"Peculiar"

Written by Drew on December 5th, 2005

I thought I’d post the manuscript for the chapel speech I’m giving tomorrow at Jefferson Christian Academy in Birmingham. I usually write out short little sermonettes like this one because, let’s face it, I can be pretty long-winded sometimes.

“Peculiar”…not a word you want used in a description of yourself. “Peculiar” says you are odd and backwards. If you are “peculiar,” you are not a force to be reckoned with; you are just a force to be avoided. “Peculiar” says your clothes aren’t right, you don’t have style, you talk funny or say weird things that make people uncomfortable. Nobody wants to be “peculiar,” and yet all of us must confess that we all have our little eccentricities that make us unique.

I’ve seen my share of peculiar people. For a semester in college at Freed-Hardeman University, I lived in a dorm room adjacent to that of an exchange student from Russia. He didn’t look strange, and I suppose that when he was out on campus he appeared completely normal, but when he was in his room, he acted…different. He liked to crank up the volume on his radio as it played music that was about a decade behind the times. (Music two or three decades behind the times is cool; music that is only a few years late is quite lame). But that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that those of us who lived nearby were treated to his own rendition of these songs. And although they were playing loudly, he could sing at even louder decibels. All over the dorm, his accented, cracking voice could be heard, along with the sounds of his body slamming against the wall and of furniture being dislodged, which resonated from what we imagined to be some dance that had him flailing about the room.

When I was in high school, I did odd jobs for a TV repairman who was peculiar. Before he would drink coffee, he would make sure to place an ice cube in his mouth so he wouldn’t burn his tongue. He was also convinced that a secret militia was operating in the U.S. (this was before America became concerned about terrorist splinter cells). Maybe he’d see a white, unmarked van and say, “That’s bound to be one of the militia’s vehicles, packed with guns and explosives. I wonder what they’re up to.”

Sometimes people look peculiar because of cultural differences. From the outside looking in, a tradition or habit seems odd, but from an inside perspective it’s perfectly normal. In Russia, for example, store clerks always tear a receipt before handing it to the customer. Guests remove their shoes as a sign of respect before entering homes in the East. In Great Britain, it’s customary to break for tea at some time during the day.

And we Americans have our peculiarities, too. Have you ever thought about how strange our Christmas traditions are? We cut down a perfectly good pine tree and drag it, needles and all, into the house so we can decorate it with shiny ornaments and lights. We tell our little children that a man who lives in the North Pole, Santa Claus, brings presents to little boys and girls all over the world on Christmas Eve. Oh, and although he is grotesquely overweight, he climbs down chimneys. We go out and spend hundreds of dollars on gifts that we’re not sure others want, so they in turn can spend the same amount of money on gifts they’re not sure we want, when if everybody just went out and spent their money on themselves, they could be sure to get what they want!

The Bible is full of peculiar people. Ehud is described in Judges 3:15 as “a man left-handed.” Now, these days that would not catch anybody’s attention. But in ancient times left-handedness was considered a stigma. In fact, the word to describe Ehud’s dexterity literally means, “one whose right hand is impeded or lame.” There were certain military advantages to being left-handed, though, and by Ehud’s day some who trained to be warriors would have their right hand bound to their side through their youth so that they might become skilled in the use of their left hand. Within the tribe of Benjamin at the time of the Israeli civil war, there were 700 left-handed warriors who could sling a stone at a hair and not miss (Jd. 20:15-16). Ehud was probably a descendant of one of these warriors.

Even David, a man considered by most to be a hero, acted strange at certain points in his life. As he was fleeing King Saul, he found himself in Gath, a Philistine city and home to Goliath. There, in the place he thought would serve as a safe haven, he heard the citizens quoting the war song sung about him: “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” When he considered that “ten thousands” referred to the rivers of Philistine blood he had shed in previous battles, he became very afraid of the king of Gath, Achish. What did he do? He feigned insanity. The text says, “So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard” (1 Sam. 21:13).

Yes, our idea of the word “peculiar” is that it should be avoided like the plague. We want to fit in—not stick out like a sore thumb.

But God is constantly using this word when He talks about His beloved people. Before giving the commandments on Mt. Sinai He promised, “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine” (Ex. 19:5, KJV). Also, Peter writes of Christians, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9, KJV).

In these passages, “peculiar” does not take on its usual meaning of “strange;” it means “special, select, prized, and distinct.” This is a higher sense of the word, but it still includes the idea of being different. Two verses after Peter refers to the church as “a peculiar people,” he calls them “strangers and pilgrims” (1 Pet. 2:11). No, God does not want His people to look and act like people in the world. He wants them to be unique, special.

Too many young people are trying to balance their lives between “fitting in” and being God’s “peculiar people.” It just doesn’t work. Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). A Christian doesn’t look and act like a worldly person. He is special, unique, peculiar.

Maybe this means you will lose some friends. That’s okay, you’ll gain even more. And these will be friends who will support you and love you through every trial.

Maybe being peculiar will rob you of a few exciting adventures in the world. No matter. If you live as Christ did, you will have a life full of excitement, travel, romance, and drama. But, mind you, most Christians are afraid to live as Christ did. His way was adventurous, but it was also filled with danger.

Maybe you’ll miss out on rewards and a feeling of acceptance should you choose the peculiar life of a Christian. So what? The world does not offer anything comparable to eternal life. And what acceptance is greater than hearing Jesus say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world?” (Mt. 25:34).

Being “peculiar” is not so bad after all. In fact, being a part of God’s peculiar people is the best way to live. And the ironic thing is, though peculiarity suggests a life off the beaten path, anybody can be a part of God’s elect … even you.

 

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