Sunday, July 9, 2017

Of Pigs and People

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”   Matthew 7:6

Here’s “the story of the pampered pigs”--

Once upon a time there was a pig farmer who loved his pigs. He thought pigs were beautiful, intelligent creatures and he only ate them when they were old and sick. Otherwise, he treated them very well. He wished that he could do more for them.

One day, he was down at the feed store and heard the other pig farmers talking about something they saw on the internet. It seemed that some pig farmers in a far-off country suddenly noticed that some of their pigs had started walking on their hind legs. Then, they started talking to each other. Finally, they started wearing clothes, growing hair on the tops of their heads, and were actually starting to become people. “It’s true,” one said.  “They’ve even got a video of it on YouTube! How can that be wrong?”

The farmer thought he would like that. He said to himself, “Wouldn’t it be great if some of my pigs could become my children?”  So, he decided if it was possible for pigs to become people, then he would set out to make it happen.

The first thing he did was to make all the pigs clothes. He had to wrestle his pigs to get coats on them, and he got some bad cuts and bites, but he finally got them on. Unfortunately, the pigs didn’t appreciate his efforts. They just rolled in the mud and got them all torn and dirty. Then he tried to teach them to appreciate art. He put reproductions of the Mona Lisa all around their sty. They just splashed mud on them. Finally, he decided to teach the sows some self-esteem by putting expensive pearl necklaces around the necks of the sows, but they scratched and bit until the pearls fell off and got lost in the mud. When he went to retrieve them, they trampled him.

Now, there is no reason to blame the pigs for any of this. Pigs just aren’t people, that’s all. God can make a pig into a person if He wanted to, but until He does, a pig is just a pig.

In the language of Jesus’ day, “pig” and “dog” were pejorative terms by Gentiles about non-Jews.    Jesus does not attack this prejudice, but instead He uses it to make a point. If you think that someone is a pig or a dog, then why are you trying to convert them by making them act like yourself? Why spend so much time trying to turn Gentiles into good Jews, when their essential nature is something else?

To understand what Jesus is saying, we need to see it in the context of what He said just before-- “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Judgmentalism is our tendency to want to meddle in the affairs of others. We see others as worse than us, not just different, but worse, and to believe that we must make them act, think and behave like ourselves. So, we take all the things we enjoy and believe and make them into rules others must follow.  Instead of offering a better way of life, we try to force them to conform without changing their essential nature.  But it didn’t work in Jesus’ time, and it doesn’t work now. We can’t change people’s nature. God can, but we can’t. 

Does that mean that people can’t change?  Absolutely not!  People can change, but only by the power of God. But when change occurs, it must first come as a change of faith, not behavior. People change when their ultimate concern in life becomes pleasing God, not fulfilling their basest desires. It comes when they meet Jesus as their Lord and Savior, and they learn what it means to live in His likeness. Then people want to change. But the idea of insisting on behavioral change when there is no inner change is an exercise in frustration. 

Some Gentiles did become Jews. Sinners can become saints. Unbelievers can become believers. Drunks can get sober, misers can become generous, and lechers can become chaste. All the changes we have read in the Bible or heard from others by the power of the Holy Spirit can happen. Paul writes in Corinthians 5: 17, “If anyone be in Christ, he is a new person. The old has passed away. The new has come.”  

But we Christians need to be careful. We get impatient for change, and try to force it on others, instead of waiting for God to change them. The harder we push, it seems that the less Christian they become. Conversion is a spiritual act, not by human will.

When I was younger, I was much more concerned about witnessing. The Bible college I attended was always telling me to witness—and I did. Sometimes, though it was for the wrong reasons. 
One of the favorite verses they used to motivate us was Ezekiel 33: 7-8  

“I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.  If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.”

What a scary verse! If someone is acting like a pig, then I must rebuke them or God will hold me responsible! Their sin becomes my fault. This guilt motivation drove me to push my faith on others—not because of love, but because of fear.
This motivation made me pushy. I couldn’t be blamed if I told them, even if they didn’t understand.  Then if they went to Hell, I could say “I told you so—you just weren’t listening!”

This rarely worked. I missed the point of evangelism. It isn’t to condemn others, but to help them. God didn’t come to irritate, but to transform out essential human nature into something divine and wonderful. Only through an act of God can an unbeliever become a believer, a Gentile a Jew, or a pig become a person.

Does it mean that we shouldn’t witness? Definitely not. We just need to remember what we are witnessing to. We bear witness, not to a system of moral behavior, but to a living, transforming God who can heal the sick, set the prisoner free, and even resurrect the dead. This doesn’t just happen by going to church or having someone pay your light bill, but by having an encounter with the living God. 

I believe there are three things we can do to help the process of conversion in others.

First, we must make sure that we ourselves are converted. Many who think they are converted are not. You can’t truthfully witness to a God you do not know. I am not talking about belief but conversion.  We must have been changed by Him.

Faith and belief are two different things. I can believe in something that has no impact on my life.  I believe that Pluto’s still a planet, but it doesn’t matter in my life. I don’t believe in Bigfoot, but if I’m wrong, it would make no difference. Many people believe that Jesus is God, but it doesn’t affect them at all. All they have is an intellectual understanding of a God, but they live their lives distant from Him.

Recent research into Christianity in America has describes it as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Deism is the belief God created the world, but has nothing to do with it. To a Deist, believing in God is like believing in George Washington. He existed once, and is the father of our country, but now he’s dead and in no way directly involved in our lives.

Moralistic means He left us with some rules in the Bible on how to run our families and our businesses and get along with our neighbors. 

Therapeutic means these rules were left to make us happy. Bible principles will make us happy, even if we don’t know God! God isn’t needed, just his rules. The Bible is like the instruction book for an appliance. We don’t need to know the person who wrote it, we just need to learn how it works. Then, we can forget about the manufacturer. Faith is a relationship with a living God. We can’t neglect Him, and expect to teach others to know Him. We are witnessing to a Person, not moral principles.

Second, we call upon Him to change others.  We pray. By prayer, I don’t mean just general prayers but to genuinely seek God on the behalf to do something that we cannot do ourselves.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism thinks of prayer as some kind of personal moral motivation not as calling out to a God who can actually work. It belittles prayer, saying things like, “God helps those who help themselves,” or “Faith without work is dead.” 

Do not deny the necessity of speaking and working, but to seek the conversion of another without the power of God just leads to frustration and self-deception. You can’t make a pig into a person.  You can’t change a person’s belief by pushing harder.

There’s two ways of pushing our faith on others. Neither works. One way is by criticizing their behavior, in the hopes that something we say will “guilt” them into change. The other way is to say nothing about offensive behavior, to become so tolerant that they walk all over us. If we can’t guilt someone into change, neither can we tolerate them into change. We have a right and responsibility to insist on rules in our own home. But we must also not treat those rules as conversion. That comes from within. Your prayers will accomplish far more than your direct efforts. Believe that God can make a difference, and He will. 

Third, we need to love them as they are, even if they don’t change. Understand the limitations of the unbeliever and love them anyway.

My best friend is named Natasha. She is not a believer, yet we have never once given her a Bible or shared the Gospel with her. That’s because she’s a dog, and wouldn’t understand it. I don’t treat her as a person, but make it my goal to treat her as well as a dog can be treated. I give her treats, take her on walks, and pet her whenever possible. That’s how you express affection to a dog. This love and affection won’t turn her into a person, but it definitely moves her into a warm relationship with the human world.

Speaking of dogs, it still amazes me to think that dogs descended from wolves. How did a wolf turn into a dog?  It happened with someone showing affection to a wolf. Some wolves responded, and that’s where we got poodles and chihuahuas.  Genuine love and patience over time resulted in the dogs we love today. Showing love to animals makes them more like us.

Without God, our meddling in the lives of others is useless. The only thing that can turn pigs into people is the power of the risen Lord, Jesus Christ. He alone can make the difference. All He needs from us, is for us to love them, pray for them and to live sincerely as His followers.  

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