Certain attributes stand out in a crowd, no matter what you do. Red hair, for example. Unusual height (ask me about that one!). A non-majority skin color.
Other things, however, can be covered over. Especially in the spiritual realm. I got to thinking about this while recently reading two different Bible accounts, one in the Old Testament and the other in the New. Both of them turned out better than might have been expected at the start.
The first chapter of Daniel tells about four young Hebrews who had been selected for fast-tracking into the imperial service of Babylon. Things were going smoothly—until they took issue with the dining hall menu. Something about a conflict with Jewish dietary law.
Running afoul of Nebuchadnezzar’s deputy was not a smart move no matter how you look at it. The Babylonian was mystified. Everybody he knew had eaten this food all their lives, and enjoyed it. Soon he was complaining along the lines of “Hey, you guys are going to get me in serious trouble” (see 1:10). Why couldn’t they just go with the flow? It’s a wonder he didn’t promptly kick the four out of the program.
Maybe that was due to Daniel’s diplomatic touch. The young man did not lecture on the evils of pork or shellfish. Instead, he negotiated a ten-day test. At the end, the court official was convinced to grant the foursome an exception. The plain food didn’t set them back at all; in fact, when the king brought them in for their final examination, “he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah…. He found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom” (1:19-20). Job security followed immediately.
The law of Moses had given no such guarantee for obedience under pressure. But the four stood by their convictions regardless of the unpopularity … and reaped a pleasant surprise.
The other story, in Acts 2, is not about a moral belief but rather a divine incursion. The 120 disciples, huddling in an upstairs prayer meeting, received a cascade of Holy Spirit phenomena: a sudden burst of wind, outbreaks of fire above each person’s head, and the eruption of praises to God in more than a dozen languages none of them had studied. Crazy!
There was no hiding that morning. It was all noisy enough that people down at street level took notice, “amazed and perplexed” (v. 12). Craning their necks, some made wisecracks (“They have had too much wine”—v. 13), but more of the gathering crowd were curious, asking, “What does this mean?” (v. 12). Peter soon stood up (on a staircase? at an open window?) to answer their question.
They could tell at a glance that he and the others were not well-educated people. They weren’t like the woman my wife and I met a few years ago here in our city, a political refugee from the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo). She speaks at least seven languages: French, English, Lingala, Swahili, Tshiluba, Tshikete (her mother tongue), and Kituba/Kikongo. When we gather for prayer, she sings in any of these, and we’ve come to cherish her spiritual heart as well as her intellect.
The Upper Room crowd, however, were just ordinary Galileans—fishermen, farmers, homemakers. They’d had precious little schooling. They weren’t used to being in the public eye. On this day, however, there was no avoiding the glare of the spotlight. And they couldn’t help thinking that what had drawn the crowd’s attention was not exactly, shall we say, “seeker-sensitive.” Neither, for that matter, was Peter’s impromptu follow-up, with blunt lines such as “… you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (v. 23).
Yet, the Spirit knew what he was doing. His shock treatment turned out to launch the Christian church. By the end of the day, there were at least 3,000 more believers in the Messiah than when the sun had come up. Who’d a-thunk it?
The question for us is: Is there anything in my life as a Christian that’s “abnormal” to the casual viewer? Whether in the moral area, the supernatural area, or anywhere else, does anything stand out? Am I open to absorb the heat, the misunderstanding, the drama that goes along with taking the road less traveled that God has in mind for me?
He sometimes needs people who are willing not to fit in.