Up or Down?

I am over 6′ 1″, which places me roughly in the top 10% of American males for height. Practically, this means it is unusual for me to meet someone I have to look up to see their face. For some people, though, that is a normal experience, a normal frame of reference.

Our frame of reference is also dependent on our focus. I have noticed that my wife and I tend to see different things when we are out walking. She is generally the first to point out snails, while I tend to point out birds. She saw a deer the other night before I ever noticed it. Our visual filters are tuned to different things and different parts of our field of vision. (She watches where she’s walking, while I usually don’t.)

Where we focus determines our evaluation of ourselves and others. Economically, Americans generally have very skewed views. Our concept of poverty equates to middle to upper class in many countries. Clean drinking water, indoor plumbing, an automobile, and a phone. These are goals or even dreams in some parts of the world. They are baseline “requirements” for us.

Where we focus also frames our self assessment in terms of sanctification. It is easy to find examples to make us feel pretty smug about our perceived holiness. It is easy to become like the Pharisee Jesus holds up in contrast to the tax collector.

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

Luke 18:10-12 ESV

This is lazy. We don’t have to look very hard to find someone to feel superior to. The person with the unruly child in the grocery. The aggressive driver on the freeway. Our foul-mouthed coworker. We look around and feel like the Pharisee, “Thank goodness I’m not like them.”

The standard we are called to is a bit more stringent than that, however.

Therefore you must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:48 ESV

It is as if we are children standing over an anthill basking in our colossal stature. Jesus places a hand under our chin and shifts our gaze to the towering redwood under which we are standing. We are not as tall, strong, or good as we think we are.

If we hold before our gaze the lives of the Saints, the Apostles, and our Lord, we find that we are far from perfect. We are put off by minor inconveniences, we willingly fill our minds with impurity, and we seek our own comfort above all else.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

Hebrews 11:32-38 ESV

O Lord, who gave sight to the blind, let us have the scales removed from our eyes that we may see you clearly, and so rightly judge ourselves as unworthy sinners. May we be moved to extend grace and mercy to our fellow man as we are penitent before your holiness. Cleanse us by your Holy Spirit that we may love you and serve you only. Amen.


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