Ordinary vs. Extraordinary

ORDINARY                                        EXTRAORDINARY

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I want to be extraordinary… there I said it. 

As hard as it is for me to admit that, there is something deep down inside of me, and I think all of us, to be special, to stand out, to be “extraordinary.” 

But what really makes a person extra-ordinary? What makes a person different, what makes them stand out in a crowd? We spend most of our lives doing as much as we can to fit in, go with the flow, and live to a standard that is acceptable to the people around us. That standard tends to be set by the “extraordinary” people in our world right? The star athletes, the up and coming movie stars, and those in charge of deciding what is, “in style,” right now. We are supposed to fit in, but also maintain an element of originality that sets us apart. If you are just ordinary that is safe, but boring, but if you are too different, that could be even worse, too much originality could lead to over all rejection. 

This tug and pull is a constant battle for everyone who lives life on this earth. Some choose to give up trying to fit in and just simply find themselves embracing the fringes. Some give all they have to the pursuit of getting the combination exactly right. Others, most of us, simply resign ourselves to the reality we will always be ordinary. Lost in a sea of faces, nameless, faceless and meaningless in the grand scheme of things. 

Accepting our role as ordinary people really begins and ends in understanding what we were created for. I see facebook posts all the time that say something like, 

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Ultimately I have found the pursuit Of being extraordinary exhausting, frustrating and deflating. I find myself looking around and deciding if I am better than enough other people to feel good about who I am. I end up judging others, playing games with myself, and ultimately still end up disappointed with the reality that I am just not that special. 

Bottom line, being ordinary just might be the greatest gift we have ever been given.

I am teaching on the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus this weekend at Finding Life Church. I am taking a bit of risk in saying this, but Mary’s extraordinary role in the story of history was dependent on her acceptance of the God-given role of ordinary.

There is no human being that has ever been born in the history of man kind that has been given the title extraordinary more so than Mary the mother of Jesus. We want her to be different, special, holy and Godly. As human beings we have even stretched that desire for her to be extraordinary to the point of making her into some kind of super human. We know she is not god… right? But we want her to be something more don’t we?

To see mary as extraordinary in her own right is to miss the point of her life altogether. 

In Luke chapter 1, Mary’s simple, meaningless, obscure, young life is bombarded by the creator of the universe with a call to live out something ordinary. Why did God choose her? Why did God decide she was the right one to be the mother of Jesus? Because she was special? Because she was popular, rich and well-liked? 

Its because she was ordinary.

Mary was insecure, full of fear, doubt and worry. She was young, unmarried and just plain regular. 

What was extraordinary about Mary wasn’t her position in life, her staggering talent or her unearthly wealth. It was about her humility, faith and choice to surrender. 

When the angel of the lord comes to Mary and tells her the great news about her new role in the landscape of history the angel calls her, “favored one.” Meaning she had found favor with God, meaning, God decided to use her even though she was nobody. The New Living Translation of the Bible actually replaces the word grace, with favor. Because of God’s graciousness he chose to use a broken vessel like Mary to be the mother of His son Jesus. It wasn’t her resume or rap sheet, it was by God’s grace, and favor. God chose her because she was humble, not because she was extraordinary.

In Luke chapter one, Mary responds to the angel of the Lord saying, 

34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “ The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.

Do you see it? 

Why did God use her? Because she was willing to let the power of the most high “over-shadow her.” She was willing to become less… to become used up, beaten and worn out. She saw her life as worthless in compared to the amazing opportunity to be part of God’s plan in this unique way. She didn’t say, wait a minute, this doesn’t work out with my life, she just submitted to the work God wanted to do in her life. 

Do you want to live an extraordinary life? Then, like Mary, you have to be willing to embrace the ordinary so that God gets the glory, you have to be ready to have every aspect of your life taken away, folded into the character of God. You must simply be over shadowed. As long as you and I strive to stand out, be special, take hold of our own lives and be extraordinary, we will simply never be in contention for God’s work. He will simply pass us by for someone a little more ordinary and a lot more humble.

I wonder at times if Mary, who gave her life, was ridiculed no doubt for obeying God, in the name of humility, would be grossly disappointed by what we have made her legacy into. 

Today, choose humility, choose to be over-shadowed, choose to give instead of receive.

Choose ORDINARY, and God will make your life into something Extraordinary

What does my life point to?

This past Sunday my family and I had the incredible opportunity to worship with a community in Thousand Oaks, CA called Anthem Church. Seriously, if you are anywhere near Thousand Oaks you gotta check it out. God is totally at work. It was one of those places where I sensed the power of the gospel at work in the lives of the people there. Anthem is a church plant Pastored by Matt Larson, a good friend and brother, that God has clearly set apart for His purposes, and that is fun to see. 

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This past Sunday Matt was preaching in the book of Luke, telling the story of one of the most important moments in the history of the church. Theologians call it the, “Transfiguration,” but what it should likely be called for the sake of clarity and understanding is, “Jesus’ moment.” 

In the story, Jesus takes 3 of His closest friends up onto a mountain where they would be joined by Elijah (Old Testament Prophet), and Moses (Remember the Exodus from Egypt story?). The story is obviously weird at this point because Moses has long been dead, and Elijah, well, Elijah never died, but has been gone for a long time. So Jesus is standing on a mountain with 3 friends, 1 dead guy and 1 ambiguously dead guy… sounds like a scene right out of one of the star wars movies where Vador, Yoda and Obi-Wan-Kenobi come back from the dead to give wisdom to Luke. Crazy story right?

There is much more to the story, which Matt developed incredibly well yesterday, but his main point was this,

Everything points to Jesus. Its all about Jesus. These men, their lives, every event, all circumstances, even our lives are all meant to point to Jesus, our Messiah, our Savior and redeemer. Moses and Elijah were great men, men who were confused as God and even wrongfully worshiped by people at times, and their lives were really for one purpose… To point to Jesus. This moment on this mountain was all about that. It was a fulfillment of prophecy about the Messiah, it screamed as loud as possible, “Here He is! This is the one you have been waiting for!”

A very cool story, and Matt finished the morning with a very simple, yet profound question that comes straight from Jesus mouth… “Who do you say that I am.”

If life is all about Jesus, the challenge for every single human being is to answer personally that question for ourselves. Who is Jesus?

For me, I sense God speaking directly to my heart through Matt’s message asking what my life is pointing at. Does my life, words and actions more often point to Jesus, or to myself. The answer to that question is unfortunately the latter of the two. I am so selfish, so caught up in my wants, needs and desires that more often than not, I am too consumed with me to really point to anything else.

I want to join in with the prophets of the old testament, the entirety of creation and the Biblical authors in using my life, words, attitudes, resources, circumstances, failures, successes and everything else at my disposal to point back to Jesus. To give Him glory, to bring Him honor, to make His name know, not just for the sake of it being known, so that more people might know the incredible power of the gospel, the beauty of His grace, and the power of His love.

Thanks Matt for challenging me to live a different story every day. Keep up the good work brother, praying for Anthem and God’s presence in all that you do.

To be chosen…

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It was the year 1989, I was a 5th grader at Gage Elementary School in San Diego, CA. This year was a big one for me because it was my first year in public school. In fact it was my first time ever going to school with anyone who’s last name wasn’t Brower. I was homeschooled by my mother until I was 10 years old. To add to my lack of social experience, my brother and sister had both gone to school 2 years earlier so it was just me at home with my mom. That season of my life was all about Gymnastics, I had stayed at home for school so I would be free to spend more hours at the gym training. While it may have been good for my short-lived gymnastics career, nothing about two-a-day one on one training sessions with my coach could prepare me for my first recess.

I remember feeling like the only kid on the playground who wasn’t thoroughly prepared for what would come next. Kick ball was the chosen game for that day… it was the chosen game most days. As is customary on elementary school playgrounds across America, the two most confident boys would anoint themselves “captains,” and would begin picking their teams one at a time. They stood in front of us barking out names, back and forth, one after the next while we stood there, helplessly waiting for the moment they we heard our name called, to be chosen. 

Hayden Epstein was the biggest, fastest, strongest and most confident kid on the playground, and not only was he always a captain, but he was usually the one who would pick the other captain as well. When I first met Hayden I wasn’t sure what to do with a guy who had this level of confidence. He had been “the man” in the eyes of these other students for the past 5-6 years. By the time I came into the picture, his position of power was firmly set in the minds of all the other boys. I remember wanting his approval, I remember striving for his approval and I remember desperately wanting to be, “Chosen,” by him. It wasn’t as much about kick ball as it was about my desire to be validated as a person. In the context of my small elementary school in San Diego, CA, Hayden was the bar. Being “Chosen,” by him was all I, or any other 5th grade boy on that playground needed or wanted to feel as though we had… arrived.

To be chosen…

Is it specific to me? am I the only one who so desperately seeks the approval of others? Am I the only one who loves to hear my name called… to sense I am valuable to another? 

Am I the only one who so often seeks the approval of others in order to validate my man hood, even my very existence?

I may be worse than others, by I am confident that this desire to be chosen is one that is common to all who breath the air of this broken world. We have a built in, hard wired desire to be chosen, to be called out, by name, to be told, you are what I want, by someone bigger, and more significant than we are. 

Last night my family went to see the musical Annie at the Glendale Centre Theatre. Annie is an orphan who will not admit she is an orphan. She has a picture in her mind of the one thing that would validate her as a human being. Parents, her parents. She holds onto a dream that one day they will come back to the orphanage, scoop her up in their arms and they will be a family once again. As the story unfolds you watch the different ways she clings to this dream, and its not about having stuff, or being normal. Its not about a desire for general love, its about being chosen… its about being chosen by them… her parents and no one else. The other little girls in the orphanage look up to her, if another came along to adopt her, that wouldn’t be enough. She needs to be chosen by the ones she believes matter most, her birth parents. She clings to an old broken locket that she has only half of. Her parents have the other half and she dreams of the day they return and the locket is whole once more. 

Later in the show, Oliver Warbucks the billionaire business man and stock market tycoon invites her to come stay with him for Christmas and essentially ends up falling totally in love with her, to the point he is wanting to adopt her.

He goes out and buys a brand new locket to replace the old one that represents broken dreams, pain and empty promises. He plans to share the news of the adoption with Annie, have her jump into his arms and they live happily ever after. 

Something very interesting happens next…

Annie’s greatest need as an orphan, as a human, is to be chosen, and here in this scene, the most important man in America is choosing her. He is saying I want you… you are the only thing missing in my life. I want to give you the world, everything I have is yours. He has the ability to meet all her needs, top to bottom including her greatest need of all. To be chosen.

Her response is what is so interesting. Instead of thrill, joy and excitement, she rejects his choice in favor of holding onto an broken dream and empty promise. She wants to be chosen by her real parents, and is so blinded by what she thinks she wants, by her insecurity that she has no ability to recognize what Daddy Warbucks is really offering her.

Isaiah 41 speaks of the way the maker of the universe has, “Chosen,” each one of us. As we are, where we sit, exactly where we stand. It is not a choice based on our behavior, or ability to live up to His standard. It is not based on what we have to offer, or how we love in return. It is pure, no strings attached and entirely unconditional.

The God of the universe, who spoke the heavens into place says this of you and me…

“I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. i said, “you are my servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you. so do not fear, for I am with you, do not be dismayed for I am your God…””

Beautiful words aren’t they?

Can this really be true? Of me? Of you?

My response to this incredible love and acceptance has most often been a distracted one… yeah, ok God, that sounds nice as my eyes wander about looking for what I would prefer to define me, give me value and validate my life. 

The call of Isaiah 41 one is to find our hope in Him. To let Him be what defines me, what brings me my worth. His love is perfect, sustaining, and totally free! 

Who is your Hayden? Who is your “birth parents?”

It’s time to let go and let God be your perfect Daddy Warbucks.

God, teach my heart to stop striving after lovers who won’t satisfy. Teach my heart to find its security in the reality that I am not an orphan, I am your son, you have called me by name, you have chosen me.

I AM CHOSEN