Just thinking about that night makes me feel like I'm ten again. It was one of those defining moments of childhood. I had been invited to a spend-the-night birthday party given by one of the "it" girls of the 5th grade. Up until this point I had been relegated to the "goody-goody", quiet, smart girl group. We were Girls Scouts but the cool girls were Campfire Girls. They had better uniforms, bright blue not yucky green or brown and by far the most prestigious membership roll. My heart longed to be included in their group and I would have given anything to be counted among them. I felt like Charlie unwrapping his Golden Wonka Ticket as I opened the invitation to one of their exclusive events. I thought I must be the luckiest, most privileged girl on the planet.
The euphoria lasted until about ten o'clock on the night of the party. Once the parents went to bed, the host's true intent for inviting me became apparent. A game of truth or dare ensued and knowing acceptance was always garnered more quickly through a dare, I asked for one without reserve when the bottle spun my way. My dare was to kiss another girl's bare bottom cheek. I was horrified but did it anyway. I thought a little humiliation was a small price to pay for the attainment of my goal of ascending to the "it" group. The smack had no sooner left my lips before a wave of regret and shame washed over me so fierce, that I immediately wanted to run back home. As sobs racked my body, I managed to utter enough comprehensible words into the phone to inspire my mom to come pick me up. I had never been more happy to return to the status-free life of a Girl Scout.
This morning, the passage I am reading is Acts 5:1-21. This section opens with the tragic recounting of a couple who wanted to appear to be something they weren't. The end of Chapter 4 tells that it was common practice in the early church for those who owned houses or land to sell the property and give the entire proceeds to the apostles for distribution to those in want. The result was that there was no person among them in need (Acts 4:34-37). Ananias and Sapphira were a married couple who got the terribly misguided idea to sell some land, keep some of the proceeds for themselves but go and give the remainder to the apostles under the ruse that they were giving the full amount of the proceeds. A righteous God had none of their hypocrisy and both paid for their lie with their lives (Verses 1-11).
Next we get an update on what the apostles are up to. God has enabled them to perform great signs and wonders (Verse 12) which inspires huge crowds to gather around them. They are able to heal every ailing person presented to them (Verse 16) and some people even lay their sick friends and relatives in the street, hoping that if Peter's shadow just crosses over them they too would be healed (Verse 15).
The fame and recognition the apostles was receiving incited jealousy among the Jewish establishment and once again they sought to imprison the apostles. This time though in the middle of their night in the slammer, an angel appears to them and instructs them to go immediately to the temple courts to preach the full message of a new life in Christ. They are miraculously loosed from their prison shackles and freed to obediently follow the instructions they had received (Verses 17-21).
What could two hypocrites, the crowd clamoring for the apostles' attention and the envy-poisoned Jewish leadership have in common? This morning Jesus whispers into my heart that these each represent a pitfall of striving to gain the favor of certain people.
- The Hypocrite (Compromising Your Values for Acceptance) - We aren't told why Ananias and Sapphira held back some proceeds for themselves. There is a clue given at the end of Chapter 4 though. Acts 4:36-37 introduces a character who will play a significant role in the spread of the gospel beyond the walls of Jerusalem. He had journeyed all the way from Cyprus (about 250 miles) to bring to the apostles the earnings from the sale of a field he owned. By birth named Joseph, the apostles donned him Barnabas, which means Son of Encouragement. Who wouldn't want to win the favor and acceptance of the church leadership and even garner a special nickname? I think it was this very motivation that stirred Ananias and Sapphira to sell their land. Their hearts weren't entirely set on pleasing the Lord and hypocrisy was the result. This is exactly what happened to me. When I set my heart on joining a certain clique whatever the cost, the true price I paid was compromising my values.
- The Crowd (Exchanging the Favor of People for the Favor of Jesus) - Once the Lord manifested Himself in the lives of the apostles through miraculous signs, the masses pressed in around them. Desperate for a solution to what seemed like their greatest need, they even laid their ill in the street for a patch of Peter's shadow. In trying to align themselves with people instead of the Lord, they missed the real blessing. While the passage states that more and more men and women believed that is certainly not the entire make-up of a "crowd". Many found a solution to a temporary need of physical healing but walked away without having their permanent need of spiritual healing met. This is what happened to me when I believed my happiness could be found in acceptance by a particular group of girls. Even if I had made it into their group, my healing would have been temporary. What I was really looking for was a solution to was the longing in my heart for acceptance that could only truly be filled by Christ.
- The Jewish Leaders (Taking Down the Competition) - The high priest and his friends were consumed with jealousy over the attention that the apostles were receiving. Their envy incited them to do whatever it took to quiet the hysteria. Jail seemed like a perfect solution to assuage their prideful, self-important egos. While I never stooped to the level of retaliation as a child, probably because I was too busy being a people-pleaser, I have certainly seen many examples of this happen. Just yesterday one of my daughters was telling me about a girl who had posted in her Facebook profile how awful another girl in the community was. If she couldn't be accepted into that girl's group, she would attempt to take her down by using slander and defamation. The dichotomy of pride and insecurity rears its' ugly head when someone attempts to be accepted by others by taking down the competition.
Today I am a far cry from ten, but just as easily I can fall to the temptation to be accepted, wanted and included by others. To prevent this from happening, I have to arm myself with remembering whom I am in Christ. I am totally acceptable to Him, so wanted He died to redeem me and have been adopted as a sibling to Jesus by the Father Himself. That is the ultimate in inclusion!
Jesus, today I will remember what an honor it is to be in Your group. Your group is the only one that really matters because it has secured an eternity for me in heaven, given me the peace to enjoy the life you've given me here and the privilege of sharing Your truth with others. Help me by mindful today of how you see me and treasure Your complete, unmerited, unending acceptance.