The Closed Door
Gateway to Spiritual Fullness
Common Folk, Uncommon Glory
Mary’s illness is a swift shaking and sobering wake-up call to me.
The Lord knows how to touch the “hollow of my thigh” and bring me to my
knees, and deservedly so. While she embraced the suffering as a rare honor
that the Lord bestowed upon her, I knew deep down that I was the one in need
of the Lord’s chastening. This whole ordeal humbled me and gave me plenty
to repent for.
I know she will come out of this affliction a better blossom with even sweeter
fragrance of Christ than she already had before. I on the other hand tremble
that I might obscure, through my own murkiness, what the Lord is trying to do
in fashioning a common vessel which is destined to contain uncommon glory.
As I watch my dear wife suffer through an extensive battery of X-Rays, blood
works, CT Scans, MRI’s, spinal cord injection and surgery…I am discovering
that there is something extraordinary (and contrary to
man’s thinking) about the way the Lord constructs His vessels of honor.
As much as we all love the story of Moses about all his astonishing power,
deeds and grace, it has ironically helped strengthen a natural concept about
man’s greatness. For sure, there are more than enough examples in the Old
Testament to corroborate that God uses great men to bring to an end one evil
generation and usher God’s people into another era of peace and prosperity
wherein righteousness rules.
Men in general view greatness as though it is attained through diligence, hard
work and determination. What we often fail to realize is that the greatness that
Moses and others possessed was not their own – it was from entirely a
different source. It in fact was wrought into them as they finally came to the
end of themselves and surrendered to the hand of the Lord.
Christians are fond of phrases like, “the mighty man of God,” “man who
stands in the gap,” “man who stands against the tide,” to give tribute to the
gifted and powerful leaders who carry the banner of the Lord’s testimony or
recovery. Volumes have been written about great men and women greatly
used of the Lord; and we'd find ourselves in wide-eyed admiration and envy of
what they accomplished. They have become inspiration and patterns to
countless Christians zealous for the Lord’s work and ministry.
What has been largely ignored is the fact that all these men and women had to
be brought to absolute destitute state before the Lord can reconstitute them
with His own character, mind and feelings so that they can begin to display
God’s own greatness and glory. We would do well to remember that the
Lord's character is constituted, not learned.
Much attention has been given to God’s vessels of honor in characters like
Moses, David and his mighty men of valor, the Apostle Paul, etc. Rarely would
we hear any message on common and ordinary believers in the Bible.
In 1974, I came across a book by Harry Foster (of Honor Oak fellowship) titled
“Speaking Anonymously.” I was at once impressed about the unnamed
characters in the Bible. What Noah’s wife and Jonathan’s armor-bearer did in
terms of fulfilling God’s purpose and desire left an indelible impression in me.
With all due respect, Moses was a great man of God. So was David, and so
was Paul. No question about it. The question is, does the Lord only select
great men of God to carry out His work, or does He also use common folk like
you and me? More importantly, the question should be, what makes a man a
“great man of God” in the first place?
In the natural realm, Moses was great in every sense of the word for much of
his first 40 years. He was raised and educated in Pharaoh’s courts,
empowered with military command, trusted with planning and building, gifted
with oratorical skill, and he was consumed with a burning zeal to serve God.
The religious world would fall head over heels to make a man of this caliber
their great leader.
But not God.
God not only rejected Moses as a spiritual leader, He deemed him as being
totally unsuitable – except for being a sheep-herder in the back side of the
desert – for the next 40 years of his life. God cannot use any of Moses’
greatness until every last drop of it got drained into the sand.
When a royal vessel is reduced to a common vessel – humbled and abased,
and barely articulate – then will God have secured His vessel of honor, way
past his prime and not a minute sooner, I might add.
We see the same pattern in Paul also.
Throughout the Bible, man is consistently portrayed as being unreliable,
helpless, weak, in need of a Savior and deliverance. “For all have sinned and
come short of the glory of God,” declares Paul. The Gospel according to
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John again and again reminds us of our human
frailty and our desperate need of a Savior. Example after example has been
given of poor wretched and destitute vessels of clay finding Life, Grace and
Peace and fullness in the person of Jesus Christ.
The Scripture is full of references about the lowly, contrite, despised and
afflicted who cried out for mercy and were met with the bosom of God. David
repented of his despicable sin after Nathan the prophet pointed him out. In
deep contriteness, David realized, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a
broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou will not despise” (Ps. 51:17).
Paul made it clear regarding man’s lowly state, “God has chosen the foolish
things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of
the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the
world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might
nullify the things that are” (I Cor. 1:27-28).
God has further ordained that His greatness would be shown forth in and
through weak and foolish vessels of clay, i.e. "power is perfected in
weakness" (II Cor. 12:9), and "when I am weak, then I am strong" (II Cor; 12:
With regard to men's lowly state, one of my favorite images from the Old
Testament is the one where David hid in the cave of Adullam when he was
being chased by King Saul (I Sam. 22:1-2). Not a pretty picture, I know, but it
did portray Christ, typified by David, humbling Himself in the darkened world
(the cave of Adullam) that rejected Him. Only a small band of misfits gathered
around him. Today, in our "cave of Adullam" are we not also a band of misfits
gathering around our heavenly "David" who has opened our blind eyes to be
drawn to the splendor of His majesty?
Then as it is now, the secret to finding, and continually finding, Life, Grace,
Peace and Fullness is still in recognizing our own wretchedness and His
preciousness. No one, Moses and Paul included, has yet earned a way to God’
s praise through his own great works or mighty deeds.
The secret to becoming a vessel of honor that may be greatly used of the Lord
is simple: just recognize that we’ll always be vessels of clay and we’ll always
be in desperate need of a Savior. He will do the rest. And we can rest assured
of it. Literally.
I cannot tell you how much and how often I have been deeply touched by the
offer of compassion, prayer, practical help from simple brethren, and from
children, since my dear Mary was diagnosed with Lung Cancer.
By the outpouring of support, encouragement, prayers, affections from saints
all over the country, and from as far away as Canada, Brazil, India and Taiwan
(not to mention all the practical help of rides, food and visits from local saints,
and from my bosses and colleagues),
you’d think my dear wife is an important spiritual pillar of the church! Well,
maybe she is, but in a vastly different sort of way.
Mary is as plain and simple and unpretentious a vessel of clay as they come –
you know I speak accurately. What is uncommon about her is the
extraordinary glory of Christ that shines through her, especially now that her
"alabaster jar" is broken.
What made her the object of so much affections? She owns no title nor
“ministry,” has done no mighty deeds, possesses little gift and can barely
articulate. Her secret is simple: she recognizes that she is but a lowly vessel
of clay, and she is always in need of the Lord. And as such, the Lord has been
able to lay hold of her and infuse her with His own lowly and caring nature and
radiate it into people around her.
Power and greatness is all summed up in the Lamb of God, in one word,
lowliness. The sad truth is, it’s so simple most people miss it. Most of us
strive to be somebody that we’re not meant to be and do some mighty deeds
that only He can do.
Common folk, uncommon glory. Noah’s wife and Jonathan’s armor-bearer
notwithstanding, the Bible is actually full of folks like these – Aquila and
Priscilla, Onesimus, Rufus, Rufus’ mother, Tertius, Lazarus, grandma Lois,
Dorcas, Lydia or Abraham’s old servant…to name just a few.
In the first-century church, these common folk were the backbone of the
church, not the apostles or the elders – with all due respect. They were the
ordinary neighbors, house wives, workers, merchants, soldiers, jailers,
government officials…. They all served the Lord right where He placed them
and in whatever capacity He gave them.
It’s pretty clear to me that we, God’s chosen people, are the “foolish,” the
“weak,” the “despised,” and the “things that are not.” What seems ironic to
me is that many Christians, especially the gifted ones, strive to be the “wise,”
the “strong,” the "powerful." And the notable and the powerful leaders
demand following from their fellow-sheep.
It may sound flippant, but I think one thing that ails the body of Christ today is
not the deficiency of “workers” or “ministers,” it is the profusion of them.
What the body of Christ lacks are the Lazaruses, the Onesimuses, the
Rufuses, and Rufus’ mother (by the way, Paul calls this lady, “my mother” in
Rom. 16:13), the Tertiuses, the Dorcases, Lydias and grandma Loises…. In
short, the body of Christ needs vastly more common folk with uncommon
I hear the Lord calling with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!"
My prayer is that the Lord would reduce us to become common folk, and that
the leaders of today's churches start recognizing what common yet amazing
folk they have. Unless they start appreciating their Lazaruses, Onesimuses,
Rufuses, grandma Loises and Docases, and stop pushing them to be what
they were never chosen to be, their churches will always have problems. I
might add also that pushing the common folk into following a prescribed
“organic church” pattern isn’t going to solve the real problem of the church
either. Common folk instinctively know how to practice simple church life; it’s
the “uncommon” folk who want to herd others into conformity.
I thank God for giving me a common clay vessel with uncommon glory for a
wife. She is the best wife a man can ask for. I certainly don’t deserve her. But
I thank the Lord for her.
A word of update: she has finally come out of the debilitating effects of the
spinal injection today. Tomorrow she goes in for a doctor appointment.
Radiation treatment on her neck is on tap for Friday and the following Mon.,
Wed. Thank you all for your fervent prayers in our behalf. You have no idea
how much your prayers mean to us!
Sept. 7, 2009