Friday, June 27, 2014

The Gray Zebra

The Maria’s were turning one year old. Yes, there were two of them and their families had much in common. 

My husband and I were invited to celebrate the birthdays of two little girls that lived in different cities.  Both sets of parents were successful, professed to be Christians (of differing denominations), and were reveling over the birthday of the first grandchild.
One set of parents came from an all Italian background, which I wasn’t familiar with at that time. They went all out for this first grandchild inviting everyone they knew to join in on the festivities. 

The other parents also invited lots of people to the big event, but this celebration turned out much different.
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Our Italian friends knew how to make everyone feel welcome.  There were several things that made this party memorable, and it wasn’t the child.  She made her debut and the “party girl” petered out after a few hours.  Seems she had enough and went to sleep.

There were several things I remembered about our visit. First it was loud, very loud.  After my friend asked my husband to pray a blessing over the food the room became overcrowded. The uncles and cousins gathered around the table in the kitchen debating back and forth over sports teams. 

I took my friend aside and asked why everyone was angry.  She just smiled and said, “Who’s angry? This is how they talk.  Some Italians can get loud, but nobody is mad.  We talk over one another that’s all.”  Feeling quite dumb the only thing that came out of my mouth was, “Oh …”

Another thing I was impressed by was how they honored their great grandmother.  The entire family served her with joy as if she was a Queen, and when she spoke everyone listened.  Even the chatty uncles were silent as soon as granny began to speak. 
When it came time to leave, it was with hugs from new friends, laughter and food that “we must take” with us as if they were parting gifts.

The Second Maria
By the time we arrived little Maria was already zipping about in her new toy car out on the patio.  She was having a grand time and didn’t pay much attention to anything or anyone else except when it was time for the cake.  Who could blame her?

Little Maria’s parents mingled and introduced the guests to each other ... that was all except us. Even though we were feeling a bit out in left field and considering how loud things were, the party appeared to be going well when suddenly something happened.
I need to fill you in with a bit of information before I continue.  We didn’t go to the party alone, but brought a teenage girl with us.  She was from an abusive alcoholic family and just received Christ in our youth group a few days previous to the party.

We had asked her to come along to get her out of her environment, and so she could see what “Christian” families do at gatherings.  Since this was an activity for a toddler what could it hurt, right?
The Gray Zebra

When I began my studies for this week’s teaching the only thing that came to mind were Zebras, even more specifically gray ones.  It was weird how they kept coming into my thoughts and I didn’t have a clue as to why God would direct me to research this animal. 

"Common Zebra, Namibia File Owner:
Jean-Louis Vandevivere - License Information.

Given that I couldn’t make sense of it, I wrote down the phrase and put it off for several weeks.  Then it bothered me so much I finally had to figure this out through looking up some facts about these creatures. 

When I focused on my “assignment” God revealed what He had been trying to tell me.  Sometimes Christians like to live in the “gray” areas that don’t make it clear they are true believers.  This is where the Zebra part comes in …

Zebras are technically black and white animals so their marking makes them pretty easy to identify as to whether or not they are really Zebras.  No one needs to redefine what one is based strictly on what it looks like.
God’s pointed out that His Word is black and white, being clearly identified so that even a child can understand it.  However, we disregard the parts we don’t agree with and fight over doctrine.  There are the extremists, the total traditionalist, legalistic, liberalists, denominations and a whole lot more categories when it comes to being a Christian.   These things make Christianity anything but clear to an unbeliever, and add to the confusion how an individual should live as one.

The thing is that we don’t need to redefine the gospel or (Zebra).  It is what it is, and that’s how God designed it.  There are no gray areas when it comes to God’s Word.
The Gray Matters

Close-Up of Grevy's Zebra Stripes, Equus Grevyi, Africa
Zoologists have broken the identification of a Zebra into three specific areas depending on the size of the stripes, but even those classifications define a Zebra as being black and white.  When grayish tones appear it’s because of something outside of the natural makeup of the animal. 
There are times when Christians act outside the natural character of what God defines His children should be like. They live in the gray zone enjoying the things of this world and giving no thought to what they are doing.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2 NKJV)
Christians are to prove what is good, acceptable and the will of God to others, not to God.  He already knows all these things.

If you’re not clear on what this means look at it like this:
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think (which will change the way you act). Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 NLT)

This is where men and women of faith hinder the growth of the church, by things they consider acceptable based on wrong interpretation of the scriptures. When people can’t tell you’re a believer by your lifestyle, the gray areas of your behavior stop the favor of God from showing up in your life.
Shelly, the newborn Christian teenager, wasn’t that excited to crash the party of a one year old, but I assured her she would have a good time.  Not long after we arrived she disappeared.  I looked all over the house and yard for her.  Something urged me to check the basement, and there she was – crying.

“If I wanted to see people drunk I could have stayed home. You said Christians were different, but they’re not.  This isn’t anything different than what I see every day. I want to go …” she said in a shaky voice as tears streamed down her cheeks.
We had no idea of what we were walking into that day, and certainly didn’t expect to see this kind of behavior at a child’s party.  That was the last event we ever went to with that family; not because we judged them, but the fact that they were stumbling blocks that turned someone away from the Lord by their behavior.  That young girl never returned to youth group.

“Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” (Romans 14:13 NKJV)

“… but beware lest somehow this liberty of yours (forgiveness, freedom of sin by the mercy, grace and favor of God you received from salvation) become a stumbling block to those who are weak (in faith or newly saved).”  (1 Corinthians 8:9 NKJV)

Pass the Milk
I’m not going to debate whether or not a Christian should drink, dance, swear, play cards, go to movies, listen to the non-Christian music or do anything like the world does.  God set the rules, and our part is to know what they are for any given subject or behavior.

We must question this about our lifestyle: “Is our behavior in any way a stumbling block that could prevent someone from coming to Christ?”

We need always keep this statement in mind concerning anything we do in life.
“If we are not leading people to Christ,
we are leading them away from Him.”

I knew an evangelist pastor that wouldn’t drink anything but milk in public, not even water. To me that was really ridiculous, but when I questioned him I understood why he chose that behavior.
Being in the public eye, the Reverend said it was so that his testimony and walk with Christ wouldn’t be questioned. He gave no reason for doubting who he claimed he belonged to – Jesus.
The purpose of our “Inner Journey to Jesus” is making sure we reach our destination. If any of “the least of these”  (meaning breaking God's laws) things we do keeps someone from believing in Christ because of our actions, then it is a sin and we are not to partake of it.  That soul we hindered will be marked to our account as “lost”.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t need that kind of pressure or responsibility.

Wash that Gray Away!

An old commercial for a hair coloring product has a catchy jingle where the people sing, “I’m gonna wash that gray right out of my hair.”  With one single application the unsightly gray is eliminated and washed away. 
Thanks Lauren for sharing this photo
 It looks really lovely now :)
It baffles me as to why some people color their hair but don’t seem to mind the gray patch right at the top that makes them look like a skunk. Mom was one of those ladies that didn't worry and would color it when she got around to it.

My husband laughs when I call it skunk head.  (I know … it’s not “Christian” but I can’t help thinking it.)

... then there are some like Lauren who have different reasons and brings me to my point about our own gray areas that aren't very nice, and it has nothing to do with chemistry. 

Beautiful Lauren Now
Something Christians should be doing is to look for those gray areas that pop up in our life on a regular basis.  Believe me, people notice. If you don't think they do, ask Lauren when she was going through some changes in her life.
When others see us they shouldn’t have a difficult time recognizing that we are followers of Jesus.
There are no gray Zebras, just black and white clearly marked creations. We are like the Zebra in that our stripes were defined by Jesus when Christ died on the cross for our sins.  We don’t get to add colors or even shades.

There isn't a product we can apply to our lives that will get rid of gray areas of sin, but it can be completely washed out of our lives by the blood of Jesus though prayer.
This Week’s Challenge

Getting Rid of the Gray Zebra
Are you easily identified as a Christian? In other words, are you easily marked with the stripes of Jesus that says you belong to Him?

This week we’re focusing on areas in our life that could technically be classified as “gray” concerning our Christian walk.  Instead of a to-do list, we have a “Don’t list”.
I’m not going to ask you to write anything, make a checklist of things you need to change or spend hours in prayer repenting for things you might have done that caused someone to fall.  At this point of the journey you already know what things God has been speaking to you about changing in your life.  If you don’t know, take a look at any of this year’s posts … we’re always working on something.

It’s time to make those changes and try A.N.A. – a new approach.

Don’t go around telling people all the things you need to change; just change. (Unless you are in counseling, etc.)  They’ll see you are different.

Don’t do something if you aren’t sure it is endorsed by God in His Word (black and white). Even if you have to start with the Ten Commandments, that’s something. (Exodus 20:1-17 NKJV) 

Before, during and following each thing you do I’d like you to be mindful of all your actions.  This includes your conversations, places you go and people you hang out with in person, by phone or online.
While participating in your activity ask the Holy Spirit to alert you of the Gray Zebra … things that could be considered “gray” areas starting to emerge.  This could be as simple as not giving thanks openly over your food. Be on the lookout for anything that could turn into a questionable thing as well.

“Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name.”  (Psalm 86:11 NKJV)

 “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”   (John 4:23)
 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things I said to you.”  (John 14:26 NKJV)
Don’t carry guilt. It isn’t Christian, meaning, remember you are forgiven.  If you haven’t confessed the sin to Jesus take care of that and then move on … it’s forgotten.
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”  (Psalm 103:12 NKLV)

Don’t forget your journey isn’t complete, so be encouraged.  Let people know by your lifestyle that you belong to Jesus, are free from sin and that no gray Zebras are squatting on His property.

Song of the Week: I Belong to Jesus 
Until next time, remember God’s favor doesn’t come in gray.

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Content and Image Copyright from Favored1. Do not copy. A.N.A. logo by J.C.Penney, Inc.
Scripture reference was taken from the New King James Bible Version provide by Gateway Bible
Image credit: Google Images or Dreamstime Creative Common License if not specified.
Notes: Birthday  Grandmother  Cake  Zebra  Grevys Zebra Stripes Equus Grevyi  Milk  Skunk Head

The Gray Zebra, Jesus Christ, Favored1, Daily Favor Blog, A.N.A. A New Approach, Christian Living, Inspiration