Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Your report card: “plays well with others”

A teacher wrote on her web page that she had “thrown the whole concept of ‘grading’ out the window and will now be awarding final marks based on attractiveness and charm.” Spoken, tongue in cheek, like the experienced teacher and mom that she is!

Isn’t it what you suspected of some of your teachers and many of your classmates and colleagues, though? When teams were chosen for games or work assignments, did you hope not to be among the last two grudgingly picked? What if you were the last job candidate standing, only because the others were ex-cons or tax evaders? Would you get “voted off” the island? Some people say they won’t use Internet dating sites because of rampant superficiality and judgments based on outward appearance. How mortifying to be graded on how you compare with others, instead of the special experience, knowledge, potential, and character you bring to the table.

You must admit that that’s the way of the world. The best-dressed, the slim, the young, the suntanned blonde, the popular – they always get the dates, the jobs, and the awards. Good Morning America found that indeed, men would not make passes at girls who wear glasses, at least not until they’d interacted socially a few times. We really are judged on appearance and behavior, attractiveness and charm, not necessarily on how we’ve performed or our potential to improve a situation. And there’s always a cuter person than you to compete with.

Yes, that’s the way of the world. But we, thank God, are not of this world! In fact, we are foreigners traveling here, and the kingdom of God (a spiritual realm) is our home. Our Lord “does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7 NIV.

In times of perceived injustice or disappointment, anyone who’s part of a church fellowship has heard this old saw (and may have used it, too!): “Don’t look at the people – look at Jesus!” This is meant to be an encouragement or comfort, but when you think about it carefully, it’s neither. We are not perfect people. We are wounded. We are sin-sick and in need of healing. But we are Christ’s body, joined together under Jesus, our head. If we can’t look at the members of Christ’s body and see Him represented, then something is very wrong. We have a responsibility, as individuals and as part of the whole, to uphold one another. Stones and mortar. Muscle cells and collagen. Papier maché and glue. Up and up – to the sky.

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:1-7 NIV.

Notice that none of those “worthy” characteristics is a work of the flesh that we can check off our personal report cards as having earned a score or progressed to another grade level. They are qualities that are gifts of the Holy Spirit. They constitute inner beauty and soul value, not, as the teacher joked, “attractiveness and charm.”

When we think of evangelism, we think first of tent meetings, PowerPoint sermons in a city church or under the stars in Ghana, and mass baptisms. We think of mission projects that support outreach by ministering to physical needs as Jesus did in His messianic role. But nurture is evangelism, too, and although it can mean continued Bible studies or chapel building, nurture as evangelism is about building up human relationships. Building up a family of God that respects, supports, advocates, protects, and feeds its own relatives. Without nurture, we shrivel and die. We need to think about the other side of the report card, the side about community service, our interaction with teachers and classmates, our ability to “play well with others.”

The final exam of this life (Matthew 25) is not your presentation of doctrine, prophetic interpretation, or skill in making appeals, but your heart’s response to the weak, the helpless, the trapped, the sick. It’s not what you know or how you performed, but Who you know and what He performed.

What does the Lord see when He makes our report card and looks at the heart? We often suspect that He’s writing out D’s and F’s for behavior and correct theology. But because of His grace, forgiveness, and mercy, He sees the tender heart of flesh that He has healed of its stony hardness. He sees the soft place where He writes His will for our daily lives. He sees how far we’ve progressed in life lessons. He takes delight in us, sings and dances over us, and not only gives a passing grade (“Whew! I barely squeaked through the pearly gates!”), but gives us a commencement, award ceremony, celebratory banquet, a crown – and eternity to continue our discovery of grace.

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