So I saw my first Christmas display of the season a few days ago. In my opinion, that’s messed up. I want my turkey and dressing to be digested before I smell pine needles in the local mall. Call me old-fashioned (or reasonable) but I really think it is silly to see Yuletide décor prior to Halloween. To add to my angst, my daughter was at home banging out some Christmas songs on the piano the other Saturday while I was watching a baseball game. For those of you who aren’t good at math let me help. Baseball = Summer and Christmas songs = Winter. My universe became more tilted with each song she played. Giving in to the current of the times I decided to sing along with Alicia playing piano and we had a jolly good time. I requested that she play “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” which quickly drew a blank stare form Alicia which I interpreted to say, “I’m a pastor’s daughter and I only do songs about Jesus at Christmas, thou sweaty heathen.” I lowered my head in momentary paternal shame and sulked out of the room. The Christmas spirit was sucked out of the room like a Ziploc bag in a shop vac.
Speaking of Rudolph the reindeer… he really got hosed in the beginning of that song, didn’t he? He had unattractive facial features and everyone knew it. He was laughed at by the in-crowd of reindeers. Did you know that they even used to call him names? He was unilaterally banned from the reindeer games and, although it didn’t make it into the carol, it is my understanding that he received regular therapy from one of the more enlightened of Santa’s elves. Ultimately, fate was on Rudolph’s side and a very foggy night allowed him the opportunity to step up and use his neon nose for some good at Santa’s personal request. We are told that Rudolph thus gained highly conditional love from all the other reindeer because of what he brought to the table that Christmas Eve from long ago. I wonder how he was treated the next year when the skies were all clear.
So Rudolph was a misfit. So are some of you. You might be tempted to try and become what you are not in order to become an omni-fit person. I don’t think there is a clear bible verse for this but I am going to say it with conviction: you should be yourself because it pleases God. I’m sounding a little Osteen-esque today but just bear with me. That’s right, God made you and is redeeming you for His deep pleasure. Redemption in Christ does not remove your identity – it actually introduces you to it. If I have no sense of my identity in Jesus then I will necessarily become someone I was not created to be. Something else will define me and that would essentially result in me living as…not me.
I played out this potential scenario recently in my own mind. It came on a day when I was sick and lying in bed and wondering what would happen if I ever went back to my old life. Those were unhappy days and I would never actually go back there but I wondered what it would look like to return to that lifestyle now at 44 years old after I exited it at 24 years old. Disclaimer: I may or may not have been under the influence of some Nyquil when I had the following thoughts:
Because I know who I am in Christ I would not be able to fully go back to that life. But, like many professing Christians, I could dabble a little in the world while still trying to retain my sense of being Christian. Yes, I could go back to that life, not fully, but by degrees. First I would go and get a temporary tattoo because we all know that permanent tattoos are the mark of the Beast, right? But not temporary tattoos, they are fun and festive. Then I could go to a local bar (taco bar or sushi bar, of course) full of bikers (actually suburbanite cyclists in their yellow, spandex suits). I would then walk in and take a deep drag off an E-cig (because real tobacco products are prohibited in the Mosaic law) and quickly chug down 3 to 9 non-alcoholic beers (how do you say O’Doul’s in Hebrew and Greek?). The excess of non-alcoholic brew would result in me getting in a fake bar-fight with another patron and my return to the former life would thus come to an end. That sounds a little crazy doesn’t it? Might even sound a little edgy? I imagine some of you feel a little naughty for snickering at it while you read it because this kind of humor isn’t sanctified and the prophet Ezekiel would never tell stories like this if he had a blog. Well, may I just wrap around a hammer fist for a moment and do a little Baptist-bruising along these lines of thought?
People live this kind of tightrope life all the time. They can’t commit to one way of living so they bounce back and forth between who they are and who they want to appear to be. By the way, they are miserable. They don’t fit in at the bars. They don’t feel comfortable in the churches either. They don’t know who they are in any other scene either. They have a rebel heart wrapped up in a Sunday suit or dress and have no clue who they really are. They modify their behavioral patterns but never discover their grace-defined identity in Christ. They are still lost.
Jesus made a pretty explosive statement in Revelation 3:15 when He said, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” Those are some stout statements from the King. He said that He would rather us make up our minds about how we are going to live instead of continuing to stagger between shifting identities. He even let us know that, in some mysterious way, He would rather us commit to coldness toward Him than to remain tepid. Jesus calls us to honesty. I think that is why he preferred to hang out with the heathen of His day instead of the hypocrites. This doesn’t mean that He endorses anyone’s rejection of Him (not that the scenario I humorously painted above assumes that someone has necessarily rejected Jesus) but He seems to indicate that there is more hope for someone who will run from Him in the moment than for someone who lingers long before Him without really committing to Him. That grates against every religious fiber sewn into our spiritual thespian’s heart! We don’t want to run from Him because, well, that’s wrong. Yet it is no more wrong than living in pretense before Him and assuming the identity of a misfit wherever we go. Billy Joel was honestly expressing his own view when he sang, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. Sinners are much more fun…” If I am being honest, I am more comfortable around someone who is open about their unbelief than I am being in the presence of someone who is being careful to try and appear as a follower of Jesus. Now, please don’t miss the better option Jesus also mentioned above in Revelation 3:15. Being cold or lukewarm are not the only choices here. He offers the possibility of a life that is burning for Him. He said we might experience the flame of His identity. He extends to us the blaze of His mission and the light of His Kingdom. He tells us that we can be hot for the things of eternity. This is what He wants. So with one nail-pierced hand Jesus points to a flame and with the other nail-pierced hand He points to an ice cube. He then calls each of us to make a choice of which one we will live as… because He has earned that right to demand our decision. Find your identity in Him and go full throttle with it. If not, keep pursuing your identity in other things but I will risk it and say that you will never find it. Whatever you do, stop straddling the fence because the time is short and to finish up down here as a misfit should not be an option.
Now excuse me while I take my intact identity and head down to the sushi bar on my Schwinn.
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