Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Greatest American Hero (uh, that'd be Jesus)

So I was thinking today about those pastors who fall from their pedestals in the eyes of the church when they find themselves (oops), in the throws of adultery, or the bonds of addiction, or heaven forbid, entertaining a notion that challenges church doctrine. My knee-jerk response to this sort of situation is to belt out in utter amazement, “Wow, and he was such a great man of God!” Excuse me while I climb back into the chair I just fell from and regain my composure.

A great man of God…is there such a person? And if there is, how does one achieve such a status? I am hesitant to even utter the phrase out loud, but if I were to even skate along the edge of belief in such a person, I would offer the following definition. A great man of God is not the one who can yell loudest, but the one who can listen most intently. A great man of God is not the most dynamic in the crowd, but the most humble. A great man of God does not boast in how much he has to offer, but delights in even the smallest gain. And most importantly, a great man of God recognizes that he is not inherently great, but attributes his value to God alone. More simply stated, the greatness of man is that he is “of God.”

When I think about my best friends, the ones I believe to be truly great, I define them in this way: they are not the ones who know what’s best for me, but the ones who WANT to know what’s best for me. They are the ones who are willing to walk beside me as I figure it out. They are not preaching from the pulpit about the error of my ways or weighing me down with burdens I cannot carry, otherwise known as “should-haves” and “ought-tos”. They are not boasting of their position in my life, but are content with my friendship. My greatest friends are not great at all; they are merely faithful.

The greatest men of God are fundamentally the same. They do not recognize their greatness and if it should surface, it is attributed to God and God alone. So even though there may exist some form of greatness in man, I would prefer to address it in another way. Perhaps greatness could be defined more appropriately as simply, faith. The spiritual icons of the Bible were not great men of God; they were great men (and women) of faith. They were the ones whose lives elicited greatness as a result of their belief, and hope, and trust in a loving God. They beat the odds, cheated death, astounded the masses, and emerged from the most impossible circumstances unscathed. They were not great; they were rescued. They believed in the greatness of God and clung to His promises.

And here’s a further definition and a thought you’ll likely loathe. The greatest men of God are those that have been wounded. Wounded men are useful. They are of great value in the kingdom of God. I love this one…

An excerpt from “To Own a Dragon” by Donald Miller:
“The TRC was a commission established by Nelson Mandela to listen to and attempt to reconcile the country after the atrocities of apartheid. It was a sobering account, a group of men and women listening to their countrymen, endless hours of testimony so gripping and gruesome as to beget feelings of hopelessness.

Before the commission was established, government officials asked Bishop Desmond Tutu what sort of person should be considered for a position on the commission, and Tutu responded, essentially, that the commission should be comprised of victims, of people whose lives had been ripped open by the horrors of oppression. But not arrogant victims, he sated, not people looking for vengeance. Instead, Tutu said softly, these should be people who have the authority of awful experiences, experiences that educate them toward empathy, and yet still have within themselves hearts willing to forgive. This, he went on to clarify, could be accomplished only through a deeply buttressed spiritual life. The people will be wounded healers.”

Wounded healers, I like that. We’re qualified to act as healers on the basis that we were once, and will always be, in need of some healing of our own. It has been said that God does not build a man; He breaks him. If you are asserting that God has made you great based on the experiences you have had, you are walking a dangerously thin tightrope. By carrying you through trials and tribulations, God has not given you success and self-worth so much as He has given you tools. You are now qualified…to be a healer, to be a brother or a sister, to be a friend.

I’ve heard people say that they have no regrets about the decisions they’ve made. They claim that their experiences have shaped them and made them who they are. Perhaps, but I believe God made me who I am when he formed me in the womb and the experiences I have had have done nothing more than qualify me to be a healer. Who in their right mind would not choose the path of least resistance if they could do it all over again??? Certainly not me!

God does not say that we will reach our fullest potential by enduring life and learning hard lessons. He did not create a blank slate in me that will become a glorious work of art as I encounter various experiences and travel many roads. I was a masterpiece at birth because I am the work of His hands. Jer 29:11”For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” There is no need for me to plan my way; God has done that for me. It is not my job to clear a path; it is my job to remain on the path that He laid for me, essentially, to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. There may be many roads for me to wander aimlessly down, but there is only one that leads to the cross.

A final thought…when I make a bad decision or choose a path that leads me away from God, it does not change who I am; it merely changes where I end up. If I happen to emerge stronger, wiser, or even richer, it is because God loves me enough to bless me in spite of myself, not because He is rewarding me for my suffering. I have many regrets about my choices and would definitely do many things differently if given the chance. I will say this though – in every single circumstance where I went horribly wrong and chose the wrong path, there is only one thing I would have done differently. I would have trusted in God’s greatness a little bit more and in my own a little bit less. I am not a great woman of God; I am a woman who trusts in a great God.

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