September 15, 2014

Standing Out

Devotion for the Week...

I spent the weekend at a Women's Ministries retreat with my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law. It's always a great weekend and I look forward to it all year long, both for the chance to get away and for the biblical teaching.

As in any church service, there were times we were asked to stand for a song and then after that song the worship leader or the retreat leader spoke for a moment before the next song. Invariably, while she was speaking, some people would sit down and then those around them would sit and it would spread until everyone was sitting. Sometimes the women in the very front wouldn't notice right away that everyone behind them was sitting, but then one woman would see out of the corner of her eye that they were the only ones left standing and she'd quickly sit, followed by everyone else in her row. Have you seen that happen in your church? I know I've seen it many times.We don't like to call attention to ourselves, or to stand out as doing something different from everyone else, do we?

In 1951, Solomon Asch conducted the first of what are known as his conformity experiments. During this experiment he worked with eight male college students at a time. They were asked to match a line on one card with the line of equal length on another card. Seven of the participants had been told how to respond, while the eighth was unaware of their prior instructions. For the first two sets of cards, the group gave the correct answer, but for the remaining twelve sets, the group gave the incorrect answer.  Asch's experiments were designed to test how the one participant without prior instructions would respond. Would he give the correct answer, or would he go along with the group and give an answer that was obviously wrong? Overall, 75% of the participants went with the group on at least one of the incorrect responses.

This tendency to want to conform to the group has many social ramifications, of course. It also has ramifications for those of us who are followers of Jesus. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2). I love how Eugene Peterson paraphrases it in the Message: "Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out."

As disciples of Jesus, we're supposed to stand out from those around us. We're supposed to be different. We are supposed to act like Jesus did. We should be the most compassionate, the most gracious, the most loving and the most forgiving people in the community, just as He was.

If your co-workers didn't know about your church attendance, would they know you are Christian because you act differently? What about your children? Can they see a difference in your behavior compared to that of other adults? I'm not talking only about when you are dealing with your children, but also when you are dealing with frustrating or annoying situations. Do you respond with grace and patience or with irritation and judgement? After all, "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22, 23). Our culture doesn't always champion those qualities, which is precisely why we are told not to "conform to the pattern of this world."

It is easy to be well-adjusted to our culture. It's much harder to stand out and be different. And yet that is one way we can "let [our] light shine before others, that they may see [our] good deeds and glorify [our] Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

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