The Guy Who Came In From The Cold – Pt 3 Conclusion

Mike Staley So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6-7 NIV  Since Susan and I both had to go to work we were in a bit …

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The Guy Who Came in From the Cold

It had been a frustrating day for me. Several attempts at sharing my faith as a grad student and employee at the University of Minnesota had fallen flat. My evangelistic zeal as a recent Christian convert was flagging and in my discouragement I removed the button I always wore identifying myself as a believer. Later that cold February afternoon, as was my custom, I drove for home through downtown Minneapolis to pick up my wife Susan from her place of employment. As I was approaching her building and looking for some on-street parking I saw a shabbily dressed man standing on the corner causing a scene and harassing people who walked by him. Just down the block I found a parking space. As I exited the car and headed for the parking meter I looked back down the sidewalk and to my alarm, saw the man walking my way. I could see he was obviously drunk or on drugs, and from his disheveled appearance and erratic behavior I determined he was someone I did not want to have anything to do with.

To avoid him I quickly turned to put money in the parking meter so I could be on my way. But no sooner had I finished plugging the meter and turned to go, he was right up next to me. He was middle aged, with a scraggly beard, unkempt hair, and wearing an old dirty ankle-length winter coat. He appeared to me to be homeless. The stench of alcohol mixed with B.O. almost overwhelmed me and I drew back. Simultaneously he moved closer with an outstretched hand and as he spoke I realized he was toothless. “Can you spare me a dime?” he gummed.

Where you look makes all the difference.

Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Psalm 24:9

During our month log journey in Europe my wife and I had the opportunity to explore literally dozens of historic cathedrals and churches, both large and small, grand and humble, crowded and empty. Some of them like the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel in Rome, The Duomo in Florence and Notre Dame in Paris are among the world’s most famous. Each church had a unique story to tell of its origin and conveyed incredible devotion and ingenuity by its design and artistic embellishment. Each took scores if not hundreds of years to build and had stood the test of time by their very existence up to a millennium or more after their completion. That for an American, where one celebrates any building older than 100 and venerates anything over 200 years old is mind boggling.

When I discovered that the Duomo, begun in 1296 took 140 years to build and that one artist, Lorenzo Ghiberti, took 27 years to craft just one set of doors for the Baptistery I was literally blown away. It is hard for me to imagine that kind of enduring devotion being poured into creating a building or work of art. One presumes or at least hopes that ultimately the motivation had to be God’s glory, but consider the impact of a similar commitment and devotion today, especially if it were translated into building the church of Jesus Christ which is His body and spreading the gospel. Bottom line, like so many things in Europe, an extravagant price was paid to build edifices of enduring value. The Duomo, by the way, with its external geometric designs in white, green and red marble is absolutely stunning to behold.

Sadly most of the churches we visited apart from being overrun by tourists were bereft of worshippers. At best, places for expressions of prayer and worship in the cavernous spaces, were typically reserved for a few devotees by cordoning off or curtaining a side chapel. That stark act of partitioning such small places for spiritual matters in the midst of a great cathedral originally designed to glorify God was heart rending. But the indictment is that the space allotted was all the space that was needed. One could not help but acknowledge that the glory of the true church had long since departed.

There were of course exceptions, and one of the most remarkable was Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris. Outside the church hangs a banner which declares that for 125 years there has been a non-stop, 24/7 prayer meeting. That church, a relative late comer by European standards, was built in the 1870s with the express desire to foster spiritual renewal declaring “the hour of the Church has come.”

But the one thing that most impacted me about nearly all the churches we visited were the ceilings. Ah the ceilings. My initial impression was that an almost inordinate amount of time, creativity, energy and effort were invested in the ceilings. Coupled with the amazing domes and vaults, the ceilings, in frescoes or mosaics, invariably glittered with vibrant colors often accented with gold. Everyone far below on the floor are forced quickly to become accustomed to arching the back, craning the neck and duck waddling in a circle all the while gazing heavenward in an attempt to take it all in. Michelangelo’s iconic ceiling in the Sistine Chapel is a case in point. How does one even begin to comprehend the vastness, the intricacy, the meaning of it all?

A hope-filled message from Job

I just completed my annual pilgrimage through the book of Job. It always falls at the end of the year in the Robert Roberts Bible reading plan that I follow. One of the extraordinary things about reading passages of Scripture again and again is having the Holy Spirit illuminate things one has never seen before. This year I specifically read Job seeking to discover fresh insights into the nature and character of God. I was not disappointed.

Since I knew, from my familiarity with the book, that Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar were rebuked by God in the end for not faithfully representing Him I thought I would skim through their portions of dialogue in order to give more time to concentrate on the dialogue of Job and the fourth observer Elihu. “He (God) said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7 NIV)

We know from the outset that Job is someone worth listening to because God Himself singles him out as a man who has an exemplary relationship with Him. “Then the LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.’” (Job 1:7 NIV)

We also know that the dialogue of Elihu is worth studying because he challenges the advice of the three friends and is not rebuked by God for what he says.

As I read through the discourse of these two men to make sense of Job’s sufferings one salient hope-filled theme emerged. It is the message of promised redemption. More specifically, and I had never really seen this before, it is the message of the presence of an unseen redeemer who is mediating on behalf of those who are crying out to God in their affliction.

All those who have read the book of Job know that it is a story about redemption. In the beginning Job loses everything but his life and his wife, but in the end has everything restored to him. “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.” (Job 42:12)

The most famous Scripture verses from the book of Job, read frequently at funerals, speak of redemption. It is a portion of Job’s complaint in which the veil of suffering is drawn back and he has a revelation in which he utters these words: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” (Job 19:25-26) This of course is a great comfort both to him and to us, to know that “in the end” we “will see God” and know that He has not abandoned us.

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