Our Unique God
Sabbatical. More than one Sabbath. A series of days and weeks that provide a time for refreshment and renewal. Since I have never had a true sabbatical, completely unplugged from the local church and the university, I am adjusting and learning on the fly. It feels like a real sabbatical may have started today. I drove this morning from my house in Bloomington to the Chiara Center in Springfield to meet with and interview Dan Frachey, Chiara Center Program Director, since September 2016. I have retreated at this beautiful Franciscan Center for well over a decade, but this was my first time to officially meet Dan. He is a kind, hospitable, and humble man – all that anyone would expect of a Christ-follower and servant leader. Dan grew up in the Chicago south suburbs and migrated downstate to Springfield way back in 1989. I met Dan today to hear his heart on what the ancient monks and nuns, heroes of mine, might teach contemporary Jesus-followers like me. Dan, after graduating from Western Illinois University and a slight employment detour, began working as a supervisor of St. John’s Breadline and Holy Family Food Pantry. Ten years later, he became the executive director for Habitat for Humanity of Sangamon County. Three plus years later, Dan migrated from Habitat to becoming the director of Christian Formation of St. Jude Church, Rochester, Illinois. Fast-forward, count ten more years and Dan is called to be the Chiara Center’s program director and the very first lay ecclesial minister at Chiara.
Dan and I talked for a good hour about his spiritual pilgrimage, but especially about the monastics’ example of simplicity, silence and solitude, counter-cultural ways, hospitality, reverence for life, seamlessness in prayer and service, and passion to be present to God and to others. Our holy conversation blessed me. I came away unable to shake the unique God we both love and serve. Dan, without realizing it, kept reminding me of our one-of-a-kind God. I know a word of clarity is necessary.
This sabbatical has given me the gift of contemplating more deeply the nature and character of our immensely grand and glorious Triune God. Each week I am intentionally focusing on a specific characteristic of God based on what I hear behind each of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. I cannot explain to you all the reasons why I settled on this focus, but it seems directed by the Holy Spirit for this season of my life. All this week, this first week of the sabbatical, I have been listening and meditating upon what the first commandment says about God. “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). God, as already noted, is without equal, without rival. He is unique. I thought about that divine attribute yesterday when I drove the back roads to Champaign’s Walmart Super Center to get groceries. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to be quiet. I did not want to encounter anyone that I knew. The creation, especially the fall colors, all the way from Champaign and back, whispered to me of God’s unique nature. What other god-imposter spoke the world into existence? What other god-fraud left evidence of Himself in the details of creation? What other god-counterfeit colored the trees and bushes with such breathtaking colors? I pondered those very questions when I drove from the Chiara Center today and made my way down to the rainy shoreline of Sangchris Lake where I have retreated since I was a small boy. My grandmother’s farm, or what used to be her farm, is only a short distance away. I sat there in silence and solitude overcome by the magnificent mystery of this one of a kind God, who at just the right time, set aside His majestic, privileged past and put on the working clothes of a peasant-servant and entered time and space as perfect God and perfect man. Is there another story anywhere that matches that one? Gospel uniqueness. Exceptional God.
God alone lives, heals, and loves in Jesus, ultimately taking on my sin, dying on a cross on my behalf, thus defeating sin and death, rising again three days later. I once again declare my ongoing confession. I believe all of that in its entirety. I believe in Him. I hold on tightly to God’s without rival supremacy. All of this has been on my mind these past three sabbatical days. Maybe it is why I was compelled to repent yesterday when I hurried out of the Walmart parking lot, passing by a rain soaked stranger, who was holding a sign that simply read, “homeless and hungry,” as I got in my truck and began to drive away. I, under Holy Spirit compulsion, turned my truck around, came back to that stranger, stopped the busy traffic flow, gave him all my change, looked into his face and saw the face of Jesus – our one-of-a-kind Savior. There He was among the least of these. I can hardly type these words. My heart is broken. I have so much to learn on this sabbatical. Thank you God for Dan Frachey, your fall creation, and a Walmart stranger. I cannot get past the simple prayer of Flannery O’Connor. Her prayer is my prayer. “Oh God, please help me to get down under things and find where You are. Amen.”