Releasing the Superhero within Us

boy child clouds kid

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

I am a bit of a superhero nerd.  Whether it’s Batman, Superman, Iron Man, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Justice League, or The Avengers, I am hooked.  I couldn’t even tell you which one is my favorite because each one is fascinating to me.  What attracts me to this genre of art and pop-culture is not so much the display of their strength, their quests to conquer evil, their teamwork, or even the outstanding special effects we see in their movies.  What attracts me to superheroes is the spiritual significance that I see in each of their stories.

Many of the superheroes we are familiar with came from difficult circumstances.  Many are orphans.  Some have experienced horrific injuries or have painful memories of their past.  Their story of origin almost always has a tragic element to it.  But regardless of their circumstances they have discovered a special power, strength or ability and they have decided to use this gift to help, serve and save others.  Often the tragedy that they experience is what propels them into life as a superhero.  What could have destroyed them has instead strengthened them in their quest to help others.

Another unique trait about superheroes is that many of them live a dual life.  In their day-to-day lives they may be known as Clark Kent, Diana Prince, Peter Parker, or Bruce Wayne.  But when they are called into action they become Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-man, and Batman.  Their “secret identities” are the persona they exhibit when they are not fighting crime, catching villains, or leaping over buildings in a single bound.  It’s who they pretend to be when they’re not being the superheroes they really are.

I believe that we as believers in Christ are all spiritual superheroes.  We have been given the Holy Spirit of God, the third Person of the Trinity to exist inside of us.  That same Spirit has given us at least one spiritual gift that has been especially selected just for us to possess.  God’s desire is to use that gift, empowered by His Holy Spirit to impact the world in which He has placed us.

Sadly, I believe too many of us are living only within our “secret identities.”  We are leading mild-mannered lives going about our daily business sometimes never realizing the special gift within us and the purpose and mission God wants to complete through us.  We spend our days at “The Daily Planet,” getting caught up in the news stories of the world, when in the meantime there are people in need all around us.  We pass by every phone booth (when those existed) and instead of allowing God to transform us and use the power He has placed within us, we continue our daily grind and one day looks very much like every other.  We are not sharing with the world who we really are.  We have either never recognized who God created us to be or we’ve lived so long in our secret identity that we’ve forgotten our true identity as believers in Christ!

Or perhaps, instead of overcoming the tragedies of our past we are haunted by them.  Our story of origin plagues us, making us believe that God could never use us or want to use us in His plan to touch the world.  The pain we have experienced or are still experiencing now distracts us to the point that we feel purposeless and useless.  We believe we have nothing to give.  We forget that we are special, uniquely created with a purpose and mission to fulfill.

If either of these scenarios describes you I can assure you that nothing could be further from the truth!  We each have a gift, a calling, a purpose, and the power by which we are to use that gift to love and serve others on God’s behalf.  We are all spiritual SUPERHEROES as believers in Jesus!  We simply have to recognize our true identities and yield to them.  God will do the rest.

I was recently reading the book of Numbers in the Bible.  Although it is not the most compelling book of God’s Word there are some beautiful nuggets within it.  I stumbled across one that I believe speaks to this very notion of spiritual superhero-dom.  I was reading the story where the Israelites are complaining and rebelling against Moses and Aaron because they have no water to drink.  God says to Moses, “You and Aaron must take the staff an assemble the entire community.  As the people watch, speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water.  You will provide enough water from the rock to satisfy the whole community and their livestock.  …Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out.  So the entire community and their livestock drank their fill.”  (Numbers 20:8, 11)

Now you may be asking what does water coming out of a rock have to do with Christians being spiritual superheroes.  Well, it comes down to just one little word in that passage.  It’s the word “its.”  In verse 8 God says to Moses, the rock will pour out “its” water.  I double checked the original Hebrew and indeed the original text also reads “its” water.  The rock already possessed the water the Israelites needed.  God placed that water inside that rock so that it would be delivered to His nation Israel at precisely that time and place when they needed it most.  He knew their needs long before they did and He made provision for them.  He made provision by placing water within a rock, that rock!

The same is true for each of us.  God has placed inside each of us a gift, a gift that He wants to use to bless and fulfill others.  The gift isn’t for us.  It’s for others.  It is within us and God wants to unleash it in His timing and for His great purpose.  He wants that gift to just pour out of us, refreshing and renewing others through its expression.  He wants to include us in His mission of loving, serving and saving the world.

The downside of this story is that Moses chose to strike the rock twice with his staff (v. 11).  God told Moses to simply speak to the rock and the water would pour out its water.  The result of Moses’ action was the same, the water came gushing out.  But Moses had disobeyed God’s command and he did so in front of the entire community.  The price of Moses’ disobedience was costly.  When their journey in the wilderness finally ended and they were about to claim the land God had promised them for generations, Moses was not allowed to enter.   Moses took the miracle that God wanted to perform and added his own “power” to it.  In doing so, he made it about him.

This is a great reminder for all of us.  We may want some spectacular unleashing of the gift God has given us.  But we don’t get to choose the gift or how God uses it.  We simply need to recognize and yield to His power.  The moment we try to take that gift into our own hands and wield it in the world as if it is our own, we forget the Source of that gift and we make it about us.  That’s what differentiates us as Christians who are spiritual superheroes and the superheroes of our pop-culture.  Our gifts and how they impact the world are about God, not about us.  It’s never about us.  It’s about the One within us.  It is about bringing glory to our God and Creator.

My prayer for you dear reader is three-fold.  First, I pray that you recognize that you are a valuable, priceless, indispensable spiritual superhero.  God made you and created you with gifts, talents, and abilities that are unique only to you.  He has placed within you His Holy Spirit not only to guide you, comfort you, and teach you, but to UNLEASH the spiritual gift He has given you to share with the world.  Second, I pray that you know that God wants to use your story of origin to propel you forward in your mission to serve Him.  He does not want you bound by it.  He knows your story and will use every part of your life experience to touch the lives of others.  Third, I pray that you will yield to Him.   He has a mission for you, a purpose that only you can fulfill for Him.  He wants to pour out what He placed within you so that His love can be shared and that love will ultimately save those who are lost and in need of Him.  You are a superhero!  Give up your secret identity and live as the spiritual superhero God has created you to be.

Lord, thank you for the gift of Your Holy Spirit living inside each one of your children.  Thank you for His power and for Your mission to love the whole world.  Thank you for wanting use us to carry out your mission.  May Your church around the world hear and heed Your calling to love and serve that You may be glorified!  We love you and we thank you for your Son, Jesus.  In His name, amen.

Go and Do Likewise

image1On my recent trip to New York I made a new friend.  Her name is Dorothée.  She is the co-owner of the bed & breakfast I stayed at and was my hostess for the week.  I’ll admit I had an agenda going into the trip.  I really wanted to make a connection with some of the people in the town where I hope to retire.  So little did Dorothée know when she took my reservation that I was looking for more than just a room and some delicious breakfasts… I was hoping to make a friend.  And she didn’t disappoint.

I was only there a few short days but I felt like I left with a friend for life.  We had some wonderful opportunities to share and visit and although I know we barely scratched the surface in getting to know each other, I’m confident this is only the beginning.

We were open to each other.  She shared her Inn, which is delightfully decorated with the antiques that her and her business partner have collected.  She shared her phenomenal, gourmet breakfasts with me, her only guest for the week.  She shared her love for connecting with people and creating spaces for others to connect with each other.  And she shared her two dogs and cat with me.  I shared my desire to move to that area.  I shared my passion for writing and my faith.  I talked about what I believe God is showing me about what it means to live with His Spirit within me.  The conversations were deep and meaningful.  It was wonderful!

Although I don’t know very many details about Dorothée, I am sure there are many things we do not have in common.  I know that we were not born in the same country.  (She’s from France.)  I suspect we  don’t share the same political views.  We may not share the same faith.  And there are probably countless other things that we differ on.  But during that short week we had together, none of that mattered.  We openly shared what we were comfortable sharing with each other.  There was no judgment, no prejudice.  We were both just open to each other and looked for the things we had in common rather than our differences.

It was while I was at the airport on my way home that I began reflecting on how the week could have been different.  I was convicted by the fact that too often I put people into categories before even getting to know them.  I have my implicit biases that quickly sift people into one category or another.  Will they agree with me or disagree with me?  If I had done that with Dorothée there may never have been a connection, or certainly not one that would have lasted.

It’s a bad habit.  Personally, I chalk it up to social media.  I don’t scroll through my feed thinking about the people behind those posts.  I scroll through my feed looking for those I agree with, those whose posts I can “like.”  I swipe past those I disagree with, those that trigger that stress reaction in the pit of my stomach.  Or worse, I engage and start crafting my outrage to post in reply.  The power of opinion is like a drug, and it’s a dangerous one.  I believe our society is punch drunk with the importance of our almighty opinions and we are forgetting not only how to connect with one another but the importance of it. The truth is, we’ve always had differing opinions.  The difference was, our opinions were never more important than our connection to one another.

We’re not alone in this.  Jesus actually addressed this problem in His day too.  Although the cause wasn’t social media at the time, He did address the problem with people not recognizing who their neighbor was.  The story is commonly known as The Parable of the Good Samaritan.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”  Luke 10:25-37 (NIV)

As in all of His parables, Jesus chose His characters carefully.  First off, He gave His audience the setting.  It was the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.  Historically it was known as “the bloody way.”  Picture the most violent and crime-ridden street or alley in your community.  That was the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and everybody knew how dangerous it was.  Still, in the parable, a man takes his chances on that road and gets beat up by thugs.  All of his money and clothes are stolen and he’s left there to die.

There are three people who encounter the beaten man.  The first two are a priest and a Levite.  The priest was someone who served in the Temple.  He was a religious man, someone you would expect to have a lot of compassion and care for another human being.  The second was a Levite.  All priests came from the tribe of Levi but not all Levites became priests.  But again, for Jesus’ audience and even for us today, one would assume that these would be some of the most compassionate people around.  The expectation of them would be that they would stop for someone who needed help.

The third person was a Samaritan.  Jews and Samaritans were bitter rivals.  The Jews would never consider a Samaritan to be their “neighbor.”  In fact, they only reserved that designation for other Jews.  So it is purposeful that Jesus chose a Samaritan to be the hero of this story especially when posed with the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

The Samaritan didn’t look upon the man and base his response on the man’s nationality, race, religion, or political preference.  He looked upon him with compassion and saw him as a fellow human being in need of help.  He thought of the man first and himself second.

Jesus turned the question asked by the expert of the law back to him as He ended this parable.  “Which of the three do you think was his neighbor?”  Notice that the expert of the law couldn’t even bring himself to say the word, “Samaritan,” but instead said, “the one who showed him mercy.”  And Jesus’ words to him are the same that they are to us, “Go and do likewise.”

We could easily say, “Okay, Lord, next time I come across a guy whose beat up in a dark alley I’ll help him out,” knowing full well we have no intention of ever going down that dark alley in our community if we can help it.  But if that is our only response I think we are missing the point of this parable.  Jesus’ audience then was no different than His audience today.  We have to stop categorizing people and sifting them in terms of whether they agree or disagree with us.  We have to stop looking at people’s opinions as their defining traits, as though that is all that there is to them.  There is more.  There is a soul in need in every human being.

In researching this parable I came upon the following quote:

“It is a convenience, and perhaps a necessity, of human life, that the great mass of humanity should be broken up in to fragments, sections, with differing customs, languages, and names. It gives to the world the stimulus of competition and helpful rivalries. But these distinctions are superficial, temporary, and beneath this diversity of speech and thought there is the deeper unity of soul. We emphasize our differences; we pride ourselves upon them; but how little does Heaven make of them! Heaven does not even see them.”

Revrend H. Burton wrote that sometime in 1889-1890 and it is exactly what the Lord convicted me of in that airport.  God does not see us in terms of our political views, our race, or whether we lean left or right.  He’s sees us as humanity in need of a Savior.  “For God so loved THE WORLD that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him may never perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)  If He doesn’t see us through the superficial categories of the world, why do we insist on seeing others through them?

My life verse is 1 John 4:12 but let me give you that verse in context.

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.”  (1 John 4:11-13 – NIV)

God doesn’t love us because we vote for a particular candidate, go to a particular church, or follow a particular rule.  God loved us before we ever knew who He was and long before we ever chose to love Him back.  We know this brand of love.  We’ve experienced this brand of love and we’ve been saved by it.  John is reminding us of our responsibility now that we have God’s love and His Spirit within us.

We as believers have the opportunity to show God to others who don’t know Him and who have never encountered Him.  “No one has ever seen God; BUT if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”  (verse 12).  They will see Him through us!  God becomes visible because He lives in us.  His love becomes complete through us!  If that does not excite you, I don’t know what will.  People who don’t know God’s love can encounter that same great love that saved you and me through the Spirit that lives inside us.  That is not religion.  That is a calling.  That is our life’s purpose!

When we fall into the system of the world, categorizing and sifting others based on our almighty opinion we are not only misrepresenting what it means to be a follower of Jesus, we are missing the opportunity for God to be visible to someone who doesn’t know Him.  He is asking for our openness so that His Spirit and His love can do for others what it did for you and I.  We are not only to see others as souls in need. We are to see ourselves as carriers of the only One who can meet their need.

Our job as believers is not to manufacture our own love for others hoping that will point them in the direction of Jesus.  It is rather for us to be open to allowing the power of God’s love to flow through us, to allow the Spirit of God who lives in us to touch others through our skin, our smile, our kind words, our eyes.  When our love coinsides with the Lord’s the experience is even greater and frankly, I believe, God’s gift to us.  But our love is not a requirement.  It’s His love that will change a person’s life.  It is His Spirit that will draw them to their Savior.

Revrend H. Burton said it well:

“It was because the Samaritan forgot himself that all the world has remembered and applauded him. …Discipline your heart that you may see in man everywhere a brother, whose keeper you are. Let fraternity be, not a theory only, by a realized fact, and then a factor of your life. Train your eye to watch for others’ needs, to read another’s woe. Train your soul to sympathy, and your hand to helpfulness; for in our world there is room enough for both.”

 Now join me and let us, go and do likewise.

Thank you, Father, for loving us first!  Thank you for the power of your love and the gift of your Spirit living inside of us.  Forgive me, Lord, for the countless times I have sifted people and categorized them by my opinions and bias.  Make me open to others, so that they may encounter You and come to know Your Son as their Savior.  Thank you for the example of the Good Samaritan.  Use me as you see fit to love and care for those souls in need.  In Your Son’s precious name, amen.

Burton, H. (n.d.). St. Luke. In Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Third Series). Rev. W. Robertson Nicoll, (Series Ed). Retrieved from: https://biblehub.com/commentaries/expositors/luke/10.htm.

 

 

 

“I am a fan of your future.”

 

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend time with some teachers and coaches from my high school years.  These reunions were so special.  These five men and women played a huge role in shaping me and making me the woman I am today.  Each of them not only shared their talents and abilities with their students, they shared themselves.  They cared about us and invested themselves in us.  Although more than 30 years had passed since I had seen most of them, the connection that we shared hadn’t changed.   I was again inspired just by being with them.

Throughout my lifetime, God has blessed me with some of His best people to guide, mentor and coach me.  I am so grateful for each and every one of them.  While I just had the opportunity to spend time with five of them, there have been many, many others.  (You all know who you are.)  And I am so thankful that God continues to put mentors in my life.  Each one of them is a precious gift to me.

If any of you are a Pixar fan like I am, perhaps you saw “Cars 3,” which came out last year.  I went to see it simply because I was a fan of the first two installments of the series, but I was pleasantly surprised, as the movie unfolded, that it’s theme was about the power of mentoring.

God always finds interesting ways of speaking to me and one of His ways is through movies.  Cars 3 was no exception.  He showed me things through that movie that reminded me of the powerful gift that mentoring is.  Here are just a few highlights of what He showed me.

Good mentors believe in you.lightning drives into racing center

When Lightning McQueen is faced with the reality that his racing abilities can’t compete with younger, faster race cars he has a choice to make.  He can either give up racing or change the way he trains.  He decides to stay in the game and seek out a new way to become a better racer.  His sponsors recognize that they do not have the ability to take him to the next level, so they sell their company, Rust-eze, to someone who has greater resources and can make Lightning a faster race car.  When Lightning arrives at his new training center, the foyer of this state-of-the-art facility is essentially a museum dedicated to his career.  His number, 95, stands two stories high at the entrance.  He is awestruck.

As I watched this scene unfold the words that ran through my mind were, “They believe in him!”  Imagine feeling like you were washed up, a loser, barely hanging on to the only thing you know how to do and arriving at a place of last resort – a place where you would either make it or break it.  The last thing you would expect would be a foyer set up as a shrine in your honor.

Lightning McQueen, after seeing this vast display of memorabilia from his career says, “Wow.  You really are a fan.”  To which his new sponsor replies, “I am a fan of your future.”

That is what mentors are.  They don’t see our failures, they see our future.  They believe in us in spite of what our “stats” look like and in spite of our “win/lose” column.  They see us.  They see us for who we are and who we can become.  They see our potential.  They see in us what we cannot see in ourselves.  That has definitely been my experience.    And no gift can be greater than someone believing in you.

SIDE NOTE AND SPOILER ALERT:  Lightning’s new sponsor turns out to be somewhat of a villain in the story and not a mentor to him at all.  But more on true mentorship in a moment.  Read on.

Good mentors have good mentors. smokey's garage cars 3

Lightning McQueen’s mentor, Doc Hudson (The Fabulous Hudson Hornet) passed away years earlier.  But, we learn in Cars 3, that Doc Hudson himself had a mentor named, Smokey.  As Lightning longs for direction and guidance he turns to the only one who might be able to guide him like his mentor would.  He ventures out and ultimately finds his mentor’s mentor, Smokey.

I can only assume that the mentors in my life had significant people in their lives who mentored them along the way.  Their willingness to give of themselves is evidence to me that they have received from the generous love and outpouring of others.

As God gives me the opportunity to mentor others I do so with passion.  I want to give to others what I have been given.  I want to do my mentors proud by giving others what I have received.

The mentoring relationship is unique in that it’s not designed to be reciprocal.  It’s designed to be perpetual.  My mentors don’t want to receive from me what they have given me, just as I don’t want to receive from those I mentor.  But what I do hope for my mentees, is that they get the opportunity to pour into another’s life.  Because as great as it is to receive, it is even greater to give back.

Which brings me to my favorite scene in Cars 3.

There is great value for both mentor and mentee in a mentoring relationship.

In my favorite scene, Lightning talks to Smokey about how bitter his mentor, Doc Hudson, seemed to be after his racing days were over.  Lightning’s impression of Doc was that because Doc was no longer able to race he was never really happy again.  Then Smokey takes Lightning to his garage.  On the way, he too admits that Doc was bitter after being forced to give up racing.  He shares that the two of them hadn’t been in touch for many years.  But then, something changed in Doc’s life.  Smokey started getting letters from Doc and the two reconnected.  As Smokey opens the door to his garage, Lightning sees the letters that Doc shared with Smokey posted on the wall.  Every one of them was a newspaper clipping or a photo of Lightning.  Then Smokey says to Lightning,

“Racing wasn’t the best part of Doc’s life, you were.”

Feel the power in that statement.  A mentee struggling to compete, doing everything he can to stay in the game, hoping beyond hope that he can still somehow make his mentor proud, and then he hears those words.  He was the best part of his mentor’s life.

There is great value in the mentoring relationship for both mentor and mentee.  Mentoring may not be reciprocal in the sense that we receive exactly what we give out. But, mentors do receive!  This is a perfect example of that.

When we’re young it seems that life is all about winning and losing.  It’s about our “stats” and what we accomplish. But what we get from our mentors, from those who believe in us and who we are as people, is the understanding that life is not about our performance or our abilities, our successes or our failures. It’s about our connection to others.  It’s about the value we have and can give to others, about how we can invest in them, believe in them, and remind them of their own value and worth.  Doc’s ability to give of himself to Lightning changed his bitter feelings about his own career and focused his life and his heart on what was important, his relationship with Lightning.

This is what we pass along to those we mentor:   That our true value is in who we are and our goal is to use that value to help others find theirs.

clippings doc hudson

One of the things I love about this scene, is it’s contrast to the moment when Lightning enters his sponsor’s training facility. Both moments are awe inspiring for Lightning. Both of them show Lightning his value and importance. But only one is truly genuine, deep, and based on a personal investment rather than a monetary one. Doc was so proud of being connected to Lightning that he couldn’t help but share it with the one who had poured so much into him. And Smokey was so proud of being connected to Doc, he couldn’t help but honor the relationship he got to see between Doc and Lightning by posting those clippings and articles in a place he would see them every day. The glitzy, jaw-droppingly beautiful museum in the foyer of the training facility was no comparison to sacrificial, uncompromising, unconditional love that was displayed in newspaper clippings and faded photographs in that old garage.

The best part of my life is not about what I have accomplished or not accomplished. The best part of my life are the people God has connected me to. He has connected me to others through my successes and through my failures. Those are the means through which He has made some of the most important connections in my life possible. And as I get older, I see more and more of the value I possess – not for myself, but to invest in the lives of others. I want others to know their value so they too may pass it on to others.

I am eternally grateful for the mentors in my life, the five people in the pictures above and the countless others who have poured into me.  Thank you.  You believed in me.  You saw and still see in me what I cannot see in myself.  You have given of yourselves and invested in me time, love, and attention so that I will be a better me.  Your gifts to me are priceless and I in turn am investing what I have into others so that your legacy lives on.  Thank you.  May God bless you as He has blessed me through you.

Lord, thank you for wiring all of us for connection.  Thank you for showing us the value of mentoring through the life and ministry of Your Son and through the gift of Your Spirit that lives in us and connects us as followers of You.  Father, you specifically chose people to serve as mentors to me.  Thank you for knowing who would be the perfect fit.  Bless them as you have blessed me through them.  And thank you for the opportunities you give me to mentor others.  May I be as faithful as those who have poured into me and may You be glorified through every relationship.  In Jesus’ most precious name, amen.

The Stumbling Block

 

abstract architecture background brick

Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.com

I recently heard a talk radio personality talking about his love for the word “earn.”  It is one of his favorite words in the English language.  He didn’t go into great detail about it, but the strength of his conviction was evident by his impassioned tone.  I believe many people in America share his love for that word.  We are a “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” kind of nation.  We root for the underdog, wanting them to succeed through hard work and perseverance.  And while we value our children’s self-esteem, we are not really an “everyone gets a trophy” kind of country.  We want rewards and accomplishments to have value, to really mean something because we worked hard for them.

I share a lot of the same opinions and convictions with this radio personality but I don’t share his affinity for the word “earn.”  In fact, when he made that comment I was reminded of how much I dislike the word, “deserve.”  The words are similar.  According to Miriam Webster, the first definition for the word earn is: “to receive as return for effort and especially for work done or services rendered.”  And the second definition is nearly identical to the definition for the word deserve: “to be worthy, fit, or suitable for some reward.”  So, although this radio personality and myself both seem to have visceral reactions to these very similar words our reactions are in opposite directions.  Why is that?

I can only speak for myself but my dislike for the word “deserve” comes from my faith.  At the very core of Christianity is the concept of grace.  It is the exact opposite of earn or deserve.  My faith teaches me that I can do nothing to be saved.  All of my good works add up to, as one prophet puts it, “filthy rags.”  (Isaiah 64:6)  I cannot earn God’s favor.  I do not deserve heaven.  But, I have both because of the grace given to me as a gift by Jesus Christ.  He is the reason God sees me as one of His children.  He is the reason I will spend eternity in heaven.  It was what He did as God’s Son that makes me worthy to receive.  So, even when I hear the word attributed to things like a vacation, retirement, or splurging on an unusual purchase, I cringe.  Nothing I have is “deserved.”  God has and continues to be gracious to me.

This concept of grace does not fit with the flag-waving, red-white-and-blue, American pride I described above.  In fact, the two are quite a contrast.  As far as sin is concerned, we do not have the ability to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and save ourselves.  We are completely unable to cleanse ourselves of our own sin thereby bridging the gap between ourselves and our perfect Creator.  If that were possible there would be no need for a Savior.

In this context, even our love for the proverbial David vs. Goliath underdog is often misplaced.  David only defeated Goliath because the Lord delivered him into his hands.  He said so himself.  “David said to the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head.’ ”  1 Samuel 17:45-46  The “David’s” of the world are not to be the object of our worship and admiration, only God who was the true source of David’s victory.

And, as Christians, we believe that Christ died for all.  His love, His forgiveness, His mercy, His grace, is for all who believe in Him.  That means that everyone IS eligible for that trophy regardless of, and often in spite of, their performance in this world.  Unlike us however, God does not award us this “trophy” of salvation to build up our self esteem.  HE is our esteem.  He is the very reason we came into being.  We reflect Him in our uniqueness.  It is in His image that we are created… not the other way around.  It is not about us.  Our “trophy” is a renewed and repaired relationship with the One who created us and it is absolutely undeserved.

These truths of our faith go against what has been ingrained in us as Americans.  This post is not meant to be a criticism of our great American pride or our nation as a whole.  Not at all!  It is instead a reminder that we as believers cannot trip over this common stumbling block.

Paul says in his letter to the Romans: “What then will we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it.  Why not? Because their pursuit was not by faith, but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written:  ‘See, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and the one who believes in Him will never be put to shame.’ ” (Romans 9:30-33, emphasis mine)  Paul is quoting from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 8:14; 28:16).

God knew that what He chose to do for us to reconcile man back to Himself, would be a stumbling block for us.  He knew our pride.  He knew it long before America existed.  He knew it long before Christianity existed.  He spoke about it through His prophet Isaiah in the 8th century B.C.  What He asks of us, is to lay aside our desire to earn our way to heaven.  It can’t be done anyway!  He’s asking us to stop working as if it’s even possible.

He is also asking us to recognize and acknowledge that our salvation comes from only one source, His Son, Jesus.  This too is a stumbling block for many.  Not only can we not earn our salvation, we must acknowledge that salvation can only come through Jesus.  Grace does not come through all religions.  All religions do not lead to salvation.  Jesus alone sacrificed His life, paying the price for our sin so that we could have eternal life.  He is the stumbling block in our politically correct world.  But this is not new.

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his first letter to them he said:  “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’  Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Jews demand signs and Greeks search for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

As believers it’s important that we stay alert and don’t trip over Jesus as so many in this world do.  Our faith requires us to lay down our pride and acknowledge that only by God’s grace through His Son are we saved.  This is utter foolishness to the world.  It always has been.  But to us who know God personally, it is the power and wisdom (and grace) of God.  We have to be willing to “look foolish” to the world.  We have to be willing to lay aside our desire to “earn” our way.  And we have to acknowledge that nothing we have done “deserves” the salvation we receive by faith in God’s Son, our Savior, Jesus.

Lord, make your church willing to look foolish to the world.  Thank you for the precious gift of your Son to save us from the sin that keeps us from your perfect presence.  Thank you for the fact that we cannot earn it.  Give us the humility to simply receive your grace.  May we be a witness to those who are stumbling over You.  May they see Your light in us.  Use us so that they may know with assurance that they too can have the free gift You are offering.  We love you, Lord.  In your Son’s most precious name, amen.