Jesus Is Recognizable

(Excerpted from Michael Card’s Immanuel: Reflections on the Life of Christ)

Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, came to this world a stranger. (The apostle John said, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.”)

Jesus, Himself, said, “I was a stranger and you invited me in.” In effect, He stated that not only had He come as a stranger but He had come for the stranger.

Jesus was estranged not because He wasn’t what He should have been but rather because the world wasn’t what it should be. Even through the world had been created through Him, it didn’t recognize Him. The world suffered from the Fall as well as mankind. Even now it groans, the apostle Paul says.

Yet certainly there were times when creation recognized the authority of Jesus. At least once He spoke to the winds. “Be quiet!” He said, in a way you or I might speak to our dog, and they obeyed. To the waves He said, “Calm down!” and they too obeyed. The disciples were terrified. “Who is this?” They stammered in fear. “Even the wind and the waves obey Him!”

I sometimes ask myself if I might have felt safer that day in the water, rather than in the boat with someone who possessed such awesome power. When Jesus desired, He could life the veil of His incarnation and speak in such a way that creation could recognize Him for who He was. Most often, however, He chose not to.

Though ultimately Jesus is not a stranger, He still did come for the stranger. If you invite the stranger in, Jesus says, it’s as if you had invited Him. He has come so no one has to be a stranger ever again, including you and me (at least not strangers to each other and to Him).

After you’ve been a Christian for long enough, you discover a paradox: Once you become intimate with God you become even more a stranger to the world, for people in the world would have us groan all the more for knowing Him. If the creation did not recognize Jesus, then how much less can we expect it to recognize those who belong to Him, unless He gives us the grace, from time to time, to life the veil of His incarnation in us and show the world His wonderful work of re-creation.

This Week’s 7 – Serve a Stranger

Each Monday on the Pure Purpose blog, I feature This Week’s 7, a simple list about an everyday topic, giving you ideas and encouragement. This week begins a series on service. Let’s start with ways to serve strangers.

  1. Carry several restaurant gift cards in your car. When you see someone in need, share.
  2. During each shopping trip, pick up duplicates of several nonperishable essentials you need. Deliver them to a local food pantry on your way home.
  3. Write simple notes of encouragement and ask a local retirement home to place one on each person’s mealtime tray.
  4. Choose one wing of a local hospital and offer to read to patients. Check with the nurses’ station first to determine the best rooms to visit.
  5. Pick up a flower or other simple item at the store. After paying for it, give it to the cashier to thank her for her work.
  6. Leave a 50% tip for your restaurant server.
  7. Place quarters in washers and dryers at the local laundry facilities.

Any other ideas or experiences?

I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger. Job 29:16

Milkshakes, Hugs, and God

I regularly travel, and since I live 90 miles from the airport, I usually stop close to the airport on my way home so I can get a fountain drink. Sometimes I’ll splurge and treat myself to a chocolate milkshake at Steak ‘n’ Shake. On one of those milkshake days, I missed the exit to Steak ‘n’ Shake. Bummer. But then I remembered there was a Steak ‘n’ Shake at another exit. I had never been there, but I was fairly sure I’d seen the sign.

Yes, it was there – but it definitely was not in a great part of the city. It looked old and dirty. I decided to take the drive-thru option (as if my milkshake would be a little less germ-infested if I didn’t order it inside!). Bummer. The drive-thru was packed. The inside didn’t look at crowded, so I quickly parked and made my way inside, which was every bit as filthy as I imagined. But I wanted my milkshake!

As I was waiting, a man at the end of the counter caught my attention. He wasn’t doing anything to get my attention; in fact, he probably didn’t even notice me – but I noticed him. He was even dirtier than the restaurant. It was been-there-a-long-time dirt. He looked weathered, tired, and old. But I felt a prompting…to walk over and hug him.

I’m not a germaphobe, but I’m also not fond of hugging strangers – particularly dirty older men. I started to get a bit anxious – and irritated my chocolate milkshake wasn’t ready. After all, several minutes had passed. I know the milkshakes are hand-dipped, but come on! The prompting got stronger and more persistent, and I knew it was God. I wasn’t obedient. In fact, I argued with him for a few minutes. I started to test and rationalize and finally said (not aloud), “Okay, I’m watching the clock. If my milkshake isn’t ready in three minutes, I’ll give him a hug.” Three minutes passed. No milkshake. I thought of the next test I could conjure up…but at that moment, I caught the man’s eyes. I knew.

I walked over to him and quietly fumbled with my words, something like, “Sir, I know this sounds strange, but I’m supposed to give you a hug.”

In that moment his eyes lit up and sparkled. He grinned enormously, which smoothed his filthy wrinkles, and he stretched his arms wide. I didn’t hesitate. We embraced for what seemed like a half minute and then smiled at each other. I told him to have a great evening and to remember God loves him. He smiled and nodded. I turned around and saw my milkshake sitting on the counter.

As I left, I didn’t feel dirty at all. In fact, I felt quite refreshed. And I was grateful to be in the wrong place at the right time.

Then Jesus said, “Which one of these three men do you think was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by the robbers?” The expert on the law answered, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Then go and do what he did.” Luke 10:36-27 (NCV)

Compassion

How have you shown compassion to someone you didn’t know? It doesn’t have to be huge. Have you helped someone carry groceries? Paid for someone’s lunch when her debit card was declined? Listened to someone’s struggles while sitting on a plane or in a doctor’s office?

Compassion is sincere. To share a burden or to sympathize with someone isn’t motivated by guilt or obligation. It’s a tug into action, rooted in love, consideration and kindness.

When do you avert your eyes from a need? Who do you pass by? Consider any groups of people or situations you consistently avoid.

Need help? Consider the following:

  • Roadside beggars
  • Veterans
  • Drug addicts
  • Foreign missions
  • Homeless
  • Poor
  • Single moms
  • Door-to-door solicitors
  • Hitchhikers
  • Donation solicitor

What are some reasons for avoiding people?

There are certainly some safety issues we must consider. If you’re walking alone in the mall parking lot and are pursued by a man asking to use your phone to call for help, you should immediately move toward a populated area.

But I wonder how often we rationalize not showing compassion because of an exception, not a rule. How often do we assume we know someone’s motives, and we don’t want to be taken advantage of, so we pass by?

Jesus answered, “As a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, some robbers attacked him. They tore off his clothes, beat him, and left him lying there, almost dead. It happened that a priest was going down that road. When he saw the man, he walked by on the other side. Next, a Levite came there, and after he went over and looked at the man, he walked by on the other side of the road. Then a Samaritan traveling down the road came to where the hurt man was. When he saw the man, he felt very sorry for him. The Samaritan went to him, poured olive oil and wine on his wounds, and bandaged them. Then he put the hurt man on his own donkey and took him to an inn where he cared for him. The next day, the Samaritan brought out two coins, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of this man. If you spend more money on him, I will pay it back to you when I come again.’”

Then Jesus said, “Which one of these three men do you think was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by the robbers?”

The expert on the law answered, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Jesus said to him, “Then go and do what he did.” Luke 10:30-37

Consider this happening in today’s world. Picture the roadside where you might see this man and what your reaction might be when you encounter him? What are your assumptions, and how do they determine your response?

What happens when we assume we know someone’s past, motives, etc.?

Isn’t it funny, when the other fellow takes a long time to do something, he’s slow. When I take a long time to do something, I’m thorough. When the other fellow doesn’t do it, he’s lazy. When I don’t do it, I’m busy. When the other fellow does it without being told, he’s overstepping his bounds. When I go ahead and do it without being told, that’s initiative. When the other fellow states his opinion strongly, he’s bullheaded. When I state my opinion strongly, I’m firm. When the other fellow overlooks a few rules of etiquette, he’s rude. Tom Knight, quoted by Charles McHarry, New York Daily News

Brothers and sisters, do not tell evil lies about each other. If you speak against your fellow believers or judge them, you are judging and speaking against the law they follow. And when you are judging the law, you are no longer a follower of the law. You have become a judge. James 4:11

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(Compassion is the second in a series of five blog posts circulating in blogosphere this month. All five blogs posts are adapted from the Pure Purpose Bible study. If you’re a blogger interested in future blog tours, contact Susan at susanhlawrence@yahoo.com)