Saturday, February 9, 2013

How Many Camels Are You Worth? (Ephesians 3:14-21)


        Elna Baker’s older sister, Tina, was gorgeous.  
Elna was not.
Tina was the kind of woman that, when she walked by, people stopped whatever they were doing and stared in awe at her body.
Elna was the kind of woman that, when she walked by, people stopped whatever they were doing and made rude jokes about her body.
Tina got all the family’s beauty genes.
Elna could never fit into skinny jeans.
In America, every school makes a yearbook every year.  It has pictures of every student and teacher and a summary of the year’s activities.  When the yearbooks come out, all the kids go around signing and writing witty little messages in each other’s yearbooks: “Best friends 4ever,” and “Thanks for the memories,” and stuff like that.  One year, one of the most popular boys in the school wrote a message in Tina’s yearbook: “How come you’re so pretty and Elna isn’t?”  Another boy in Elna’s grade wrote: “I wish your sister looked like you.”
Elna tried to get even.  She left a snarky message in their yearbooks: “You will regret your comment in my sister’s yearbook next year when you beg to go out with me.  Of course, I will refuse.”  Except Elna never got to refuse them because they never asked her, ever.
When Elna was twelve, her family took a trip to Morocco.  When they were walking through an outdoor market, a carpet salesman saw Tina walk by and did the standard stop-whatever-you’re-doing-and-stare-at-Tina thing.  Then, he caught up to the family and said with his face all aglow: “Your daughter is the most beautiful creature on earth.  I will give you 1,000 camels for her.”  
Her parents smiled and said, “No thanks.”  
Then the man, looked at Elna, and his face changed.  He said, half walking away, “I’ll give you 100 camels for her.”
At the young age of 12, Elna processed this moment and said to herself, “There is a 900 camel difference between my sister and me.”  
More than a decade later, telling her story in Elle Magazine, Elna said, “The rest of my life can be described as a pursuit to be worth more camels.”  Despite love from her parents and the constant message from her church that her body is “a temple of the Holy Spirit,” the world was beating another message into her: because of the way she looked, she was worth less.
Elna’s pursuit to be worth more camels led her to seek her worth in writing, acting, and comedy.  But eventually it also led her to extreme dieting and to radical plastic surgery.  All to be worth more camels.
  

That’s just like us.  What do you do to be worth more camels?  Exercise, work more, get degrees, write papers, pursue awards, horde power, go on dates, dream of dates, travel to all the cool places, make witty Facebook posts, play political games, criticize others?  Where does your pursuit of camels lead you?  How is that working out for you?  Do you like who you are in this pursuit?  Would you recommend your way of life to your kids?  

Ephesians 3:
14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.
---

A particular Native American tribe had an interesting custom for marriages.  When a man was interested in a young woman, he would go and speak to her father and offer a certain number of horses as the “bride price” for the daughter.  An average young woman might be sold for 10 or 20 horses.  A very beautiful girl might go for 30 or 40 horses.  A very smart girl might get 50 or 60 horses - because the brain lasts longer than the body!  And a girl who had both brains and looks might net her family as many as 100 horses.  After the father agreed to the price, there was a one week waiting period, and then there was the ceremonial exchange of horses for the woman.
Once, there was a young chief who was very wealthy and very strong but unmarried.  He came from a long line of excellent chiefs, and all the tribes around respected his keen insight and wisdom.  However, when it came time to marry, he selected a very ordinary woman.  To everyone’s surprise, the young chief offered the girl’s father 1,000 horses.  No one had ever heard of a bride price that high.  People thought the chief had gone crazy.  
The young chief’s best friend pulled him aside to advise him.  “What are you doing man?!  This girl is average at best.  And as far as I know she isn’t very smart.  She hardly says a word, and she’s so shy she won’t even look at you.  Everyone says you’ve lost it.  Nobody will ever listen to you again if you pay 1,000 horses for this meager woman.”
But the young chief just smiled and said he knew exactly what he was doing.  A few days later, the chief paid his horses and got his woman.
Not long after that, the best friend left on a long trip.  He was gone for ten years.  When he finally returned to his tribe, he rode his horse through the camp.  He stopped in front of the chief’s tent, and he saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life.  She greeted him with confidence and poise and said, “My husband will be glad to see his old friend again after so many years.  Please sit and have some tea after your long journey.”  
He wasn’t quite sure who this woman was, but she obviously knew him and she was obviously married to the chief.  As they waited for the chief to return from the river, they talked about his adventures and the goings-on in the tribe.  The woman was obviously intelligent, but even more, she showed a quick wit and a deep wisdom about life.  
When the chief finally returned, his friend congratulated the chief on his excellent new wife.  And the chief said, “What new wife?  Only one wife.  This same woman you said not buy for 1,000 horses.”
The friend said, “What?!  Not possible.  Your bride weak and shy and  - sorry, but - not pretty.  How she change so much?”
The chief gave a wise smile and said, “Every night, I come home, I say, ‘You thousand horse woman.’  Every morning, she go to river and wash, she say, ‘I thousand horse woman.’  So every day she walk like thousand horse woman.  She talk like thousand horse woman.  She think like thousand horse woman.  She look like thousand horse woman.  She become thousand horse woman!”

And that is also just like us.  At least it can be.  God has paid far more than a thousand horses for us.  God entered our world as a human being named Jesus.  He lived a perfect life and died a perfect death to show us perfect love.  We are worth the death of God on the cross.  God loved us so much that he paid our “bride price” with his own blood.  
You thousand horse woman.  You thousand horse man.  You are a blood-bought child of God.  God loves you thoroughly and completely.  You are infinitely valuable to God.  You are infinitely precious to God.
So everyday, when you go to bed, remind yourself: “I thousand horse woman.  God loves me through and through.”  Everyday, when you wake up, remind yourself: “I thousand horse man.  God loves me inside and out.”  And slowly, slowly, you will begin to walk like the beloved of God.  You will begin to talk like beloved of God.  You will begin to think like someone beloved of God.  You will truly become who you are - the beloved of God.

Ephesians 3:
14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

Lastly, I want to tell you about one of the most difficult experiences I’ve had since I came here as a pastor.  God put someone in my path who has been ... well ... let’s just say ... very challenging.  I haven’t talked very much about this ... maybe out of humility and maybe out of shame.  I keep working with him because I know he’s kind of my project for now.
I mean this guy is a case.  He has got to be one of the most selfish people I know.  He only thinks about himself and his needs and his wants.  He has almost no consideration for others.  He calls me in the middle of the night to complain about how bad his life is.  He takes my things without asking.  Practically every time he comes into our house, he breaks something new.  He doesn’t take his shoes off - even on rainy days.  He leaves messes everywhere.  He has a short temper, and he doesn’t mind shouting.  He throws things, and he has even hit me in the face several times.  Once when he had too much to drink, he just puked all over me.  
You might ask why I don’t just ditch him.  Why don’t I establish some boundaries in my life and say, “Enough is enough”?  Well, I can’t deny that it has been hard, but ...
The simple answer is - I love him.  Miraculously, unexplainably, I love him.  I love him more than it’s possible for me to express.  From the depths of my being, God has blessed me with an overflowing with love for this guy.  Despite everything he has done, despite all he has put me through, despite the screaming and puking and everything else, I love him.
How?  Why?  Well, let me show you his picture, and maybe you’ll understand.


[My son, John David, who is currently 18 months old.]
Now, do you get what I’m saying?  If you think about it objectively, he treats me like crap.  There is no objective reason why I should love this little guy.  All sanity would say I should run away from the poopy diapers as fast as I can.  
But my heart tells me to stay - because my heart is full of love for him.  Because he’s my child, I love him no matter what he does to me.  No matter how many times he disobeys.  No matter how many times he wakes me up at night.  No matter how much he pukes on me.  I love him, and I will always love him - forever.

And this is just like us.  Objectively, we might think God would hate us.  After all, we’ve rejected God and disobeyed God and shouted at God and disappointed God too many times to count.  By all rights, God should pour out his wrath on us, or at least walk away and leave us to wallow in our own sin.  
But God’s heart is full of love for us.  God loves us completely and thoroughly no matter what.  Because we are God’s children.  Because Christ died for us.  God will never stop loving us.  
Now the choice is ours.  
We can go on trying to increase our camel value - scraping and scratching and biting.  We can accept the value system of our world and either try to claw our way to the top or resign ourselves to being stepped on at the bottom.
Or we can step out of that value system and accept that we are already worth far more than a thousand camels or horses.  We are already children of the King, bought a high price, paid for with the blood of Lamb.  We are loved.  We are cherished.  We are the bride of Christ.  We can become who we are - the precious, priceless, beloved of God.

Ephesians 3:
14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.
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