I had made application a couple of years ago to be a speaker at a conference and was waiting for a response from the sponsoring organization. After a number of months passed without any word, I sent an email inquiring of the status of my application. Still no response after several weeks. So I wrote again; this time expressing my frustration at not hearing anything. This time the Director responded. He informed me that it clearly said on the application that applicants should not expect a response unless they were accepted for that year’s conference. However, he also asked for my opinion on how the process could be improved for applicants. I apologized for my misunderstanding, but since he asked for my opinion, I gave it to him.

I have been spending the past month in what the Jews refer to as the Torah and Christians as the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These books not only tell the story of the beginning of the world and God embracing Abraham and his descendants as his chosen people, but it also lays the foundations of what God’s people should be. It can be summed up in one word: distinctive. From the time Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, it was God’s purpose to make them a distinct people, different from the other nations around them. We moderns often chafe at the laws he laid down for the Israelites to follow. Even while we may recognize that the ceremonial laws no longer apply to us as Christians, we still, I think, are tempted to shake our heads at such detailed rules they were made to follow. 

What we fail to understand, and what I failed to grasp for decades, is that God’s purpose was to make sure his people were distinctly different from the pagan nations in the world at the time; nations that worshipped idols and created things, practiced illicit sex as part of their religious rites, engaged in sorcery and divination, and made sacrifices of their own children in order to honor and please their gods. Involved in many of these activities were use of certain foods. They were also tremendously inhumane to others, particularly aliens. They often enslaved them and treated them harshly. Thus, God sought to draw a big red line of distinction between his people and all others.

While the ceremonial law passed away with the death and resurrection of Jesus, the desire of the Lord for his people to be distinct still remains. Over the centuries following the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites became more and more like the nations around them. They worshipped the gods of Baal and Asherah. They even sacrificed their children to Molek. After the Babylonian exile, they gave up their idol worship and then began to view themselves not only as distinct as God’s people, but somehow better. This was a clear violation of the Lord’s command in Deuteronomy: 

After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you.It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Deuteronomy 9:4-5)

Yet, they began to discriminate against anyone different from them—Gentiles, Samaritans, tax collectors, lepers, and anyone they considered “sinners.”

Then long after the days of the prophets, Jesus appeared on the scene, and he provided a clear example of what God had in mind for his people. He touched lepers, associated with women, Samaritans, and tax collectors, and healed people on the Sabbath. While the Jews, particularly their leaders, were more concerned about demonstrating their righteousness through their religious acts, Jesus showed that God was more focused on the humble hearts of his people. Rather than self-righteous people, he favors humble people who recognize their worth is solely in the fact that the Lord considers them worthy, not by anything they have done. Thus, they treat people differently. Jesus was the model of distinction.

When I think of the Israelites of old, I compare them to the majority of Christians today. We have by and large thrown our lot in with the world around us. Our churches on Sunday mornings (pre-pandemic) often resemble a conference or concert, complete with bands, entertaining speakers, and coffee bars. Our Christian conferences often are modeled on business conferences, operating out of posh hotels, often out of financial reach of poor brothers and sisters. Christian concerts are similar to concerts of worldly bands, including the ticket prices. (I once met a woman in Costa Rica who told me of a famous Christian singer who was appearing in San Jose. She said she was disappointed that the ticket prices were far beyond what her meager income could afford. The singer would be singing about the Lord, who loves the poor, without any poor people able to attend.) And businesses run by Christians often mimic similar businesses operated by unbelievers. 

This was the point I made to the Director of which I spoke earlier. I told him that his organization’s policy toward people wanting to speak at its conference did not seem to be the approach Jesus took. He valued people. I wrote, that in my opinion, a non-response to an applicant devalued that person and the effort they put into preparing the application. A kind and timely response, whether one of acceptance or rejection, would seem to be more the way Jesus would respond. To his credit, the Director changed the policy and the organization promised to respond to every applicant, and, as a result, it is distinctive from so many others.

Anything in which Christians are involved should be distinctive from the world, sometimes in major ways and often in minor ways. A Christian church should not be run like a business, with the main concern being the financial operations. Nor should it be an entity that mimics those of the world in order to attract people. The attraction has to come solely from the love of God and the love between his people. And everyone should be friendly regardless of personality, because each person is a creature of God. Indeed, this would make churches very distinctive in the world!

Christian businesses should be different in the ways they treat their employees, their approach to their products, and the use of their profits. Christian families should be distinct from families of the world. The way couples treat one another and the way they raise their children should reflect their love for God and their desire to serve the Lord. 

The great weakness of Christians today is we tend to assimilate our lives into the culture to the point there is little difference other than the way we might spend our Sunday mornings. The call of the Lord is far more than that. He wants us to be distinct so that our lives might point the way to the most distinctive being of all—the God of the Universe and our Creator.

© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.

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