Author Archives: Paul Rude

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Work of God Through Tragic Flames

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Yesterday we received word that our new home in the Black Forest section of Colorado Springs is still standing. We rejoice, but we also grieve—more than five hundred surrounding homes burned to the ground in the worst fire in Colorado history.

In July my family and I will move from Alaska to Colorado Springs. We’ll be joining a community in ashes, a community facing the tasks of healing and rebuilding. Remarkably, we’ll feel right at home.

Misty and I have five children. They have buried friends who died in fires.

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Allie was ten when she died. She used to wait for the school bus in front of her family’s cabin, where she would smile and wave as I drove past her on my way to work each morning. Then one morning I rounded the corner and gasped—Allie’s cabin was engulfed in flames. She and her parents were inside. Today they are buried where the cabin once stood.

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A few years ago, I took the below photo of my son, Therron, and his best buddy, Elijah. They were laughing and celebrating Kindergarten promotion together. A few days later, Elijah died in a cabin fire.

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My daughter, Ashelyn, and her best friend, Jasmine, use to spend countless hours dressing up like cat princesses. Then one night Jasmine died in a cabin fire.

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Last summer, my oldest son was working at the family-owned lodge around the corner from our house. Early one morning I woke to the smell of acrid smoke and ran outside to see the lodge ablaze. Everyone escaped. But the lodge was a total loss.

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Something is twisted and broken in a world where six year old children serve as pallbearers and five hundred families lose their homes in a single forest fire.

Where is God? Where is God when children die and houses burn?

He is there. In the flames. His right hand upholding, his arms surrounding, his mercy reigning, and his voice calling—calling us by name.

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
—Isaiah 43:1-3

Their earthly bodies are gone, but Allie, Elijah, Jasmine, and countless others who died in fires are not gone. Their lives are everlasting. Their stories are everlasting. For God, the Author, reaches out his hand and transforms the twisted flame of destruction into a refining fire of sanctification.

God is crafting the everlasting life stories of Allie, Elijah, Jasmine, and all the others. He is crafting the everlasting story of your life—and that story is a masterpiece.

Tragic fire may be part of your story. A devastated home, a lost friend, a destroyed family business—refining fires. Temporary.

What is today twisted and broken will one day be mended and healed. The day is coming when there will be no more fires, no more sorrow, no more death. The day is coming when the sovereign God of the Universe will proclaim, “Behold, I am making all things new!” The day is coming when masterpieces will rise from the ashes.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Ice Fog—A Work of the Ultimate Worker

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Look closely at this photo and you’ll see a gray band stretching across the foot of the mountains. Those mountains are the Wrangell Mountains, this valley is the Copper River Valley (where we live), and that gray band is ice fog.

The works of God, the Ultimate Worker, the Divine Craftsman, the Supreme Artist, are innumerable in number and incomprehensible in splendor. You may never experience ice fog unless you live near the polar extremes. So here’s a glimpse at this particular, extraordinary work of the Creator.

The mighty Copper River freezes every winter. As the temperature plummets to —40°F, thick sheets of ice grow across the river and eventually seal it shut. But before the river closes, the open water evaporates into the arctic air and instantly freezes into a suspended vapor of tiny ice crystals.

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The ice fog then drifts across the valley and gathers in a thick ice-fog bank along the base of the Wrangell Mountains. We can see it more clearly by zooming in for a closer look at majestic Mt. Drum. (Here’s another interesting fact: measured base-to-summit, Mt. Drum and its neighboring Wrangells are among the largest mountains in the world, even rivaling Mt. Everest.)

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Early in the morning of a —45°F day this winter, I hiked out onto the sheets of ice and filmed the river as it froze and billowed its clouds of ice fog. The opportunity to be there, to behold the workmanship of God, was a priceless gift.

The following sixteen-second video clip is my feeble attempt to share that gift with you. It is a silent video, but it echoes the glory of the Ultimate Worker, the Divine Craftsman, the Supreme Artist!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Is Our Work Really for God’s Glory?

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I don’t like preachy posts. But I need to be clear on something.

Only a fool would claim he can do something God hates (drug dealing, tax evasion, fraud, etc.) to the glory of God. The very thought of it is absurd.

However, the rest of us—with our upstanding, respectable jobs—should pause and consider: if you and I live in one of the wealthiest societies on the planet, and yet we give only a few percentage points of our income to feed the needy and reach the lost, then we are delusional if we say our labor is for God’s glory. We’re not fooling anyone—especially not God.

You and I have been given much. We have much to give. To consume all of it and ignore the needy is a clear indication that our work is really all about us, not others, and not God’s glory.

Sorry for the grumpy post; but when I did my taxes for 2012, I realized that I had “forgotten” the needy during the busiest months of the year. My life was just too frenetic, too crazy, too self-absorbed to consider the needs of others. It was all about me.

So this tail-kicking is for me. If you need the tail-kicking as well, just know you’re not the only one who struggles in the battle against pride and self-absorption. I’m limping with you.

We have been given much, so let’s give much. Let’s do it for God’s glory.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Your Marriage Is Not Who You Are

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Recently a frail, elderly lady walked up to me after I spoke at a conference. Her eyes were filled with emotion when she asked me to sign her copy of Significant Work. I was dumbfounded. Frail, elderly ladies don’t fit the profile for the book’s target audience.

With a trembling voice she said, “I want to thank you for answering my question.” I replied, “I’m honored, Ma’am. But may I ask—what was your question?”

Time stood still when she replied: “I have been a widow for nine years, and I wanted to know if my life as a widow matters. But now I know that it matters. It matters to God.”

In her mind, her marriage was her identity. It was her life’s work. Without it, life was meaningless. But now she knew that she was a daughter of God, a co-heir with Christ. And she knew that the quiet, lonely, daily routine of an elderly widow is as meaningful in God’s eyes as the high-adrenaline work of a homemaker in the midst of life’s chaos.

Your marriage is not who you are.

If your marriage is awesome, it will end someday. Misty will be a widow, or I will be a widower. This life will end, and we will set down the work of marriage. But we will not set down who we are.

If your marriage is a living hell, know this—your marriage is not who you are.

Who we are—the worth of our lives—transcends our work, our marriages, our failures, our victories. As sons and daughters of God, we are his, and he is ours. That’s who we are. That’s the measure of our worth.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Ultimate Paradox of Our Most Hideous Work

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God took the worst of our work, our most hideous work, and he used that work to shape scars in the hands, feet, and side of his Holy Son.

Jesus Christ was crucified through the work of human hands—a blacksmith forged the nails of iron, a soldier drove a hammer down on those nails, a carpenter milled the wooden beam, a government official gave the order, a clergyman pressed the charges, a stranger dipped the sponge in sour wine, a craftsman braided the leather whip—though all of this, the work of our human hands, God poured out his infinite wrath on his perfect Son.

You and I deserve to die on a cross, but Jesus died in our place. This is the gospel.

Our work, which is capable of extraordinary good, is also capable of extraordinary evil. And yet, in the ultimate paradox of redemptive history, Jesus Christ took the worst of our work and used it as the means through which he completed his work of securing our eternal salvation.

This is simply stunning. The reason you and I have hope, the reason our lives matter, the reason our work matters today and makes a lasting difference in eternity is because Jesus Christ died on a man-made cross and finished his work of redeeming our lives!

The work of Jesus triumphs over our most hideous work. With three ringing words he sealed our redemption through his blood—It. Is. Finished!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Your Eternal Future is Real—Physically Real

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There exists today a prototype of our coming resurrection future. His name is Jesus. The Bible tells us that our bodies will be resurrected, redeemed, and unfettered from the curse “to be like his glorious body.”

After Jesus’ resurrection, he didn’t become merely a spirit. He isn’t a ghost. His glorious body is a physical body. He has material flesh and bones. Similarly, our bodies, not just our souls, will become immortal.

Jesus himself strongly emphasized this truth. His disciples freaked out when he appeared to them after his death—they thought he was a ghost. So Jesus explained to them, “It is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” But his terrified disciples still weren’t convinced, so Jesus said, “‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it before them.”

Spirits don’t eat broiled fish. His body is real, therefore our future resurrection will be physically real—that’s the whole point Jesus was making. And this was the exact moment when the disciples finally understood the spectacular hope of the gospel!

If Jesus wasn’t physically resurrected, then you and I won’t be physically resurrected, and in the words of the Apostle Paul, “We are of all people most to be pitied.” If salvation means God will discard our physical bodies and save only our souls, then Jesus’ physical body would still be in the tomb, the stone would not have been rolled away, and the disciples would not have touched “flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

If resurrection means God will create entirely new bodies for us, then Jesus was not resurrected, he was replaced—he would have an entirely new body today. And since he has no further need of his original body, it would still be in the tomb. But it isn’t.

Francis Schaeffer writes, “The Bible insists on the real, historic, space-time resurrection of Jesus, so that there was a resurrected body that could eat and that could be touched. This body was not just an apparition or a ‘ghost.’ And this same body ascended into Heaven.”

The resurrection future is physically real. Salvation means resurrection, not replacement. The empty tomb of Jesus Christ secures our hope for a physical eternity. That’s why you and I can proclaim, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? . . . But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

God Doesn’t Need Me—or You

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I’ve been zigzagging the continent on a multi-week speaking tour. I feel like New York City—go, go, go, go, go. Your life probably feels the same, even if you’re not zigzagging the continent.

As I’ve stammered and faltered in front of audiences, lives have been changed, churches energized, and leaders encouraged. And I’ve been dumbfounded.

Why dumbfounded? Because on this tour, more than ever before, every time I stand up in front of an audience I feel completely empty. I have absolutely nothing to offer the sea of faces staring back at me. I want to bail out, vanish.

How about you? There’s a task before you. Maybe it’s a sea of faces, or maybe it’s a sea of invoices and clients and deadlines. Or maybe it’s a sea of heartaches—a broken friendship, a faltering marriage, a wrong that needs to be made right. Got nothing? Want to bail out? Vanish?

Perfect. Because if your experience is anything like mine, emptiness is the place where we see the truth about ourselves. We’ve got nothing, absolutely nothing—without God.

Sometimes I’m tempted to think God needs me to zigzag the continent and impact the world on his behalf. After all, I’ve written a book and been a leader and become an expert and … nothing, absolutely nothing—without God.

On this tour, more than ever before, I’ve found spectacular freedom in the unvarnished truth: God doesn’t need me. I need him. And he is there. Always. Absolutely.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Quest of New York City

130313-DSC2390-600I snapped this photo in New York City earlier today. I love New York—seriously. Here’s why: Energy!

As I stand on the corner of Broadway and 7th Avenue, the amount of work and the diversity of work all around me is mind-boggling. The pace of work here is go, go, go, go, go. Everyone is in a hurry. Everyone is in pursuit, chasing something. Everyone is on a frantic quest.

But for what? What’s all the fuss about? What are they chasing?

How about you? Why do you work? What’s the point of it all? What are you chasing?

We each long for something. Something bigger than ourselves, something that transcends time, something that touches the eternal—something worth chasing. Our lives are a quest for this something.

That something is a Someone. His name is Jesus. If we don’t know him, then life is a frantic quest for the unknown.

One day there will be a new, massive, beautiful city where the energy and diversity of our work will be mind-boggling. But our work won’t be frantic. Our lives won’t be an unfulfilled quest. We will know exactly the point of it all—we will see him face to face.

That city is the New Jerusalem—the dwelling place of God with redeemed humankind. People from every tribe and nation will work together for the sheer joy of reflecting the glory of our Savior. And utter satisfaction will quench the frantic quest.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

“Do You Want to Wind Up Working as a Garbage Man?” Um, Well …

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It was the coolest job I’d ever seen—garbage collecting.

But in the late 1970′s, parents in our neighborhood just didn’t get it. Whenever a bunch of us boys would get into trouble, one of our moms would yell at us, “Do you boys want to wind up working as garbage men when you grow up!”

Their basic assumption was that all boys who get into trouble wind up working as garbage men—the bottom of the vocational ladder. What they didn’t realize is that threatening us with “garbage man” was like threatening Indiana Jones with the burdensome job of treasure hunting.

Garbage men were allowed to ride on the back of a truck, they had direct access to vast troves of gadgets and discarded toys, and they had an amazing ability to spin huge collection barrels—with just one hand.

And they were the happiest men we’d ever seen—rugged men wearing heavy leather gloves, singing and whistling and grinning from ear to ear as they rolled their collection barrels past us. Their joy was deep, a song from their soul. We boys were mesmerized. We stood in awe.

Those garbage men taught me a lifelong lesson. Joy—deep, life-weathering joy—does not depend on the work we do. It depends on something deeper, something in the soul.

Whenever a neighborhood mom yelled at us “Do you boys want to wind up working as garbage men when you grow up!” I sometimes thought, Um, well … Absolutely!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Identities that are Guaranteed to Fail Us (excerpt from Significant Work)

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Misty and I, along with our five kids, live in a rugged little community situated on the edge of Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park, an ice-capped wilderness bigger than Switzerland and six times the size of Yellowstone. Everything about Wrangell-Saint Elias is massive and fierce. It is home to countless glaciers; raging, ice-choked rivers; and wave upon wave of colossal mountains, including nine of the sixteen highest peaks in North America. Few places in the world are more extreme, and few people are tougher than those who climb these mountains.

Locals around here know exactly the kind of iron body and chiseled heart it takes to scale these towering peaks, and they can spot a wannabe mountaineer from eighteen thousand feet. The wannabes look like they walked straight out of a trendy outdoor gear and clothing store—the kind of store where a middle-aged, out-of-shape guy can walk in feeling like a burned-out accountant, swipe his credit card, and walk out feeling like a mountain climber. It’s the total image make-over and more: not only does the would-be climber sport the perfect mountaineering outfit, but he also has $4,000 of professional climbing equipment slung over his shoulder. He’s all geared up, ready to climb Mt. Identity Crisis.

I recently stood in the checkout line of one of these stores and listened to the guy behind me who was buying a brand-new, $300 carbon ice axe. He monologued nonstop about his alleged climbing skills and upcoming summit attempts. His speech was appropriately sprinkled with impressive mountaineering terms. But one look at his soft hands and bulky midsection told me a different story. I could be totally wrong about the guy, but I bet he’d never spent a single minute of his life hanging from the end of an ice axe. What was he trying to prove?

To be fair, many amateur climbers buy expensive equipment and head to the backcountry for all sorts of good reasons. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying our hobbies. But some of those amateur climbers look first and foremost for an identity. They’re the ones I call wannabes. They want to be someone different than who they are at work every day. They view their work as merely a means to an end, a necessary evil. This is a tragic view of work, since they’ll spend the largest portion of their waking hours working.

Wannabes buy all sorts of identities—not just mountain climbing. They dabble in photography, horse training, go-kart racing, and golf, too. For many of us, these hobbies are great challenges and just plain fun. Believe me, I’ve shanked buckets of golf balls deep into the woods with my insanely expensive set of custom-fitted irons. But for many people, these activities become who they are. Their nine-to-five jobs fail to give them a sense of identity, so they go shopping and strap on a whole new wannabe self. The guy in the checkout line is no longer the accountant whose hobby is mountain climbing. Instead, he’s the mountain climber who does accounting to pay the bills. In the end, however, their wannabe identities will fail them—just like every other identity that is anchored in what we do, earn, wear, or own. “Will that be cash or credit for the carbon ice axe, sir?”

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How to Be Totally Insignificant

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It’s easy. Live totally for yourself. Make everything all about you. This is the sure-fire way to be insignificant, small, and meaningless.

Apparently, most of us are committed to being totally insignificant. Fast Company reports:

From Coca-Cola to Lego, companies are banking on the “Me Selling Proposition” to revitalize their brands.

In the 1970s, advertising was all about finding the USP, or Unique Selling Proposition, in a brand. In the 1980s, it shifted to an ESP, or an Emotional Selling Proposition. Now it’s about the MSP generation—the Me Selling Proposition. This is a generation that believes it’s all about them.

Advertisers are seizing this opportunity to appeal to the “me-obsessed” generation.

I suspect that nearly everyone in every generation has, at the deepest level, been a sucker for the me selling proposition. Today, however, our inhibitions are gone. We’re saying it the way we feel it—it’s all about me!

In a recent Volvo ad, NBA star Jeremy Lin says, “I’m not here to live up to anyone else’s expectations. I’m here to live up to mine.” Lin’s statement is awesome until it hits that last word—that little word “mine.”

Abraham Kuyper, who was prime minister of the Netherlands between 1901 and 1905, had a slightly different outlook on “mine.” He said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

There is someone who said the first shall be last, someone who said it’s better to give than receive, someone who said lay down your life for others. His name is Jesus—the only one who can stand before the universe and all the mighty hosts of heaven and proclaim, “It’s all about me!”

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Three Things to Know About Significant Work

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Author and pastor Daniel Darling recently interviewed me and published our conversation at danieldarling.com. Here are three of his questions—and three things you need to know about Significant Work:

Darling: There seems to be a renaissance, of sorts, among evangelicals around the doctrine of work, with Tom Nelson’s Work Matters, Gene Veith’s work, and now your book. Why is this issue so important? 

Rude: Hardworking, everyday Christians are tired of feeling like second-class citizens in the church.

Deep down, we know something is wrong with the paradigm that limits eternal significance to the short list of jobs we traditionally define as “ministry.”

Most of us earn our daily bread in the marketplace, not in religious ministry. If we assume that only acts of “ministry” (teaching Sunday school, witnessing, etc.) are significant to God, then we live two separate lives. We live a sliver of life that makes a difference in eternity, but everything else we do, the great bulk of life, has no eternal value—or worse, it’s a necessary evil.

As we become accustomed to living two separate lives, our faith gradually loses all relevance to our weekday lives. Church is church; work is work. We navigate between two unrelated spheres, two value systems, two moral codes. We begin to confine our faith to that sliver of time we spend doing “religious stuff.” The rest of the time—the great bulk of the time—our faith is off duty. It sits on the sidelines, unconsidered and unexpressed.

Now, at last, theologians, pastors, and authors are pushing back against this paradigm. We are trying to articulate the robust biblical doctrine of work. It’s a doctrine that gives extraordinary significance to the work of truckers and accountants and homemakers. Millions of people are discovering that Jesus Christ is Lord of all seven days of the week—not just Sunday.

Darling: You talk about a class system in the church where missionaries and pastors are “really serving the Lord” and lay people are sort of “walking wallets” to fund God’s work, but whose daily job has no significance. How does this view conflict with God’s mission? 

Rude: If we were all pastors and missionaries, the human race would starve to death. So we must ask: Did the sovereign God of the universe create a cruel game of musical chairs, where 90 percent of us must work in meaningless jobs so that 10 percent of us can work in significant jobs—ministry jobs? The absurdity of this class system is self-evident.

We make little of God and much of religion when we claim that only pastors and missionaries are serving the Lord with their work.

God’s mission is bigger than our job titles. And he doesn’t play cruel little games with significance.

His mission encompasses far more than simply preaching and witnessing. We see this when we read the rest of the Bible. The Bible begins and ends with creation. Our God is the Creator and Ruler of all things, and he made us in his image. We reflect his glory and character when we create things, when we fill the earth and subdue it, when we tend it—when we work!

Darling: What is one thing you hope readers take away from your book? 

Rude: I passionately hope the reader will lay hold of—will live, breathe, trust, know, and utterly experience—the life-giving freedom of the gospel. I want him or her to see how the gospel gives extraordinary value to their regular, everyday work—and to their lives.

Because of Jesus Christ, our undiscovered gifts, our unapplauded work, our forgotten names, and our unsung lives all matter. They matter to God. They matter for his glory. They’ll be part of his masterpiece for all eternity—and oh, what an astonishing, breathtaking wonder it will be!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How Parents Shackle Children With Lifelong Vocational Guilt

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My grandmother was awesome, the coolest granny in California—she loved parasailing and polar bear swims, and she loved Jesus Christ.

But one day she told us, “My greatest hope is that all of you will grow up to serve the Lord as missionaries and pastors.”

She meant well. But her words dumped a crushing load of expectation into the heart of a kid who desperately wanted to please his parasailing granny. My dad wisely pulled me aside and corrected grandma’s well-meaning, but misguided, intentions. So no damage was done in my case. But what if my dad had agreed with her?

Parents and grandparents: guard your tongues! Do you carelessly imply that pastors are more significant than truckers? Do you imply that CEOs are more successful than carpenters?

Ouch! I preach and write on these topics, yet I easily fall into this trap. How about you? Deep inside, I sometimes hope my kids become CEOs, not carpenters. My hope is wrong! It is twisted by my pride—and this twisted hope inevitably leaks into my conversations with my kids. If uncorrected, it will shackle them with lifelong vocational guilt.

This is tough. We must steadfastly guard our tongues, as well as our hearts.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Her Name Was Grace (excerpt from the book, Significant Work)

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Click. In less than one hundredth of a second, the shutter of my camera captured an image that changed my life forever: the image of Third World poverty. She was seven or maybe eight years old, hungry, filthy, trudging barefoot through the raw sewage that littered the pathway. She gnawed on her fingers as she stared into the camera with dark, hollow eyes. Her entire universe was a cluster of mud huts clinging to the pitiful scrap of land that subsists between the Nile River and the encroaching desert sands of Egypt, and her name was Grace. Grace Awakened. I will never know her real, Egyptian fallahin name, but to me she will always be the image of God’s grace—grace awakened in my heart for all eternity.

We were in our mid-twenties. Misty was full of vibrant life. I was full of . . . myself. As a new, overconfident MBA, I had just chalked up my first major business failure—an ill-conceived attempt to execute a less-than-friendly leveraged buyout of the company I worked for. The possibility that the deal might collapse and leave me stranded on the wrong end of a burned bridge never even crossed my invincible mind. I thought, I’m about to take over this company; then I’ll show ’em how to run a world-class business. Oh yeah, I really showed them. My buyout attempt failed spectacularly. Then they fired me.

Bumming around as tourists for a few weeks in an exotic country like Egypt would be a perfect way for Misty and me to clear our heads and plan our next venture. But I was angry—angry at everyone, everything, and especially at God. How could he turn his back on me and let that deal fall through? What kind of a God is he, anyway? It’s unfair! Then we saw Grace.

We saw thousands of fallahin peasants living in squalid conditions all along the Nile. They peddled their trinkets as we wandered through their villages, but none took any genuine interest in us. Then, in an instant, while I bellyached about God’s unfairness to me, Grace appeared. Her eyes tore a hole through my heart—Misty’s, too. She stood in the middle of that fetid path, staring into our eyes. As she stared, all the weight of undeserved, cosmic grace came crashing down on my wretched pride.

Her eyes demanded an answer to the question of our lives—the question you and I must each answer one day: Why was she born into squalid poverty—living in filth, tormented by disease and hunger—and not me? Why was I born to well-educated, healthy, American parents, while billions of people throughout the world cling to life on the edge of impoverishment? What exactly did I do to deserve the fabulous opportunity that comes with being born into a modern, first-world society? What great deed did I accomplish before I was conceived to earn such a rare gift? All of my anger over God’s unfairness to me vanished. I lifted the camera, clicked a single photo, and then just stood there, speechless.

When Misty and I looked into the eyes of Grace, we looked into the perfect truth—the truth that we did absolutely nothing to deserve our lives of unfathomable luxury, freedom, and opportunity. Except for the unearned and undeserved grace of God, we should be standing there, barefoot, our feet covered with sewage. We must all, in the end, buckle under the weight of God’s sovereign grace. Only God is God; there is no other.

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them! (Psalm 139:13–17)

God’s sovereign grace is the lens through which we begin to see the breathtaking truth about our lives, vocations, and eternal significance. It all starts with God, and it’s all about him. “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:34–36).

When I listen to middle-class Americans lamenting their frustrating, mundane, seemingly meaningless work, I’m tempted to pull out a tattered photo of Grace. “Here, let’s all stare at this while we complain about our jobs—the jobs that provide us with health insurance options, vacation time, and 401K retirement plans.”

I know—I’m starting to sound a lot like Grandma: “Eat your broccoli, you little ingrates; there’s millions of starving kids in Africa who’d be glad to eat it.” But you have to admit that Grandma had a profound and overwhelming point. Millions of innocent people throughout the world go to jail or simply disappear. Millions of others have died in concentration camps and killing fields, and still millions more are murdered before they are born. Our sniveling, whining complaints about our work ring hollow in the ears of so many silent millions. At a minimum, our lives in Western society are a spectacular and rare gift of God’s sovereign grace.

That photo of Grace hangs on my office wall. Next to it hangs an old photo taken decades ago. It’s of a young boy who is playing with his favorite buddy—his pet dog. Like Grace, this little guy stares directly into the camera. But unlike Grace, his eyes are bright and blue. He is healthy, happy, and safe, grinning at the camera without a care in the world. The boy in the photo is me. The contrast between those two photos is staggering. The contrast is grace. Grace Awakened.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Your Surprising Path to “Hero”

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I saved her life. You would have done the same. On my way home from work, I rounded a corner and saw a young woman slumped on the side of the road, drunk, stoned out of her mind. It was 28 degrees below zero outside. She was wearing only a t-shirt, torn jeans, and tennis shoes—no coat, no hat, no gloves, no socks. She was nearly dead. Another ten minutes and it would’ve been over—and this was one of those rural Alaskan roads where the next car may not pass for another two hours.

Her boyfriend had kicked her out of his car, leaving her to freeze. But then I came along, bundled her up, drove here to safety, and saved her life.

That’s it—my shining moment. For thirty minutes, I was a hero. But soon my moment faded into the haze of regular, mundane, everyday life. I don’t remember the chores I did at home that night or the meal I ate for dinner or the bills I paid later that week. I don’t have a clue what I did at work the next day. I’ve forgotten most of the routine meetings and projects and squabbles and conversations—the ticks of life’s clock—that filled the intervening years. Haze.

Life is not a continuous saga of heroic moments. Life is haze, mostly. So if only extraordinary moments matter to God, if only heroic deeds like saving a life or leading someone to Christ make a difference in eternity, then life doesn’t matter, mostly.

You know where I’m going with this. After all, you’re on a website called Everyday Significance. So I’ll cut to the chase and finish with the words of Frederic Farrar, archdeacon of Westminster Abbey in the late eighteen hundreds:

There is an immortality of quiet duties, attainable by the meanest of human kind; and when the Judge shall reverse the tables many of these last shall be first…. Yes, because they have done their obscure duty, their unknown, unnamed, unhonoured, unrewarded duty…. To live well in the quiet routine of life; to fill a little space because God wills it; to go on cheerfully with a petty round of little duties, little avocations; to accept unmurmuringly a low position; to be misunderstood, misrepresented, maligned, without complaint; to smile for the joys of others when the heart is aching; — to banish all ambition, all pride, and all restlessness, in a single regard to our Savior’s work. To do this for a lifetime is a greater effort, and he who does this is a greater hero, than he who for one hour stems a breach, or for one day rushes onward undaunted in the flaming front of shot and shell. His works will follow him. He may not be a hero to the world, but he is one of God’s heroes.