we'll still be treated like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at a convention for nocturnal photosensitive animals by all the "normal" people. It is because they won't know how to deal with us so they will sit us off in a corner to make fun of us or stare at us warily to see if we implode or spontaneously combust. Who cares? My question is this: How many of them can say that they know Truth by name? Jesus. Jesus Christ. Mr. Jesus Christ to you mister!

If God could use all these offbeat characters this should give us reassurance that He can certainly use us who are the same type of people. Rejects of the world. We will be purified, cleansed and made holy for use by God...all of us misfits together. For this we were made. For this we will be used. Hallelujah!


[All images in post from Rankin/Bass 1964]

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