Max was a college kid, out for Christmas break, working to make a few bucks. The temperature was in the twenties; the wind chill made the temp feel like single digits. The west Texas wind roared and stung the ears and the frozen grass cracked beneath his feet. It was a cold December day and even the cows were smart enough to stay in the barn.
“What am I doing outside, he thought to himself? What am I doing standing in a ditch, in ankle deep water, bending over a lead pipe? And, pray tell, why aren’t the three guys in the truck helping me? Why are they in the warm truck while I am out here? Why are they dry and I am wet?”
The answer comes from the farm. It is called pecking order. Someone came up with the term after studying barnyard chickens. There is a chain of command among chickens, discerned by how many times certain chicks give and receive pecks. On one extreme is the Alpha bird who does most of the pecking and at the other end is the Omega bird who gets pecked. The other chickens are somewhere in between.
Jesus had no room for pecking orders. Not in God’s kingdom. Love has no place for it. It may work on the barnyard but not in the kingdom. When I was growing up the most dominant image on TV was the NBC peacock. It would spread its tail feathers and show off its beautiful colors. Thus the phrase “proud as a peacock.” So, how can others see God in you, if you, like the peacock, are always showing off? The solution: Jesus reversed the pecking order. “The last shall be first,” he said.
Some boys were building a tree house, and after they finished, one of them said, “We are going to need some rules.” And they made three rules: nobody act big; nobody act little; everybody act medium.
Philip Yancey is one of the most popular Christian writers, author of What’s So Amazing About Grace, The Jesus I Never Knew, and others. He said he made a list one time of those people who had influenced him the most. He says that he stared at the list for some time before realizing that they all had one trait in common—humility.
You may think that humility is simply a negative self-image. I don’t like false humility, where someone counts their shoe laces and says, “Ah shucks, it was nothing.” And I do tire of Christians saying, “It’s not me, it’s the Lord.” Sometimes you wonder if that is a false humility or bad self-image. But think about the people that you admire. Most of them have been successful in life, have won lots of awards, and they have lots of talent. Humility for those people is to credit God for their natural abilities and then to use those abilities ultimately for his glory.
According to what I have read, pagan thinkers never honored humility. But read the Bible. Jesus talked freely about His most difficult moments, like when he was in the desert and tempted or when he was in the garden and his disciples fell asleep. And Simon Peter comes off looking like a loser in Mark, a gospel that apparently depended on his testimony for material. John and Peter, two heroes of the early church, receive strong rebukes in all four gospels.
Humility has many faces. It might be the face of Dr. Paul Brand. Do you know Paul Brand? Dr. Brand, though a bright, young physician, one of the world’s best orthopedic surgeons, he decided to go to India to work with leprosy patients. “Hey doc, now that you have your degree, what are you going to do?”
“Oh, I think I’ll go to India and try to answer the age-old question of why do the hands and feet of leprosy victims just fall off?”
Or it might look like the face of Henri Nouwen. Do you know Henri Nouwen? He was professor at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard, who ended up working with the mentally handicapped, people who had just a fraction of the IQs of students at those prestigious universities. Both of those men had a downward mobility that symbolizes a gospel success.
Maybe the tree house kids had it right: nobody acts big; nobody acts small; everybody acts medium.