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An Uncommon God

We are, if we have chosen the good part, sitters at the feet of Jesus, just as Saul
of Tarsus sat at the feet of Gamaliel; Christ is to us our great Instructor  

–Charles Spurgeon

 

An uncommon God, He lived as a common man. Exchanging the beauty of heavenly glory for human flesh, Christ—the One who had strolled through the streets of heaven–walked the streets of everyday towns filled with common people burdened by common problems.

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He–who had known perfection–surrounded himself with the imperfect. He willingly gave up abundance for poverty, worship for rejection, and self for others.

hands-731265_1280Why did Jesus—who once stooped to breathe life into dust—bind himself to the earth…to men and women whose feet carried them further from truth and deeper into the deception of self…of false hopes and misplaced dreams…of willfulness and rebellion?

 

Because He knows what we are made of. (Psalm 103:14) And simple dust, once stripped of protection, shifts in the wind—sometimes mere inches while at other times it is moved completely from its place…drifting and unsettled. For hundreds of years, Dust had lived under the dark curse of sin–tossed about this way and that.

No one remained untouched. Suffering. Disease. Death. Corrupt men subjugated innocents to forced labor—stealing youth and hope. Outcasts—considered less than human—suffered in pain on the edges of the city while rotting flesh ached for relief. Human souls cried out to heaven and Jesus was the answer. And in becoming like the rest of us, God made clear the extent of his love for Dust.

 

A love so encompassing and grace-filled that He intentionally wandered from place to place—offering forgiveness, speaking words of love, and bringing the kingdom of heaven to aching, hurting people. And, unlike any other god before or since, the man named Jesus died to save Dust. The same feet—soiled and dirtied from travelling to the dwellings of Despair and Need—were nailed to the tree. Their blood flowed downward and marked the hill at the base of the cross. And blood and Dust became inseparable.

Jesus gave everything for this woman of dust. He gave everything for you, too, dear Friend. And at the nail-scarred feet of Jesus we receive the life of a common man and an uncommon God. 

Scripture for Reflection

Surely it is you who love the people; all the holy ones are in your hand. At your feet they all bow down, and from you receive instruction… (Duet. 33:3)

…and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. (Luke 8:35)

…but few things are needed–or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42)

 

Near the Edge

It’s that vacuous, indefinable place between here and there when—like Dante—you awaken near the edge of a dark valley. The valley yawns wide…deep…threatening and you squint your eyes searching for even the dimmest light beckoning in a direction—any direction.

But, fear prohibits the slightest movement. What lies ahead? Maybe it’s safer to remain on the precipice of the Unknown rather to wander aimlessly.

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My limbo? It became reality five years ago when my husband deployed to the dusty, foreign lands of Afghanistan. One morning, we were laughing together over coffee and the next Dave was gone. For ten months, his place at the table remained empty and my heart was filled with fear…grief…anxiety.

For some, this prolonged state of uncertainty might come on the heels of a divorce. It may have been realized when the doctor uttered the word, “Cancer” or the day you finally admitted your child struggles with depression. There are hundreds of entry points into Nowhere—financial struggles, abuse, job changes, death of a loved one.

But limbo?   It’s a counterfeit imitation of hell meant to interrupt joy, dispel hope, and distract away from the beauty of living. I’m not saying limbo is always avoidable.  We may need to experience it for a time. I’m not denying we’ll all deal with the difficult and feel lost sometimes.

I am suggesting we seize that evasive, empty place and fill it with whatever is true before limbo is the habit and living disappears.

Instead of dwelling in the dissatisfaction of Nothingness, we can choose Something.

How?

We remain in the present—in the moment. Worry robs us of the time we might enjoy today because our focus has shifted to the what-ifs of tomorrow. Mindfulness opens us up to hope and possibility.

Matthew 6:34 exhorts, “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

I encourage you, dear friend, to take a step…move ahead. Your refuge is in the Rock—not on the edge of one.

 

 

 

 

A momentary visit to an online population clock revealed this number— 7,386,695,958. On November 9, 2015 at approximately 8:20 p.m. there are more than 7 billion people on earth. Me? Not one in a million…not even one in a billion.

My life is small measured by numbers.

With fewer than 300 Facebook friends, no more than 75 people on my Christmas card list, just three or four people I could turn to in a major crisis, and with a life expectancy of about 80 years how can I expect to make a difference?

My life is small measured by social performance.

I haven’t earned any awards. I am not a Nobel Peace Prize winner or a Rhodes Scholar. I don’t have a Teacher of the Year Award to hang on the wall. I can’t even claim to be the PTA president. How can I expect to make a difference?

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My life is small, but like most of us I long to make an impact…to change lives…to do something bigger and better than I ever imagined possible. But those differences? They aren’t discovered in the spotlight of self-adulation. Changing lives? That doesn’t happen tucked neatly behind the clean lines of a carefully maintained lawn and closed shades.

Impact…changed lives…something bigger than me? It happens in the showing up–in the obvious action of loving someone through their hard and in their hurt. Impact exists in the giving of more than we have and digs deep into the place of faith where Christ enables the more.

If my life—small by every measure—has any value it comes not in living inward. Living is about loving others large! It is the meal prepared after an exhausting week at work for a neighbor bent over in pain from a broken heart and bleeding soul. It is the giving of time to speak with the woman in a Home Depot parking lot—the one holding a sign that says, “Please help”—and you are human to her. It is in the doing and the joining our life with others. We just need to show up…to love outward…to give more of ourselves even until we’re empty.

And in that place? To that person? In that moment? Even one small person among billions makes a difference.

Scripture for Reflection:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

Jesus…his name evokes a variety of images. A newborn infant wrapped in rags. A man of righteous anger defending his Father’s temple. A man of generous spirit giving all of himself—even to the point of death.

Imagine the scene. Shaking uncontrollably, the woman begged for mercy as people pressed around her. The shouts and cruel slurs of the Good Ones, the Religious Ones, pierced her heart the most. Adulterer! Harlot! Worthless!

Feeling the heat of shame on her face, the woman bowed her head ready to accept the punishment. She knew death was imminent. Uttering a prayer, the woman steeled herself for the first crushing blow of rock against flesh and bone.

Suddenly, the roar of the crowd quieted as Jesus—the one some called Messiah– stepped between the Religious and the Sinful Woman. His body a shield, Jesus knelt low and carefully, deliberately wrote something in the sand. Could he have written the word mercy? Or, perhaps, love? Maybe Jesus simply sketched SIN—large enough for everyone in the throng of people to see.

Dusting the sand from his hands, Jesus rose slowly—glancing at each person in turn.

“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

A few shifted uncomfortably while others refused to meet the Teacher’s eyes. Many of the Religious Ones scoffed. The crowd’s fevered excitement had diminished and people began to move away from the woman. Several minutes later, the woman stood in front of her Savior—rescued from her sin, delivered from the accusers, and promised a new life because of Christ’s eternal mercy.

Christ’s spirit of generosity was lived day by day with intentionality. Dear ones, let us live intentional lives with Christ’s glory and the good of others in mind!

Scripture for Reflection

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:1-8)

 

“If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.”                                   —Mother Theresa

The woman behind the register noticed my quick glance at her company shirt.  Smiling broadly, she indicated the colorful badges and stickers decorating the gray polyester around her plastic-enclosed name tag.  “I earned each one of these,” Mary announced proudly.  “No one else in the store has earned as many!  I might have to work over the holidays, but I know I’ll have more than anybody.  Here…fill out the survey at the bottom of the receipt and I can get another one.”

Nodding, I wished Mary a pleasant evening, clutched the brown plastic bag in my hands, and passed through the automatic doors–wondering at the woman’s obvious need for validation.

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If she had only known of the One who provides Holy validation.  And, oh, if only we as Christians lived free, wide-open lives just as if we understood God’s acceptance of His beloved ones.

But instead–even from a young age–we fall into the trap of seeking validation from parents, teachers, coaches.  The opposite sex, co-workers, and church members.  Words of praise…trophies, medals, and blue ribbons…longing looks from young men noticing a teenage girl’s plunging shirt…VIP parking places.  Temporary rewards at best, these types of man-designed approval are narrowly accepting and limited to the few who deserve them–society’s choice of winners, achievers, and beauties.

But, in God’s kingdom, there exists an eternal approval offered to all.  Unlike human acceptance which increases or dwindles with a change of circumstance or emotion–this is a full and complete validation that has nothing to do with how much we have or have not achieved,  how much money we do or do not earn, or whether or not we have been “good enough”.  Even more incredible?  Our approval from Him rests not us, but on “the finished work of Jesus Christ” (John17:4).  God’s limitless, eternal approval for you and me died on the cross and rose again with the resurrection of the Lamb.

If the woman at Walgreen’s had understood…if we understand…then the approval of others no longer matters.

Scripture for Reflection

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10)

But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. (1 Thes. 2:4)

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. (Proverbs 29:25)

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.  (Col. 3:23)

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The path to the land of abundance lay ahead–easily navigated and under the protection of the King.  Yet, the people chose to wander aimlessly–the brown of the desert soiling their feet just as their complaints marred that day’s praises to the God of Israel.  And like a low-hanging curtain of smog restricting the full scope of a city’s skyline, the limitless sand, rock, and mountain seemed to repress the beauty and hope of God’s promise to his people.  You remember the one, don’t one? God had seen the oppression and enslavement.  God heard the groaning and crying.  And God promised to deliver the Suffering Ones to a new land…a new home…a new hope.

But, the blistering heat of the sun penetrated flesh and bone.  Parched lips yearned for the feel of sleek relief rolling across mouth and tongue while complaints poured from them as easily as a flash flood racing through the wasteland.

The people had forgotten–or, at least failed to remember–they were free!  No longer slaves…cowering in fear of the coming day, uncertain of survival, constrained by unbidden circumstances.

Free!  Free to worship…to dance…to dream.

Wouldn’t it seem that with a promise like the one God pronounced, the people would have continued to rejoice?  Celebrate?  Hope?  Didn’t the God of heaven pronounce that he would “bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey”?

Still, God’s own children grumbled in their newfound freedom.  Unhappy in their current circumstances, men and women turned away from the hope of a soon-to-be-tomorrow to a here-and-now reality.  They gave up their leader for a party, the true God for a Guernsey,  and a quick trip to the “land of milk and honey” for forty years of meaningless meandering.

If I’m honest, I recognize myself in the story.  Maybe you, too, see yourself there–feet burning as you tread across the barren land.  If only we had stayed behind!  Egypt wasn’t wonderful, but we would enjoy a draught of water from the well and a bed of reeds to lie upon.

My story is a bit different, of course.  This walk…this journey as a Christian is harder than I’d hoped.  Sometimes, living like the world–like Egypt of old–appeals.  Surrounded by the pollution of worldly living, it’s easy to bend low for a sip–just once.

Enjoying one last drink.  Flirting with the boss.  Watching barely concealed porn in the form of a newly released movie as reflection of social norms.  Intentionally allowing harmful words to wound another.  And the list continues for each of us…our Egypt.

We’ve all succumbed to Egypt…to ourselves.  But God’s promise is still as true for us as it was for His chosen people.  Stay the course, dear Friend,  whether you are on the desert road or in an abundant land.  We have been freed to look forward to an internal inheritance!  We have received Jesus Christ himself for both here-and-now and our soon-to-be Forever.

Scripture for Reflection

…we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.  (Ephesians 1:11-14)

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,  giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us[a] to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Col. 1:11-13)

“The great battle of our spiritual lives is ‘Will you believe?’  It is not, ‘Will you try harder?’ or ‘Can you make yourself Worthy?’  It is squarely a matter of believing that God will do what only he can do.”

-Jim Cymbala

I’ve read about Chrissy.  Raised as a pastor’s daughter in a loving home, she deserted her faith and family.  For two years, Chrissy’s parents lived a nightmare–unsure their beloved child was safe or warm–and wondering  if she would ever return home.

One evening, Pastor Cymbala asked his congregation to intercede on Chrissy’s behalf.  And those gathered at church that night lifted their voices to heaven beseeching the heavenly Father to rescue one who had been stolen.  Two days later, the lost daughter knocked on her father’s door.  She was finally home.

This story is an incredible encouragement to me.  It gives me hope for my own prodigal.

While he wasn’t born into a pastor’s family, our prodigal’s story began in a Christian home.  We prayed over our child, dedicated him to the Lord, and read scripture together.  His gentle spirit responded to God’s and this precious blonde haired, blue eyed child invited Jesus to be his savior when he was almost five years old.

Our shy little boy told other children about Jesus…raced to the car in his red AWANA vest eager to go to church…and began growing in his own faith.  Several years later, one life altering moment shattered everything in Benjamin’s life.  Unaware of the his pain, my husband and I were confused by the sudden change in Ben’s personality and choices.

This was the moment that opened the door and allowed the enemy access.  He stole one who rightfully belongs to God.

Since then, I have battled on myknees.  I have begged God to loose the chains…to “replace the heart of stone”…to return our prodigal to us.  Still, the enemy holds fast–reluctant to give up the child we claimed for Christ before he was ever born.  But I am convinced there is more to this story…that God has a better plan for Ben…that one day God will replace the deadness in my boy’s eyes with the light of joy and that words of praise will flow from the lips of the son who now utters words that deny His power.

As my brothers and sisters in Christ, can I be vulnerable with you?  After not having seen Benjamin for several weeks, yesterday we stopped by the apartment where he is staying.  We stood awkwardly in the doorway…invited him to dinner…asked about his plans.

Giving each of us a hug he quietly asked, “Can you please leave?”

Reluctantly walking down the rickety iron steps, I imagined our unspoken conversation.

Why are you here?  Don’t you realize I’ve cut you out of my life?                                                                                                     

Yes, son, but we love you just as God does–without condition.

I feel so alone in this life.  teddy-828506_640                                                                                                                                                           

You don’t need to walk this road alone.  We are here–and there is one whose loving presence is ever-constant. Call out to Him, my son.  He will never leave you or forsake you!  

But the words were never spoken and my son sleeps on the floor of a one room apartment.  What does he eat?  Is he safe?  And I wake during the sleeping hours to pray.

And today I follow Jim Cymbala’s example.  Friends–in all humility can I lay my heartache before you?  Would you please pray for Benjamin?  I believe he is at a critical juncture and I am pleading with God that in his mercy He will do a work in Ben’s life..that he will set the prisoner free…that he will rescue that which has been lost.

If we share in the same journey, would you also gift me with the opportunity to pray for your prodigal?  Let’s pray our prodigals home!

Scripture for Reflection

Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear to dull to hear.  (Isaiah 59:1)

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  (Isaiah 40:30-31)

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. (Isaiah 42:3)

The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.  (Zephaniah 3:17)

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