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God’s No Pecking Zone


God’s “No Pecking” Zone

 Love . . . does not boast it is not proud.

                                                    1 Corinthians 13:4 

that’s what love does. It puts the beloved before itself.

Your soul was more important than his blood.

Your eternal life was more important than his earthly life. Your place in heaven was more important to him than his place in heaven, so he gave up his so you could have yours.

The temperature is in the twenties. The chill factor is single digit. The

West Texas wind stings the ears, and frozen grass cracks beneath the step. It is a cold December day. Even the cattle are smart enough to stay in the barn on a morning like this.

Then what am I doing outside? What am I doing standing in a ditch, ankle deep in water, hunkered over a leaking pipe? And, most of all, why aren’t the three guys in the truck helping me? Why are they in there while I’m out here?

Why are they warm while I’m cold? Why are they dry while I’m wet?

The answer is found in two words: pecking order.

We can thank Norwegian naturalists for the term. They are the ones who studied the barnyard caste system. By counting the number of times chickens give and receive pecks, we can discern a chain of command. The alpha bird does most of the pecking, and the omega bird gets pecked. The rest of the chickens are somewhere in between.

That day in the oil field, our alpha bird was the crew chief. Beneath him was a former foreman and beneath the foreman, an illegal immigrant. I was the omega bird. College students on Christmas break come in last.

Our truck-seating assignments revealed our rank. The crew chief drove; second in command got the window seat. Third in line sat in the middle, and the bottom dweller straddled the stick shift. No one announced the system or wrote it down. We just knew it. And when the time came for someone to climb out of the truck and into the ditch, no one had to tell me. I understood the pecking order.

You do too. You know the system. Pecking orders are a part of life. And, to an extent, they should be. We need to know who is in charge. Ranking systems can clarify our roles. The problem with pecking orders is not the order. The problem is with the pecking.

Just ask the shortest kid in class or the janitor whose name no one knows or cares to know. The minority family can tell you. So can the new fellow on the factory line and the family scapegoat. It’s not pleasant to be the plankton in the food chain.

A friend who grew up on a farm told me about a time she saw their chickens attacking a sick newborn. She ran and told her mother what was happening. Her mother explained, “That’s what chickens do. When one is really sick, the rest peck it to death.”

For that reason God says that love has no place for pecking orders. Jesus won’t tolerate such thinking. Such barnyard mentality may fly on the farm but not in his kingdom. Just listen to what he says about the alpha birds of his day:

They do good things so that other people will see them. They make the boxes of Scriptures that they wear bigger, and they make their special prayer clothes very long. Those Pharisees and teachers of the law love to have the most important seats at feasts and in the synagogues. They love people to greet them with respect in the marketplaces, and they love to have people call them “Teacher.” (Matt. 23:5–7)

Jesus blasts the top birds of the church, those who roost at the top of the spiritual ladder and spread their plumes of robes, titles, jewelry, and choice seats. Jesus won’t stand for it. It’s easy to see why. How can I love others if my eyes are only on me? How can I point to God if I’m pointing at me? And, worse still, how can someone see God if I keep fanning my own tail feathers?

Jesus has no room for pecking orders. Love “does not boast, it is not proud” (1 Cor. 13:4 NIV).

His solution to man-made caste systems? A change of direction. In a world of upward mobility, choose downward servility. Go down, not up. “Regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3 NASB). That’s what Jesus did.

He flip-flopped the pecking order. While others were going up, he was going down.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:5–8 NIV)

Would you do what Jesus did? He swapped a spotless castle for a grimy stable. He exchanged the worship of angels for the company of killers. He could hold the universe in his palm but gave it up to float in the womb of a maiden.

If you were God, would you sleep on straw, nurse from a breast, and be clothed in a diaper? I wouldn’t, but Christ did.

If you knew that only a few would care that you came, would you still come? If you knew that those you loved would laugh in your face, would you still care? If you knew that the tongues you made would mock you, the mouths you made would spit at you, the hands you made would crucify you, would you still make them? Christ did. Would you regard the immobile and invalid more important than yourself? Jesus did.

He humbled himself. He went from commanding angels to sleeping in the straw. From holding stars to clutching Mary’s finger. The palm that held the universe took the nail of a soldier.

Why? Because that’s what love does. It puts the beloved before itself. Your soul was more important than his blood. Your eternal life was more important than his earthly life. Your place in heaven was more important to him than his place in heaven, so he gave up his so you could have yours.

He loves you that much, and because he loves you, you are of prime importance to him.

Christ stands in contrast to the barnyard. He points to the sparrow, the most inexpensive bird of his day, and says, “Five sparrows are sold for only two pennies, and God does not forget any of them. . . . You are worth much more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6–7).

God remembers the small birds of the world. We remember the eagles. We make bronze statues of the hawk. We name our athletic teams after the falcons. But God notices the sparrows. He makes time for the children and takes note of the lepers. He offers the woman in adultery a second chance and the thief on the cross a personal invitation. Christ is partial to the beat up and done in and urges us to follow suit. “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:13).

Want to love others as God has loved you? Come thirsty. Drink deeply of God’s love for you, and ask him to fill your heart with a love worth giving. A love that will enable you to:

Put others before yourself. Esther Kim knows what this means. For thirteen years she had one dream. The Summer Olympics. She wanted to represent the United States on the 

Olympic tae kwon do squad.

From the age of eight, she spent every available hour in training. In fact, it was in training that she met and made her best friend, Kay Poe. The two worked so hard for so long that no one was surprised when they both qualified for the 2000 Olympic trials in Colorado Springs.

Everyone, however, was surprised when they were placed in the same division. They’d never competed against each other, but when the number of divisions was reduced, they found their names on the same bracket. It would be just a matter of events before they found themselves on the same mat. One would win and one would lose. Only one could go to Australia.

As if the moment needed more drama, two facts put Esther Kim in a heartrending position. First, her friend Kay injured her leg in the match prior to theirs. Kay could scarcely walk, much less compete. Because of the injury Esther could defeat her friend with hardly any effort.

But then there was a second truth. Esther knew that Kay was the better fighter. If she took advantage of her crippled friend, the better athlete would stay home.

So what did she do? Esther stepped onto the floor and bowed to her friend and opponent. Both knew the meaning of the gesture. Esther forfeited her place. She considered the cause more important than the credit.

This is a good time for a few poignant questions. What’s more important to you—that the work be done or that you be seen? When a brother or sister is honored, are you joyful or jealous? Do you have the attitude of Jesus? Do you consider others more important than yourself?

May I share the first time I felt the force of that challenge?

Harold suffered from cerebral palsy. The condition left him unable to walk, dress, feed himself, or go to the rest room. My job was to help him with each. And I didn’t like it. I had moved to St. Louis for spiritual training.

Fresh out of college and ready to change the world. Ready to preach, ready to travel, ready to make history. But I wasn’t ready to help Harold.

The director of our internship program had other plans. One day he told me he had a special assignment. I assumed he meant a promotion. I never thought he meant Harold.

Harold loved Bible classes and worship services. My job was to help him attend both. To pick him up, to clean him up. To wheel him in, sit next to him, and take him home. To hold his fork when he ate, to wipe his mouth when he drooled. I don’t remember feeling very loving. I do remember the day we studied Philippians 2:3: “In humility consider others better than yourselves” (NIV).

After the teacher read the passage, he asked this question: “Think about the person to your left. Do you consider him more important than yourself?” I looked to my left. Guess who I saw? Harold. His head had fallen forward, mouth open.

Harold more important than me? I had the health, the glib tongue, the (ahem) hours of graduate work. How could I regard him as more important?

But God convicted me of my arrogance and began to work on my attitude. Slowly, but markedly, I became content to be Harold’s caretaker. By the end of the year Harold and I had become fast friends. God worked a quiet, yet indelible, miracle in my heart. When word of Harold’s death reached me a year ago, I thanked God for letting me know such a teacher as Harold. God uses people like him to remind us: Put others before yourself. And then:

Accept your part in his plan. 

God uses people like Bob Russell to illustrate this kind of love. Bob ministers at the Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. When Bob began his service there in 1966, the church had 125 members, and Bob was twenty-two years old. During the last three and a half decades, God has built this church into one of his finest and largest families. Over 16,000 people gather each weekend to worship in one of several services.

In 1989 Bob made a choice that surprised many observers. He announced that he was going to share the preaching duties with a twenty-seven-yearold preacher. He and Dave Stone would begin coministering to the church. In the announced plan, each year Bob would preach less and Dave would preach more, thus providing Bob more time to lead the church and the church an experienced successor.

Not everyone could do that. Larger egos in smaller churches have struggled to surrender the pulpit. But Bob understands the danger of the pecking order and is humble enough to invert it.

True humility is not thinking lowly of yourself but thinking accurately of yourself. The humble heart does not say, “I can’t do anything.” But rather, “I can’t do everything. I know my part and am happy to do it.”

When Paul writes “consider others better than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3 NIV, emphasis mine), he uses a verb that means “to calculate,” “to reckon.” The word implies a conscious judgment resting on carefully weighed facts. To consider others better than yourself, then, is not to say you have no place; it is to say that you know your place. “Don’t cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or your importance, but try to have a sane estimate of your capabilities by the light of the faith that God has given to you” (Rom. 12:3


And finally:

Be quick to applaud the success of others. To the Romans, Paul gives this counsel: “Give each other more honor than you want for yourselves” (Rom. 12:10).

William Barclay tells of a respected educator of a century past. He was known not just for his success but the way he handled it. On one occasion as he stepped to a seat on a platform, the public noticed who he was and began to applaud. Shocked, he turned and asked the man behind him to go ahead. He then began to applaud the man, assuming the applause was for him, and he was quite willing to share in it.3 The humble heart honors others.

Again, is Jesus not our example? Content to be known as a carpenter. Happy to be mistaken for the gardener. He served his followers by washing their feet. He serves us by doing the same. Each morning he gifts us with beauty. Each Sunday he calls us to his table. Each moment he dwells in our hearts. And does he not speak of the day when he as “the master will dress himself to serve and tell the servants to sit at the table, and he will serve them” (Luke 12:37)?

If Jesus is so willing to honor us, can we not do the same for others? Make people a priority. Accept your part in his plan. Be quick to share the applause. And, most of all, regard others as more important than yourself. Love does. For love “does not boast, it is not proud” (1 Cor. 13:4 NIV).

Someone is piecing this all together. His thoughts are something like this: If I think you are more important than I am . . . and you think I am more important than you are . . . and he thinks she is more important than he is . . . and she thinks he is more important than she is . . . then in the end everyone feels important but no one acts important.

H’m. You think that’s what God had in mind?

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