Many years ago, during a British conference on comparative religions, experts were discussing whether there was any belief that was truly unique to Christianity. Creation, incarnation, and resurrection were quickly eliminated because of similar examples in other religions. C.S. Lewis wandered into the room and enquired as to the topic of conversation. When told about the debate, without hesitation, Lewis replied, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
Grace is so simple that it baffles the experts. Grace is what makes Christianity unique. Because of it, we have the opportunity to know Jesus as Savior and Friend. Grace helps us understand the difference between happiness and joy. It allows us to conquer all of our fears. There is nothing we can do to earn grace and there is no way that we can destroy it. In Ephesian 1:5-6, the Apostle Paul wrote: He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved.
His grace really is amazing.
As a teenager, I had a love hate relationship with Prince’s art. I never saw Purple Rain, but I knew every lyric on the soundtrack. However, I was once so convicted when I caught myself singing some of his unsavory lyrics by my high school locker that I pulled all of the tape from the cassette (yes, I’m old) and burned it in our fireplace.
But now, hearing of his death, decades away from that moment, I find myself once again perplexed by this man, but for a different reason.
In his song Raspberry Beret, Prince states his boss, Mr. McGee, didn’t like his kind because he was a bit too leisurely. That’s an interesting line in the song, but apparently, the opposite was true of Prince. He worked hard, writing songs and recording music at all hours of the day and night. He was known for waking up sound engineers in the middle of the night, requesting they come right away to record a song he had just perfected.
I read yesterday that Prince has a vault with so much unreleased recorded music that if his estate were to release one album per year of completely original music that the world could have new Prince albums for the next 100 years. If an average album has twelve songs, that means he could have around 1200 unreleased songs.
Prince apparently was never really known for doing something close to nothing.
In the book of Colossians, Paul encourages Christians to work hard as well. He writes, Work willlingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.
At the end of our lives, we may not have a century’s worth of unreleased recorded music, but if we serve God faithfully and do the work he’s called us to do, we’ll have something even better, the pleasure of our Lord and Master.
I am greater than you.
We say it all the time, in many different ways to various people around us.
Kids say it on the playground.
Teenagers express it through segregation at lunchtime.
Adults express it when they drive off of the new car lot.
Pastors, deacons, teachers, and worship leaders convey it in their attitudes toward each other and toward others in the church.
I am greater than you.
Huge ministries sometimes fall because of leadership corruption and abuse, small church plants often begin out of spite, and confusing divisiveness invades the worship services, Bible studies, and prayer times of countless congregations. And all the while, the unchurched learn more about our vindictiveness and positional desires than our Christlike compassion and concern for their eternal destiny. What they see is Christians pointing fingers at each other, declaring to the world and the rest of the church:
I am greater than you.
Jesus had the same problem with His disciples. Shortly after His transfiguration, Luke reports that His disciples began arguing about which of them was the greatest (Luke 9:46 NLT).
I first heard this story when I was a child in the 70’s. I envisioned the disciples walking behind Jesus, acting like Muhammad Ali, saying, “I float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, and everyone knows I am greater than thee.” Even as an elementary student, it seemed so childish and stupid to me that the disciples were standing right behind Jesus, God the Son, and they had the audacity to argue with each other and say:
I am greater than you.
I love how Jesus handled the situation:
But Jesus knew their thoughts, so He brought a little child to His side. Then He said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me also welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.” (Luke 9:47-48 NLT)
In Jesus’ day, children were not regarded as highly as they are today. This helps us see that He was saying that whoever welcomes and is willing to serve the lowest of the low welcomes and serves God Himself. It’s not hard to discern that this is not an attitude most often exhibited from those who want to exalt themselves over others.
The apostles learned this lesson when James and John asked Jesus if they could sit on His right and His left in the kingdom. The Bible reports that the other disciples were angry with these brothers because of their request.
“So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give His live as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45)
Jesus, the greatest person who has ever lived, took on Himself the attitude and position of a servant. He did this, even though He could have looked at us all and said:
I am greater than you.
If Jesus, the Son of Man, came not to be served but to serve others, shouldn’t we be able to do the same in our dealings with each other and with the world around us. If we do, we’ll be showing the world and other Christians that we believe:
He is greater than us
You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous-how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!
Psalm 139:13-18 NLT
I left the college talent show audition with my head down and walked across the crowded conference center. Not really wanting to see anyone I knew, I found a secluded patio and decided to lay low and nurse my wounds. I had never done well with rejection, especially when it involved my singing.
Trying to work through my feelings, I sat on one of the benches, leaned my head back, and closed my eyes. After a couple of minutes, I sighed heavily and opened my eyes. To my surprise, before me stood a short, white haired, senior adult woman.
“I’m sorry if I startled you,” she said with a British accent, “But I saw you sitting here and I just had to come and speak with you.”
“It’s ok,” I replied. “How can I help you?”
“Well,” she said, “I saw you and thought that I might be able to help you.”
“Me?” I asked. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”
“Well, I felt like God wanted me to tell you something.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, “But do I know you from somewhere?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Ok. What is it?”
“You, young man, are unique and loved by God.”
“What?” I asked.
She smiled and repeated, “You are unique and loved by God. He has very special plans for you.”
“And God told you to tell me this?”
“Yes, He did.”
“Thank you very much.”
She smiled once again, turned slowly, and walked away. I tried to go back into my pity party, but realized that the words from that woman had encouraged me so that I could no longer feel sorry for myself.
That evening, while sitting with 1,500 other college students, I watched as that same lady was introduced as the main speaker for the evening. Slowly she walked to the front of the stage, looked slowly across the audience, and said, “I am here tonight to tell you something very important. You should never forget it. I believe that God wants me to share it with you. (pause) You are unique and loved by God.”
I have long since forgotten the name of the woman, but her words still remain with me. I think of them whenever I feel discouraged about who I am as a person. It’s true for me and it’s true for you as well.
You are unique and loved by God.
You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you. You’re so vain! – Carly Simon
What is it with vanity? Why do people (not you and I, of course) get so impressed with themselves? I looked back in time and discovered that people have always struggled with vanity.
In Greek mythology, Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in a pool. Not realizing that it was merely an image, he refused to leave that spot. He later died in that same position.
In the Bible, Absalom, son of David, declared as the most handsome man in Israel, used to weigh his own hair which he only allowed to be cut once a year. (Incidentally, his hair weighed 5 lbs) Absalom was later killed by his enemies while hanging from a tree in which his hair had caught while he quickly fled.
In the 1600’s, Henry VIII was married six times and declared himself head of the church of England. He is most often remembered as being morbidly obese. Because of this, his health suffered in later years. I’m sure that his appearance also put a damper on 17th century speed dating.
In the early 19th centery, Napoleon Bonaparte stated: I am the successor, not of Louis XVI, but of Charlemagne. He spent the last years of his life exiled on British Island of St. Helena. He is reported to have died from stomach cancer, but many believe his actual cause of death was arsenic poisoning. No wonder that most of his depictions show him with his hand on his stomach.
From Narcissus to Absalom to Imelda Marcos, Wilt Chamberlain, Robert Tilton, and Kanye West, vanity has always caused lots of problems for lots of people.
Why is that?
Victor Hugo explained it best when he wrote, “Stupidity talks, vanity acts.”
Think about it – Stupidity causes people to talk too much about too many things without any proof or real knowledge of the subject they are discussing. Vanity causes them to go further than just talking. It is the dead certain belief that one’s own self is more beautiful, more entitled, and more deserving than others.
So, how does one overcome vanity. It’s not an easy characteristic to conquer. According to Robert Louis Stevenson, “Vanity dies hard; it some obstinate cases, it outlives the man.”
So what advice does the Bible give about vanity? Especially those blood-bought, spirit-filled followers of Jesus?
Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. Romans 12:3-5 NLT
Wow. Thinking about how we belong to each other really puts everything in perspective, doesn’t it? We aren’t gifted and blessed for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others. We must use whatever makes us special to help benefit the entire body of Christ.
So, it’s time for us all to get over it. We need to use what God has blessed us with to honor Him and to benefit the body of Christ.