Monday, November 14, 2016

Keep to the script!

Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy.  Keep to the script: whatever you learned and received and heard and saw in me—do it—and the God of peace will walk with you. (Philippians 4:8-9 VOICE)

Paul was the kind of guy many might think of as "Ivy League". He was considered to the be the Pharisee of the Pharisees, a Jewish Rabbi, high up in the ranks of "religious zealots" of his day.  We might liken that to being "top of the class" - or lettering in a varsity sport - getting a name for yourself - or even being in the spotlight. He excelled in the study of the Law of Moses and practiced it down to the smallest instruction. He was too good to walk on the same side of the street as the leper, and too righteous to associate with sinners of any kind. He took issue with this new-found "Christian" movement into which many who followed Jesus' earthly ministry seemed to be "taking up a position". In essence, he was kind of pretty much "into himself" and felt pretty sure of his standing in this world, certain his opinion of his "interpretation" of truth was the best, carrying the most weight, and being the only "standard" by which one should live their life. His life was lived in zeal, but was exclusionary in focus, determinedly biased to one way of seeing truth, and pretty "judgmental" of those who didn't adhere to his way of believing. Saul would have aligned himself with others of similar beliefs, but distanced himself from those who didn't see things as he did. 

Does this way of living sound vaguely familiar to anyone today? The circumstances may be different for many of us, but if we look closely we see one group pitting themselves against another, judging each other through whatever "colored lenses" we each wear, and really trying to justify our position through some misguided belief our "stand" is the best. In truth, there is but one standard by which each of us will be judged - one example by which our lives will be measured - Jesus. It took a while for Saul of Tarsus to realize that very thing, and a pretty dramatic encounter with the Divine to set him straight, but once he understood the only standard by which we all live is that of grace, there was no turning back for him. He got knocked down a few pegs in order to become "all things to all men" - in order to enter into their lives, not as judge and jury, but as one who is equally as much in need of God's grace as the next person. We might do well to recognize this truth, as well. None of us is "Ivy League" in our beliefs - none of us is "fit" to be judging the actions of any other person. All of us need grace - none of us is without sin. As good as we may be, as different as our actions may be from another's, we are all standing in need of God's grace to set our lives "right".

As Paul realized, his thinking had to change - not because he believed "bad stuff", but because the stuff he believed set him apart as an "elitist" and made it almost impossible for others to see anything good in being in relationship with God. The facade he put up of being a religious zealot only masked over his intense need for God's grace - and that facade kept others at a distance. In essence, the robe of his "self-righteousness" confused others into believing they could never "measure up" to the standard by which he lived. It took him getting knocked down a notch or two to realize the zeal he had was only creating confusion for those who had genuine hunger and need in their lives. The leper didn't need to be judged for his spots - he needed to be healed of his disease and embraced as a valuable part of society. The prostitute didn't need to be looked down on because she walked the streets at night - she needed to be shown there was no sin to deep, nor any choice too wrong to be out of reach of God's grace.

We might not be so judgmental of others if we'd learn to see what I think Paul saw that day on the road to Damascus - that "there, but for the grace of God, go I". Just sayin!