Okay, I gotta start out telling you how all this came about. I wanted to read the Book of Acts this year and remind myself of the life and times of the early Church. This has to be at least my 20th reading of this book, but for the first time EVER something hit me. Let’s look at these verses then I’ll explain.
Acts 1:21-26: “‘Judas must now be replaced. The replacement must come from the company of men who stayed together with us from the time Jesus was baptized by John up to the day of his ascension, designated along with us as a witness to his resurrection.’”
(Insert: So we’re talking about 120 people. And out of that band of Jesus’s followers they selected two…)
“They nominated two: Joseph Barsabbas, nicknamed Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed, ‘You, O God, know every one of us inside and out. Make plain which of these two men you choose to take the place in this ministry and leadership that Judas threw away in order to go his own way.’ They then drew straws. Matthias won and was counted in with the eleven apostles.”
For me, this story illustrates perfectly how guys think. Jesus told the disciples “Go to Jerusalem and WAIT…WAIT for the Holy Spirit…”
But apparently they got a little bored and decided to replace Judas Iscariot, who took his own life. The Bible doesn’t say that Jesus told them to go and select a replacement. I think that if Jesus had spoken that to them, Luke, the writer of the Book of Acts would have put that in there, right?
Now, the Holy Spirit had not yet come. The Holy Spirit is our Teacher, our Helper, our Counselor, our Comforter—the One Who convicts us of sin; the One Who reveals things to us as mere mortals. He had not been given yet.
Here we see in this story a perfect illustration of how choices can affect our lives. And sometimes people, men, human beings make choices—choices that leave us with difficult consequences. It happens.
I personally believe God had it all planned to replace Judas with Saul of Tarsus, you know–Paul.So it looks a little like (at least to me), men were deciding to do something God hadn’t instructed them to do.
So, Justus – the disciple NOT chosen — what must that have been like? There are not enough words for awkward.
Did Justus experience rejection? I mean it wasn’t just his peers that saw he wasn’t chosen, but the act itself was thought to be determined by God. So in a way it may have felt like God had rejected Justus.
We never hear of Justus again, (nor of Matthias for that matter). Neither of these men are ever mentioned again in the writings and detailed accounts of the Apostles’ lives found in the New Testament.
And, as in most cases, no one ever remembers second place. Let’s be honest: There’s just no real rejoicing in second place.
“I’m #2! I’m #2!” Who chants that? Who cheers that?
But I personally have been #2 all my life:
I am a second daughter to a firstborn genius! My sister can do anything. She’s dependable, smart, and funny—in charge of all of us. She’s creative.
I’m a #2 wife!
I’m a co-author of a book and my name appears SECOND on the cover. People look at the book and think, oh Mike wrote that book and the other lady must of helped him.
Even in my work at the university—I’m a fill in for a lady who had a baby. I’m a maternity leave substitute. Yup! I’m #2! And recently, when I was asked to speak at the International Church here in Vilnius where I delivered this message, even then Daryl was the one first asked to speak at the church, but when he couldn’t they asked me! So even sharing this message I was the second choice.
But I have to ask myself, “Are there second place people in God’s Kingdom?”
Ephesians 2:10 says, “We are God’s workmanship—His poema—masterpiece…” That doesn’t sound like second place to me. And I have to think that God’s view of us, His creation, His poems, none of us are second rate or second place in His heart.
Let me share a bit of my story. I am a big, loud, white woman! I’ve been big and loud and white all my life. When I was a little girl I used to get in trouble all the time in school as a result of sheer volume. My Mom went to ask one of my elementary school teachers why I was always in trouble. She asked her, “Is Teri really that bad?”
“No,” the teacher replied. “But she is always the first one I hear and so she gets punished.”
It was awful during high school because I so struggled to be quiet and demure. But if I got too excited or had one unguarded moment, the loudness took over. It was terrible.
My poor husband Daryl. He’s so reserved and gentle. On our first date we went to a really nice restaurant. I got too excited over the menu and when the waiter came to our table I got too loud. When the waiter left Daryl looked and me and whispered, “Teri, do you think you could use your inside voice?”
Sadly, I thought I was.
Loudness was one of those things in my life that embarrassed me. Frustrated me. Made me feel inferior to everyone else. I just kept thinking that if I could conquer this thing, this weakness, this flaw, I could be better somehow, more improved.
In 1983 at 24 years of age and still struggling with loudness, I went to teach in China. Now, this might surprise most people who know me, but no one has ever mistaken me for a Chinese person. I have never, ever been asked, “Hey, are you Chinese?” Nope. Never. And one characteristic, or I’d say quality, of the Chinese people is their respect for quiet and gentle manners. I knew I wouldn’t fit in.
After a few weeks on the university campus the Communist Party Secretary came to visit me in my dorm room. His name was Lao Seung.
“Huo Chi! (that’s my Chinese name) Everyone on campus have English feveh! Everyone want to learn English from native English speaka! We no have enough teachers for everyone. So, will you give all-campus lecture each week in English language? We will invite everyone on campus to come and they can hear native-English lecture. Will you do it?”
Wow. All-campus lectures. He told me everyone would be invited from the university’s president to the cleaning ladies. Professors and students. And their families.
Well…what could I say?
“I’d be happy to Lao Seung. But what do you want me to lecture on each week?”I asked.
“It doesn’t matter! We no pay you for this, so you pick topic,” he smiled.
You see at this time in China, Communist officials were cracking down on “spiritual pollution.” Spiritual pollutants were anything that contradicted basic communist philosophy. On the top of the pollutant list was Christianity. American English teachers were told not to speak of faith. We were not allowed to speak of Jesus or the Bible or pass out the Four Spiritual Laws tracks. If we had broken these laws we would have been tossed out of the country.
“You don’t care what I lecture on?” I asked just to make sure.
He nodded, “No care. You decide.”
“Well Lao Seung I’d like to lecture on Heroes of Hebrew literature. You know, tell stories of heroic men and women of old.” I was testing the waters.
Old Lao Seung thought about it for a moment, scratching his chin. Then he smiled and held both thumbs up, “Yes! Very good. Heroes of Hebrew literature. I no know what it is, but it sounds very interesting!”
These are the stories of Abraham, David, Daniel, Esther, Ruth and Moses. I was thankful that for years I had taught children’s Sunday School for three year olds. I knew the stories in simple English and I knew them by heart. I may not have had a flannel-graph board, but I can be quite animated.
Well, the first week of the Thursday night lecture series, Lao Seung came to escort me over to the lecture hall. It was one of those lecture halls that was built like a theater with the seating stacked to the ceiling and the platform and the bottom of the classroom. Lao Seung and I walked in and the room, which was built for about 300 or 350 people, was packed with over 600 Chinese. There were old and young and educated and not educated. There was the best professor on campus and the guy who swept the sidewalks. Children of instructors and lots and lots of students. I was amazed. I was struck. There really was English fever on campus.
Before the lecture began and everyone was getting settled in I started getting a little nervous. Lao Seung and I were sitting on the low-lying platform and I leaned over to ask him, “Lao Seung, why did you choose me to give the all-campus lectures? Why not Irma or Deborah?” My teammates were much better qualified than I.
Lao Seung cocked his head back a little surprised and shocked, “Are you kidding? We have no PA system and you only one loud enough!”
And that is when it hit me: God had designed me loud for a reason. He had actually created my DNA with a loud gene for this very time and this very day. The thing that I hated about myself, the thing that I thought was my biggest weakness, my biggest shame, was actually part of the reason God had designed me. Because He knew one day He would send a big, loud girl to China and each week He would make a way for her to tell 600 spiritually hungry Chinese about a God Who is personal, loving, faithful, and Who keeps His promises. Those Chinese heard of God’s faithfulness to Abraham in giving him a son long after it was physically possible. They learned of a young shepherd boy who slew a giant and became a king. They heard of Daniel in the lion’s den and how God parted the Red Sea and Moses led his people across on dry land.
My weakness, my flaw, my shameful trait, was in truth the very way God had created me because in my weakness, He showed Himself mighty. He used my weakness to confound the strong. I realized God made me loud. And when I’m loud I feel His good pleasure.
What has God made you for? What is the thing in your life you believe is your biggest weakness and flaw? We serve a God Who takes those things in our lives we may hate the most and He turns them for good and oftentimes we discover they weren’t really flaws at all. They are our greatest strengths.
For two years every Thursday night at the all-campus lecture, a big, loud girl from Kansas was privileged to tell a packed lecture room of God’s mercy and love and faithfulness. They heard of a compassionate God who longs to be in fellowship with His peole. And I know they heard me even way up near the rafters.
But that is what God does, isn’t it? Takes our flaws and our weaknesses and all of our broken bits and He, the Creator of all things, becomes the Great Recycler. He takes everything in us that makes us Second Place and He puts it all right.
Here in Vilnius we have bins around town–white, blue and yellow–these recycling bins are where we put our trash so that recycling geniuses can take our trash, our cast-offs, and make something useful out of them.
God works in this same way. We bring our 2nd place lives, our mistakes, our birth defects, all of our foolishness and we lay them at the feet of Jesus and say,
“I’m so flawed and broken but here I am Beautiful Jesus, here I am and if you can do anything with this 2nd place life of mine I am willing. I give myself to you.”
And Jesus, full of mercy and grace and power and love takes these 2nd place lives of ours and He uses them for His glory.
He uses the weak things of this world to show Himself mighty.
He uses the foolish things of this world to confuse the wise.
He uses the broken things of this world to shine forth His light and love.
Because that’s what God does. And He never looks at you and me as no. 2 because in Christ Jesus He has made all of us, each one of us first in His Kingdom.
Let me close with this true story about one of the most “unfamous” Lithuanians ever NOT known.
Corrie ten Boom tells a story about her first visit to the USSR…
“We arrived at her apartment by night in order to escape detection. We were in the USSR (in the region of Vilnius, Lithuania, on the Baltic Sea). Ellen and I had climbed the steep stairs, coming through a small back door into the one-room apartment. It was jammed with furniture, evidence that the old couple had once lived in a much larger and much finer house.
“The old woman was lying on a small sofa, propped up by pillows. Her body was bent and twisted almost beyond recognition by the dread disease of multiple sclerosis. Her aged husband spent all his time caring for her since she was unable to move off the sofa.
“I walked across the room and kissed her wrinkled cheek. She tried to look up but the muscles in her neck were atrophied so she could only roll her eyes upward and smile. She raised her right hand, slowly, in jerks. It was the only part of her body she could control and with her gnarled and deformed knuckles she caressed my face. I reached over and kissed the index finger of that hand, for it was with this one finger that she had so long glorified God.
“Beside her couch was a vintage typewriter. Each morning her faithful husband would rise, praising the Lord. After caring for his wife’s need and feeding her a simple breakfast, he would prop her into a sitting position on the couch, placing pillows all around her so she wouldn’t topple over. Then he would move that ancient black typewriter in front of her on a small table. From an old cupboard he would remove a stack of cheap yellow paper. Then, with that blessed one finger, she would begin to type.
“All day and far into the night she would type. She translated Christian books into Russian, Latvian, and Lithuanian—the language of her people. Always using just that one finger – peck… peck… peck – she typed out the pages. Portions of the Bible, the books of Billy Graham, Watchman Nee, and Corrie ten Boom – all came from her typewriter. That was why I was there – to thank her.
“She was hungry to hear news about these men of God she had never met, yet whose books she had so faithfully translated. We talked about Watchman Nee, who was then in a prison in China, and I told her all I knew of his life and ministry. I also told her of the wonderful ministry of Billy Graham and of the many people who were giving their lives to the Lord.
“’Not only does she translate their books,’ her husband said as he hovered close by during our conversation, ‘but she prays for these men every day while she types. Sometimes it takes a long time for her finger to hit the key, or for her to get the paper in the machine, but all the time she is praying for those whose books she is working on.’”
I believe, we should live our lives in reckless abandonment to a redemptive God yielding our gifts and our weaknesses, our strengths and our flaws, our talents and our imperfections—our second place lives to Jesus and watch as He alone recreates us into something beautiful, useful and never second place. Peace.