By Rev. Dr. Linda Hollies
A few months before I was born, my Dad met a stranger who was new to our small Tennessee town. From the beginning, Dad was fascinated with this enchanting newcomer and soon invited him to live with our family. The stranger was quickly accepted and was around to welcome me into the world a few months later.
As I grew up, I never questioned his place in my family. In my young mind, he had a special niche. My parents were complementary instructors: Mom taught me the word of God, and Dad taught me to obey it. But the stranger?
He was our storyteller. He would keep us spellbound for hours on end with adventures, mysteries and comedies. If I wanted to know anything about politics, history or science, he always knew the answers about the past, understood the present and even seemed able to predict the future! He took my family to the first major league ball game. He made me laugh, and he made me cry. The stranger never stopped talking, but Dad didn’t seem to
Sometimes Mom would get up quietly while the rest of us were shushing each other to listen to what he had to say, and she would go to her room and read her books. (I wonder now if she ever prayed for the stranger to leave?)
Dad ruled our household with certain moral convictions, but the stranger never felt obligated to honor them. Profanity, for example, was not allowed in our home… not from us,our friends or any visitors. Our long-time visitor, however, got away with four-letter words that burned my ears and made my dad squirm and my mother blush.
My Dad was a teetotaler who didn’t permit alcohol in the home, not even for cooking. But the stranger encouraged us to try it on a regular basis. He made cigarettes look cool, cigars manly and pipes distinguished. He talked freely (much too freely!) about sex. His comments were sometimes blatant, sometimes suggestive, and generally embarrassing. I now know that my early concepts about relationships were influenced strongly by the stranger. Time after time, he opposed the values of my parents, yet he was seldom rebuked, and was NEVER asked to leave.
More than fifty years have passed since the stranger moved in with our family. He has blended right in and is not nearly as fascinating as he was at first. Still, if you were to walk into my parents’ den today you would still find him sitting over in his corner, waiting for someone to listen to him talk and watch him draw his pictures.
The stranger’s name? We still call him TV.
The Rev. Jenny Brown of Joliet, Illinois sent me this fascinating email about "The Stranger" and told me that "Every family in America needs to hear this story." So, Our Jenny, I’m telling all who will listen about this "stranger" who continues to persuade us, to challenge our Biblical understandings and to call us to become more "politically correct" in our behaviors. Seldom do we take the time to consider how influential the television is in our daily lives. And, we tend to forget that all of news that we hear/see/believe is slanted by the advertising that pays the cost to be "boss"!
The Lenten Season called us to re-visit our personal salvation history. The Book of Romans, a Civil War of Paul’s soul, is our text for examination as we reflect upon our lives as people of God. And, the quarter’s focus is, God’s Project: Effective Christians. We easily claim to be people of God. We proudly and sometimes without thought, proclaim that we are Christians, like Jesus Christ. But, the basis for our time of wrestling with The Apostle Paul is to see if we can really, honestly and authentically measure up to the words, "effective Christians"!
Too often we desire to put our lives up against the crazy, out of control families that we view on Television. Of course we look "normal". We like to compare ourselves with the perps that we watch on all the law and order shows, and we tend to look fairly responsible. We dare to even sit in our local congregations and measure our lives by what we know or have heard about other church members. And, too often we can look like Little Snow White! But, the challenge of this Lenten journey is to compare ourselves with the Matchless Son of God! The only measuring rod for being an "effective Christian" is to look at the life model of Jesus Christ.
Paul takes us all the way back to the immeasurable, unbridgeable gulf that divided humans from God in the Garden of Eden. He is clear that as far back as Adam and Eve, humans have wanted to worship created things as opposed to obeying and worshipping The Creator. Humans continue to break covenant with God and follow their own passions, urges and desires. And, none of us can put ourselves outside of this norm. So, Paul begins our study by declaring, hard hitting and straight-up that, "There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one."(Romans 3:10-12) What an indictment against us! Effective?
It is from this posture that Paul begins to set out his understanding of the grace that we have in Jesus Christ, his life, his death and his resurrection. And, the Apostle, thinking that he was doing the "work" of God in an effective manner, had to be knocked down, off his high horse, in order to have his eyes opened to the fact that he was not being "effective" at soul winning! This is such a difficult thing for Church folks to see, to come to understand and to comprehend; the harsh reality that all of our good works are not making us "effective" in God’s sight! For too many of us get caught up in our "roles" until we forget our primary focus and aim in life is to love, serve and be used in the service of God.
The Commentary introduces this lesson by saying: "People often find themselves doing something hurtful to themselves or others, despite their best intentions to be a good person. Why do we keep doing things we know we shouldn’t, especially when we want to do good? Paul explains that we are sinful by nature." (Uniform Series Annual, p241) Thank God for Jesus Christ who came to take away the sin of the world!
Paul writes the letter to the new non-Jewish saints in Rome. He is writing to people who are intellectually, politically and socially a "cut above". In other words, Paul is trying to give the simple message of salvation to a group who feels that basically, "We’re alright." God knows that I’ve "tried" to pastor a group like this too. The extremely wealthy folks at The Mt. Hope Church felt that with all of their benevolence, with their history of do-gooding and their industry in the the community, didn’t want to hear me preach about "sin". "We need you to tell us that we’re good" I was told. But, none of us are good enough! And, this is what all of us have to realize if we want to be effective for God!
We have an issue in America, where we don’t want to offend anyone. This is where being politically correct comes into play. I’ve gone through the human relationship series that swore, "I’m O.K., You’re O.K." Thomas Harris, the author of a book by this name, made a mint. And, he, like The Stranger, helped a many Christian to become less effective in their walk with God. For the truth is that we need to see all sin as offense against God. We need to name sin. We need to repent of sin. And, we need to stop the sin. If we honestly feel that "I’m OK", there is no sin! And, when there is no sin, I don’t need a Savior! This is where our real problem lies!
God has taken the lead in providing us with a Savior to bring us back into loving relationship. Jesus willingly gave his life, spent three days in hell and rose to defeat sin and to take sin’s penalty for us. Now, it’s our turn to believe, by faith, our need for a Savior and to accept him as the model for our lives. Maybe we need to turn off the Stranger for a couple of days. Perhaps we might fast from two of our favorite shows and spend that time in wrestling with the Book of Romans and seeing how well we measure up as an "effective" believer. Since none of us are righteous without the power and presence of Jesus Christ, just Perhaps we need to try and cultivate his holy presence during Lent. Can you say, "I’m an effective Christian?" I didn’t hear you!
On the journey with ya!
Let’s live holy; laugh often; and let’s love with flair and with extravagance!
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