“God is not ordinary.” – Heather Harpham
“I measure God by everything I am not. I begin with that.” – Flannery O’Connor
“’For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,’” declares the Lord.
“’For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.’”
“My idea of God is a not divine idea. It has to be shattered from time to time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence?” – C.S. Lewis
Who is God?
What an ambitious task to attempt to define God. It’s laughable really that I, one of his very ordinary creatures, would attempt to summarize his character in a thousand words or less. But silence is not an option. I must acknowledge the One responsible for the work of UGM. I must answer the critics who wonder why we insist upon having residents go to chapel, why we pray at meals, why every day is saturated with God-language, why we measure our actions based upon his character and look to him for salvation – not only in an eternal sense but on a daily basis.
Here’s the thing: We really believe that God is the best thing to ever happen to us. We want to share him with everyone we care about. And we really care about the people coming through our doors.
Who is this God who fills our days, and upon whom we are utterly dependent?
“In the beginning, God” Genesis 1:1. Our entire worldview is shaped by those four words. God pre-existed creation. He is the Author of all that exists, and as such, he has authority over it all. He has the right to say, “This is right, and this is wrong.”
He made man and woman in his image. Our very identities are tied to his. He knit us together and knows what we need. He created us to be in relationship with him, and we are restless and dissatisfied until we meet him, discover his love and forgiveness, and put our lives in his hands.
PERSONAL & RELATIONAL
So many people who come to UGM talk about God pursuing them. Even though he is the Creator and we are the creature, he wants to be with us, to have communion.
Justin was very angry in his early 20s. He thought he got a raw deal in life. When he came to UGM after his last stint in jail, he was not looking for God. “I looked at God like an enemy just because I didn’t understand why he let me go through all this stuff…A big part of my journey here at UGM was trying to find my identity…Now, present day, I believe that I am a child of God. I believe that I have love and I believe that I have worth, which is a complete 180-degree shift from where I was when I first got here.”
Before James came to live at UGM, he was living on the streets and only came to the shelter when he was hungry. After three meals, he was asked to go to chapel. It was a huge surprise to James when God met him there. He felt compelled to seek out Ron Molina after chapel, which he absolutely could not understand. “I was not someone to talk to someone ‘normal.’” Ron, UGM’s chaplain, has a flat top; his actions and clothing are clean and crisp. After 30 years in and out of prison, James tended to distrust guys like that. “Cops, guards, people in authority…didn’t usually like me, and I avoided them.” But he found Ron and told him, “I’m just so exhausted.” James’ life took a new trajectory that day.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Matthew 11:28-29
Cody came to UGM while on the run from God. “I never got as far from him as I’d planned. I totally rejected him but would catch myself still praying to him. I threw away my Bibles and CDs, but his word kept pressing into my life…At first, I was learning about God – I knew that he existed – but now, because of UGM, I have a relationship with God.”
God is perfect. I don’t know about you, but for me, those three words can be a little off-putting because I’m thinking in human terms. I’m thinking of “Miss Goody-Two-Shoes” or “Mr. Know-It-All.” But that’s a broken way of thinking. Those labels are the result of imperfect, prideful humans pretending to be more than they are. When you think about God’s perfection, wipe those notions from your mind. Think instead about the best hike you’ve ever been on, the best conversation with a friend, the best meal, the just-right words of encouragement that went straight to your inmost being. Think about a gorgeous cathedral, your favorite piece of art or an athlete at her prime. Think about everything good and lovely.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think about these things” Philippians 4:8. And when you think about these things, remember this: God is the origin of them all (James 1:17).
To the baker, the Living Bread. To the jeweler, the Pearl of Great Price. To the architect, the Precious Cornerstone. To the florist, the Lily of the Valley. To the musician, the Song. To the artist, the Image of God. To the navigator, the Bright Morning Star. To the geologist, the Rock. To the horticulturist, the True Vine. To the jury, the Great Witness. To the lawyer, the Just One. To the builder, the Solid Foundation. To the astronomer, the Sun of Righteousness. To the teacher, Wisdom. To the writer. The Word of Life. To the sculptor, the Living Stone. To the child, the Unspeakable Gift.
When we think about perfection in these terms, we have a clear sense of falling short, of the vastness that separates us from God.
MERCIFUL & LOVING
We’ll be talking more about sin in a later segment of this series. For now, it is enough to know that every day we fail in big and small ways. In embarrassingly sloppy, messy, huge ways and quiet, hidden ways. We think of ourselves more highly than we ought, and we forget to think about others. And still God chooses us. While we hated and ranted against him, he loved us. He provides a way for us to be with him.
“The Lord is gracious and compassionate;
Slow to anger and great in mercy.
The Lord is good to all,
And His mercies are over all His works.”
Emily's life and marriage had fallen apart before she came to UGM. She spent 10 years in addiction and lost custody of her four children. She was overwhelmed by grief and shame. “Instead of staying in shame, I know who I am now. I’m loved. God created me because he loves me and wants a relationship with me. He doesn’t want me to sit in shame.”
Rachel described her life before God as devoid of joy: “In the last year of my addiction, I really had no joy in my life at all. I didn’t know what that word meant…The only thing that mattered was my addiction.” She said she had no desire to live any more. Today, Rachel is living a whole new life. “Now, I’m able to wake up in the morning and know that I’m gonna have a good day because Christ is with me. I have a safe place to live. I have friends. I have laughter. I have a future ahead of me.”
The love of God is irresistible.
We have, of course, only scratched the surface of the character of God, but we hope it begins to answer the question, Why all this fuss about God?
Future segments in this series will look at the nature and effects of sin on our lives, the need for the cross and the impact of forgiveness.
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