Sunday, April 24, 2011

I Wanna Be Different – Just Like Everybody Else

Commentary for Sabbath School Lesson dated 4.24.11

I have a question for you:
"How does being chosen by God make your life different from people who do not claim Jesus as their Savior?”[1] 
Maybe the question should be, “Does being chosen by God make your life different …?”  What’s that old saying, “If I were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict me?”  Or, do I try to blend in with the folks around me?  It seems like almost my whole life, people have thought of me as a goody-two-shoes – at times it’s been complimentary and other times as an insult.  When I was in school, I hated the thought of being different in any way.  I wanted to dress like everyone else, wear my hair like everyone else.  Even now, I am really uncomfortable if I feel like I’m not blending in.  Trust me, I will never be accused of being “fashion forward.” 

I know, most teenagers go through that period where they want to wear what all their friends are wearing, while insisting they’re expressing their independence.  If you spend any time at all watching teenagers and young adults, you’ll notice pretty quickly, that there are specific groups that you can recognize by the clothes they wear.  There are the rockers who tend to wear t-shirts and/or jackets with band names on them; the goths who like wearing lots of black, the skateboarders in their baggy clothes, and so on. But does the way someone dresses tell us anything about what is important in that person’s life?  Should we, who see ourselves as children of God look/act/think differently than folks who don’t think of themselves in those particular terms?

I believe that this question is more complex than it looks initially.  It’s easy to say an emphatic “YES! Christians should be different in every way.”  And I can totally see that point-of-view.  But then I am faced with some examples that seem to point me in another direction.  I don’t claim to have any final answer on this issue at all…if you do, I’d be interested in hearing from you.  In the meantime, I’ve got some examples from both sides.

Remember when Moses was up on the mountain talking to God and getting the 10 Commandments and Aaron was supposedly holding down the fort with the children of Israel?  The people got impatient and decided that they wanted a god they could see, that they could carry around with them.  And Aaron went and made the statue of the golden calf.  What, in the world, was he thinking?  It’s not like he didn’t know better; he was second in command to Moses!

I have an opinion here; I think he didn’t want to be the bad guy.  I think he wanted to be liked by the children of Israel more than he wanted to be respected.  He valued the acceptance of the Israelites more than he valued the God.  And it got him into trouble.

On the other hand, when Jesus was on earth, He hung out with people that were considered socially unacceptable.  He dressed like they did, from what we know.  He came across as one of the crowd.

Missionaries regularly do much the same thing:  
“Several years ago I was visiting Manila and was taken, of all places, to the Manila garbage dump and saw something beyond belief. Tens of thousands of people make their homes on that dump site. They've constructed shacks out of the things other people have thrown away. And they send their children out early every morning to scavenge for food out of other people's garbage, so they can have family meals. People have been born and grown up there on the garbage dump. They have had their families, their children, their shacks, their garbage to eat, finished out their lives, and died there without ever going anywhere else, even in the city of Manila. It is an astonishing thing.
But Americans also live on the garbage dump. They are missionaries, Christians who have chosen to leave their own country and communicate the love of Jesus Christ to people who otherwise would never hear it. That is amazing to me. People would leave what we have to go and live on a garbage dump.”[2]
What if, though, the Americans came to the garbage dump to minister to those people who live on that dump, began to prefer living there and refused to leave?  What if Jesus had decided that He’d rather stay here on earth than to go back to Heaven?

There is a strange psychological thing that happens when people have been held hostage for a while.  It’s called the Stockholm Syndrome.
"The term Stockholm Syndrome first occurred in 1973 at an attempted bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. A man tried to rob a bank, and the police caught him inside. He took three female hostages and one male hostage and held them for 131 hours, during which time he terrorized them. He fired his Russian automatic assault weapon at them. He threatened to kill them on numerous occasions. He put nooses around their necks and threatened to hang them. But he didn't harm any of them.
"When he finally surrendered, something very unusual happened. We expected the hostages to be antagonistic toward the hostage taker. But instead they said they feared the police more than the hostage taker. They also said they didn't hate the hostage taker. They refused to testify against him. One of the ladies became engaged to this hostage taker, and as far as I know, she's still engaged to him.
"The FBI analyzed thousands of hostage situations since that time. We found this happens very frequently. So we asked psychologists, 'What happened? What causes this?' They said in hostage situations, with a high level of life-threatening stress and positive human interaction, the people's ego-defensive mechanisms come into play. There is denial of what is happening and regression to a different emotional state. The hostage will eventually begin to transfer his hatred; This guy doesn't really want to hurt me; and begins to hate the policemen. And something else very important begins to happen; a love relationship begins to take place. And this love relationship is like what happens between a young child and a mother. The mother is protecting the child from the terrifying world and providing all its needs.”[3]
So, who do we identify with most—Our captor or our Rescuer?  Who do we look and act more like?  Who do we want to spend our time with?

“… you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. … Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” 1 Peter 2:9, 12

[1] Debbie Battin Sasser, “The Priestly Garments 
of Grace, Lesson 5, April 30, 2011,” Collegiate Quarterly – Teachers’ Guide
[2] Leith Anderson, "A God's-Eye View of Christmas," Preaching Today #208
[3] Ted Childress, former FBI hostage expert, speaking as part of Donald Hoke's sermon, "The Stockholm Syndrome," Preaching Today, Tape No. 30.

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