Tuesday, June 2, 2015

When You Want To Fit In

He came home from church that day, wondering: Why am I so different?

The youngest in a forty-member class of 7th to 12th graders, he felt left out. Forgotten.

Why don't I have a smart phone? Why don't I have a Twitter or Facebook account? Why don't I have a phone number of my own? Why don't I go on vacations and why can't I do things that cost money? Why don't I get out of school in June and start in September like everyone else? Why do I have a brain glitch that takes up all my time?

He doesn't really want a smart phone: I know this because he hates seeing the faces of youth at church bowing before a phone, unwilling to socialize with the youths all around, who are alive and present and ready to relate.

He knows, too, that he is blessed not to have everything handed to him. He knows distinguishing wants from needs is essential for cultivating gratitude.

But the phone and the lack of vacations are just more ways he is different, and at this juncture, he's still reminding himself that different is good. Fitting in is an empty, misdirected goal. Fitting in is to deny our uniqueness--the specific set of characteristics God gave only to us, as he knit us in the womb.

There's a scriptural "fitting in" that we'll get to below.

To buy a smart phone or the latest thing we don't need is to live blindly--out of touch with our real purpose. It's a wild goose chase, this world-style fitting in.

He also had embarrassing confessions after church that day (which he doesn't mind sharing): I feel like I want to be noticed; I want people to think I'm smart; I want to be able to impress people.

Having been raised in a Christian home, he knew these feelings were not something to advertise. He knew that theologically, they were flawed. And yet he is wired to process his feelings verbally, so speak them he must.

A verbal teen is far easier to rear because nothing is hidden. Everything can be discussed until it's understood and properly placed in a Christian context.

Thankfully, I have three verbal children and another who's easily drawn out.

We talked about these issues, again--all of them coming up recently in another context.

Human beings were meant to be in community, enjoying fellowship and appreciation from one another. We like attention because it speaks love and value into our hearts and lives. All of this? It's basic human psychology.

The problem is, our needs have a depth not equaled by even our family. The hunger for purpose and significance--put their by our Creator--can only be filled by our Heavenly Father, who gave believers an innate desire not to glorify ourselves, but to glorify him.

Devoid of a thriving relationship with our Lord, we mistakenly work for our own glory, thinking it will give us the worth we crave. Whatever skill or gift we have, we work it for our own good, which temporarily fulfills us.

My son? He wants to teach people about God. He feels it in his bones--that this is what he can and needs to do (in addition to the farming). There's a hunger to start it soon and he wonders if he should have the fifth and sixth graders over for a Bible study here at our home, so he can teach them.

He wants to do a good job at it, and be recognized and feel worthy.

Basic human psychology at work here, still. We have capacities and gifts that scream for release--dreams to be fulfilled. We need work, toil, a purpose for rising each day.

All these things, son? They simply make you human and they shouldn't bring shame.

But we must clarify, daily, who it is for whom we toil and why. Who filled this earth with human beings, to exist with and yet have higher needs and intelligence than the animals? Who gave us the desire and capacity to create and build and design and instruct and lead and help and comfort and manage and discern and exhort? Who created such diversity, that we all crave something different for our mind or hands?


Together, we make up his Church. Alone, we can do nothing of value. Each gift, alone, has no power. It is the exercise, in community, of each man's gift that creates a beautiful symphony, in honor of the Lord our God and for his glory.

So that gift you have, Son, for teaching about God? Do it in community. Exercise it properly and it will fulfill you as you honor God. You will be energized, filled with an inexplicable joy in it.

But. Exercise it for your own glory and all your power erodes and you are the same pitiful soul, searching for significance. In this context, your gift becomes irrelevant, and you, worthless.

Because your significance? It comes from your relationship with God and your exercise of the powers he instilled in you, for his glory. 

Did you get that part, son? For His glory.

This post is Part 3 of our Romans 12 Bible Study: Becoming a Romans 12 Christian.

Read Part 1 here.
Read Part 2 here.

FYI: If you title a post about a specific scripture, I find that you get fewer readers. But if the title strikes a cord about a human need, it's more likely to be read. And if you title it with a number--like five ways to lose weight fast, or five things you should never say, you get even more readers.

But I'm not professional like that so don't go looking for numbers in my titles anytime soon. It's all I can do just to get on here, and sort out the Holy Spirit whispers in the quiet of the night.

Today, we learn about our place in the Body, and why we shouldn't think one gift is more important than another, and why we shouldn't think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Let's read the verses below together:

Romans 12:3-8
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Verses 3 - 8 are put in context for us by Bible.org, excerpt below:

In Rom 12:1-2 Paul calls believers to experience ongoing spiritual transformation. This transformation begins by presenting our bodies and renewing our minds. Most people stop reading with 12:2 because these two verses are so familiar. But 12:3 begins with “for” (gar), which is a connecting word signifying that Paul has more to say about transformation. What he says in 12:3-8 is that our commitment to worship and seeking God’s will is incomplete until we are ready to serve. In other words, if your worship does not lead to service, then you haven’t finished worshiping yet. To put it simply: True worship results in service. Paul shares three results of Christian transformation that will enable us to live a transformed life and to apply God’s will... Paul is obviously quite concerned that you and I think humbly about ourselves.

What is humility? It is the recognition and application of who you are in Christ. The first thing Paul does is call attention to his own dependence on grace in the use of his apostolic gift (cf. 1:5). He is saying, “I could easily begin to think too highly of myself as an apostle were it not for one thing: grace. All my calling, all my gifts, all my authority is a work of God’s grace in my life. I don’t deserve it; I didn’t muster it up; it is all of grace.” We must continually remind ourselves of this simple truth: our lives consist of grace. We are saved by grace; we grow by grace; and we are endowed by grace. We are what we are only by God’s grace.

Some gifts result in a front-center position, like pastoring or teaching or administrating. Others, like helping and mercy, are exercised quietly, but still powerfully, in the Body. It's tempting to feel left out as a quiet exerciser of behind-the-scenes gifts, or to feel too powerful as an exerciser of front-center gifts. Each gift is needed; each gift has equal weight in the Lord's sight.

When we think too highly of ourselves, or don't think highly enough of our part in the Body, we lose our balance and the symphony is off key.

Acknowledge your own gifts. Acknowledge your own need for significance, for purpose, for recognition. Next, enjoy the satisfying feeling of right relationship with God and with the Body, through which everything else falls into place. Transform from empty, to full. Transform from gnawing need, to spirit-filled power.

God loves us individually, but he calls us corporately, to work in unison for his glory. 

When we sit at his feet, when we study the Word, when we sing his praises, when we pray, he is there for us as a loving, affirming Father. In His presence, we are filled. He empowers us to serve Him--giving us both the desire and the capacity to join the symphony of believers making up the Church, his bride.

Now, I would do you a disservice not to close with this powerful nugget of wisdom from John Piper, who as he says it is exercising his gifts of discernment and teaching, knowledge and exhortation:

Do you see the astonishing thing that Paul is doing here? As he watches people puff themselves up, thinking of themselves too highly, he says, Here is how to think soberly about yourself: Make faith the measure of your mind. Make faith the measure of your heart, your life. And so he turns self-exaltation upside down. He says, Do you want to have significance? Then look to Christ as infinitely significant. Do you want to have value? Then look to Christ as infinitely valuable. Do you want to want to have esteem? Then look to Christ as worthy of infinite esteem.
Don’t make mistake here. I am not saying what so much contemporary Christian Popular Psychology says. I am not saying: Do you want to have significance? Then look to Christ as a means to your significance. I am not saying: Do you want to have value? Then look to Christ as the one who gives you value. I am not saying: Do you want to have esteem? Then look to Christ as the means of your esteem? I am not saying that in the renewed mind Christ is a means to the goal of your significance and esteem and value. I am saying: you were made to embrace him as infinitely significant and infinitely valuable and infinitely worthy of esteem. That is what the renewed mind does and loves to do. That is the deepest identity of the new mind.
I’ll say it again: Do you want to have significance? Then embrace Christ as the one who is infinitely significant to you. Do you want to have value? Then embrace Christ as infinitely valuable. Do you want to want to have esteem? Then embrace Christ as worthy of infinite esteem.

Thank you for joining me once again, as we study Romans 12. Can't wait until next time. 

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