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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Beyond the Jordan

From the eleventh floor of the Crowne Plaza Hotel I looked across the city of Cincinnati. I saw sweeping vistas of...humanity. A hundred feet below, people scurried from their cars to an indoor water park. A stream of cars flowed along Interstate 75 like ants marching to a feast. Looking out even further I could see nothing that was not shaped by the hand of man. The city was everywhere.

I pulled the curtains shut.

Life in the city leaves me gasping for air. I am a foreigner. I am the one who become a beast behind the wheel of my car. I hear the sounds of squealing tires, honking horns, and gunshots. I lock my doors and dim my lights. I trust no one. I cannot understand the language spoken by the urban society.

Jesus can relate to me. He was in the city--Jerusalem--for the Feast of Dedication. The religious city dwellers were demanding an answer to their question, If you are the Christ, tell us plainly (Jn. 10:24b)! He already had, but they didn't listen. He tells them again, and they try to stone Him. John records that Jesus escaped the mob and retreated...beyond the Jordan (vs 40). That is where I want to live, too.

Just yesterday, we drove to a nearby city to escape the clutches of a serious case of after-Christmas apathy (you know, sit around the house and stare at one another, then every five minutes get up to grab another stale peanut cluster). We decided to visit the Bloomington Mall because we're tired of the same ole stores in Peoria. Bad idea. All the high school kids on Christmas break were there. And all were sporting their latest fashions. You know--crotches to the knees; hair that resembles Barney; sparkling white shoes--with laces dangling behind; and shirts...well, let's just say they needed a larger size. After darting into Radio Shack to escape the mob and catch our breath, we tried to enter back onto the freeway. Finally, we saw an opening. A lady was pushing an elderly person in a wheelchair and we jumped in front of them. I cringed and thought "I'm becoming just like these foreigners!" Our destination: the exit.

Getting out of the Mall parking lot was another test of my patience. I'm used to living in a county with no traffic lights...none. I get impatient when one person is stopped in front of me at the stop sign. I won't tell you how many there were! After driving several miles to escape the masses, we were hungry. Actually, I'm always hungry so we stopped at a sandwich shop which, at 4:00 in the afternoon , was nearly empty. Two or three people were sitting and enjoying the peace and quiet--they were probably from a small town. We ordered our food and then were seated. Ahh. ..now, this is nice! About thirty seconds later, the door burst open and a deafening noise filled the quiet restaurant. Sixty-five high-school age girls wearing basketball sweats and sporting over-active vocal cords crammed into the empty seats around us. I watched in amazement how one girl could hold a conversation with three others-- texting someone else--and rapidly devouring a bread soup bowl.

When I find myself in unfamiliar surroundings--like the city--I begin to realize that I am the foreigner. I am the one who doesn't fit. I am the one who doesn't speak the language. The one who doesn't dress like the rest. I am content to live among the few. I prefer to live among the few. I cherish the authenticity and transparency that small town life and ministry provides. I want to shop...and eat...where I know everyone. I want to know their middle names. I want to know who's related to who. I want to know the name of their dogs (I don't care about the cats, though). I want to walk through life with people I know.

Somehow, I think the Apostle Paul could relate to this. He knew the advantage of transparency. He said, "You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you" (Acts 20:18). They knew . Knew what? They knew how he lived! His life was transparent. Visible. Open. Transparency is just one benefit of serving Jesus Christ "beyond the Jordan". Is that where you serve? Are there other benefits of serving in rural places, or am I just rambling again?