Participation Trophy

Once upon a time in the Land of Haas, there lived a small junkyard dog named Annie. Annie had been abandoned at a Methodist church camp, and was being cared for by the camp ranger. The ranger’s wife named her Little Orphan Annie, but did not want to keep her for long since they already owned a dog. A hound dog. Named Elvis. Ain’t nothin’ like a hound dog.

Along came a pastor and her daughters, who immediately fell in love with Annie, and the love was mutual. Poor Daddy had no choice but to agree to Annie coming home to the Land of Haas, especially after he got out of the car to meet her for the first time and she ran straight to him and sat on his foot, looking up with pleading eyes. From that time on, Annie was ours. I mean his.

Annie was a wild thing. Her months roaming the camp had turned her into a dog who passionately loved her family and passionately hated all things not-family. She was of the dogschool of thought that it was better to be all bark and perhaps bite. This was sharply evident when Annie competed in the Third Grade Dog Show at school. Her antisocial side came out in full force, and her misbehavior around the better behaved dogs caused Daddy to have to practically sit on her on the far side of the field, as far away from the other dogs as they could get.

She still won a participation ribbon. Sometimes just showing up is enough.

In my early morning meditation, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the the Apostle Paul actually wrote about Annie. For real! Who knew? Her own greatness surpasses itself:

Phillipians 3:2-6 “Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies, all bark and no bite. All they’re interested in is appearances—knife-happy circumcisers, I call them. The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it—even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book.

7-9 The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.

10-11 I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.” The Message

Dog dung! Paul said dog dung! (OK, Eugene Peterson said dog dung, but it fits!) His beef was with the Jewish authorities, and the new Christian community that was trying to impose the old structure of law and ritual (claiming that non-Jewish believers had to be circumcised before they could be part of the new church that was forming) on this newfound freedom they were offered in Christ. Everything he had once thought was important, he was now throwing away. His old life did not work anymore. Jesus said, “Behold, I make all things new,” and Paul was a living, breathing example of that. Old Saul used the law to persecute others. New Paul threw all that away to know Christ personally and to experience his resurrection power.

What aspects of your old life are you still clinging to? Does a spirit of judgement, superiority, know-it-all-ness, entitlement, or prejudice keep you from full participation in Christ’s kingdom? Is there some hypocrisy in your witness that needs to be addressed? What needs to be thrown in the trash so that you can completely and fully embrace Christ, and be embraced by him? I think Paul’s story teaches us that you can teach an old dog new tricks. It never worked for Annie, but it will for you.

God calls us to forgo the petty, inferior brand of righteousness that the Sunday-only pew-sitters have, and go ALL IN for a seven-day-a-week practice of loving, serving, giving, growing and living-out-scripture kind of life. Don’t be an Annie. God has so much more to offer than a participation trophy. Be a Paul, and press on toward the higher goal of knowing Christ, and being fully known by him.

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