God's Favorite Place on Earthby Frank Viola
When He came to earth, Jesus Christ was rejected in every quarter in which He stepped. The Creator was rejected by His own creation. “He came to His own and His own received Him not,” said John. For this reason, Jesus Christ had “no where to lay His head.” There was one exception, however. A little village just outside of Jerusalem
When He came to earth, Jesus Christ was rejected in every quarter in which He stepped. The Creator was rejected by His own creation. “He came to His own and His own received Him not,” said John. For this reason, Jesus Christ had “no where to lay His head.” There was one exception, however. A little village just outside of Jerusalem named Bethany. Bethany was the only place on earth where Jesus was completely received.
God’s Favorite Place on Earth is a retelling of Jesus’ many visits to Bethany and a relaying of the message it holds for us today. Frank Viola presents a beautifully crafted narrative from the viewpoint of Lazarus, one of the people who lived in Bethany with his two sisters. This incomparable story not only brings the Gospel narratives to life, but it addresses the struggle against doubt, discouragement, fear, guilt, rejection, and spiritual apathy that challenges countless Christians today. In profoundly moving prose, God’s Favorite Place on Earth will captivate your heart with its beauty, charm, and depth. In this book you will discover how to live as a “Bethany” in our world today, being set free to love and follow Jesus like never before.
- David C Cook
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GOD'S FAVORITE PLACE ON EARTH
By Frank Viola
David C. CookCopyright © 2013 Frank Viola
All rights reserved.
It's been more than thirty years since I met Him. The day He first entered our home is etched in my mind forever. I shall never forswear those memories.
My sisters, Mary and Martha, are no longer with us. Neither is my father, Simon, whom Jesus healed of leprosy.
Most of the Teacher's close disciples, all of whom I had the privilege of knowing, have rendered their lives for His Name's sake.
A number of them committed to the written page their own encounters with Him. Words that I've read and consider to be God-breathed.
Since I am not sure how much longer I have left on this earth, I wish to leave behind the story of the times Jesus came to my hometown, Bethany, and of all the people He forever changed while He was here.
* * *
The One who lived before the earth existed spent only thirty-three years on the planet. And God gave me the unique honor of sharing some of those years with Him.
I did not know it at the time, but the Galilean prophet was rejected everywhere He went. When I discovered this, the irony dawned on me.
Here was the God of the universe, clothed in human flesh, turned down, cast away, refused in nearly every quarter in which He stepped.
The Creator was rejected by His own creation.
When He was born, Bethlehem closed its doors to Him. So He came into the world in the place where animals were fed.
Luke always had an eye for detail. In his recent narrative about the Savior, he wrote,
And she gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
But that's not all. When He was two years old the government hunted Him down like an animal. Consider it. The Son of God—a mere child—treated like a dangerous creature unworthy of breath. Matthew recounted the sad ordeal:
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
When He began His public ministry, He was rejected by His own people—my people—the Jews.
John set it forth this way in his account:
He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
Jesus was despised, rejected, and belittled by the Jewish elite who dominated Jerusalem. They eventually colluded with the Romans and put Him to death. Yet with gripping pain and sorrow, He still loved the city that betrayed Him. Matthew rehearsed His prayer in his narrative:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.
When He sought entrance into the despised region of Samaria, the Samaritans rejected Him also. Luke told the story, saying,
And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.
He was even rejected by His own hometown, Nazareth, the place where He grew up. Mark captured the scene in his gospel:
"Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor."
Here was the earth's Creator. The One who made all things and for whom all things were made ... unwelcomed by the very world that came from His hand.
I'm reduced to tears every time I think about it; there was only one exception to this widespread rejection.
Throughout His short time on earth, my sisters and I determined that there would be one place where Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, would be welcomed.
A little village called Bethany.
God's favorite place on earth.
Let me tell you the story ...
THE SACRED TEXT
Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.
WALKING IT OUT
Not the crushing of those idols, With its bitter void and smart; But the beaming of His beauty, The unveiling of His heart.
Ever since He stepped onto this earth as a human being, the Lord Jesus Christ—God in human form—was rejected.
The only exception was Bethany.
Regrettably, history has repeated itself ever since Christ ascended into heaven. He is still rejected by much of the world.
More disheartening, He is often rejected by His own people, contrary to their knowledge or intentions.
If you are a Christian, you too will face rejection. You will face it from those who don't know the Lord and who are hostile to His ways.
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
But the rejection that cuts the deepest is that betrayal which is inflicted by your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
If you choose to follow the Lord seriously, you will face rejection from some of God's people.
The rejection of Jesus was foreshadowed in our Lord's own life.
* * *
In the days of His flesh, Jesus wasn't just rejected by the Romans and the Samaritans; He was also rejected by His own people, the Jews. And that last rejection brought tears to His eyes.
In fact, it was that rejection that got Him killed.
Our Lord was wounded in the house of His friends.
Even one of His own disciples who walked with Him for three years betrayed Him into the hands of sinners.
Yes, dear Christian, if you follow the Lord Jesus utterly, you too will face rejection from some of your fellow Christians. This has been the testimony of every servant of God. And Jesus promised as much:
No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also....
To be rejected by a fellow believer is a painful experience. But keeping four things in mind when it happens will help. Those four things are:
(1) Remember that you are entering into the Lord's own sufferings
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.
For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
God allows rejection to come into our lives so that we may have the painful privilege of sharing in the fellowship of Christ's sufferings. Through such sufferings, we understand more about our Lord and how He felt in His own afflictions.
Rejection from fellow Christians is part of that fellowship.
The Christian life is a reliving of the life of Jesus. So your destiny is His experience.
While we don't experience His deity or His atoning sacrifice (both of which are unique to Him), we do enter into His sufferings, His death, His resurrection, and His ascension to heaven.
The Christian life holds for you all that it held for Christ.
(2) Remember that Jesus Christ understands the agony of being rejected because He experienced it Himself
When you touch the pain of rejection, Jesus sympathizes with you.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.
The Lord is able to comfort you because He knows exactly what you're going through. He understands your pain, having been there Himself. So we can rest our heads on a God who knows what it feels like firsthand. And He—the God of compassion—comforts us in such suffering.
(3) Rejection is designed by God to bring brokenness into your life so that you may minister more effectively
We live in a day where the popular idea behind ministry training is to focus on developing one's gifts. Gift inventories, personality surveys, and strength indicator tests are the rage among those who want to be equipped for ministry today.
But these kinds of tests set your eyes on your gifts. They put the focus on your strengths and your natural abilities. They make you the center of attention.
However, the Lord is far more interested in your weaknesses than in your strengths. He's interested in breaking you. Why? Because when there is less of you in the way, there is more room for Him to work.
Apart from me you can do nothing.
It's so easy to buy into the me-centered ministry culture today—the building up of one's self-esteem by focusing on human goodness. But God's goodness, and not ours, is the basis for our worth.
After talking at length about his sufferings and weaknesses, Paul made this surprising statement:
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
God's idea of ministry training is a broken vessel. His idea of spiritual preparation is suffering, which includes rejection.
Here is the biblical recipe for ministry preparation—a recipe that's glaringly absent from the pages of most ministry training manuals today:
For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Criticism and rejection are God's tools for liberating His servants from human control and the desire to please men.
To make you a useful vessel in His hands—"fit for the Master's use"—God will sovereignly bring rejection into your life. Jacob is not alone in encountering an angel who will break his natural strength and leave him with a limp.
The crippling touch of God still disables those who rely on their own gifts and talents.
While modern ministry training is aimed at developing your natural abilities, leadership skills, independence, and self-confidence, God wants you to rely on Him instead of yourself. Why? So that any power you utilize may be completely of Him. And in so doing, you will discover the secret of being weak so that He may be strong.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
As we survey church history, we discover that A. W. Tozer's piercing observation is most accurate: "All great Christians have been wounded souls."
Indeed, God breaks us to build us. And the more naturally gifted a person is, the more breaking is required. So from God's standpoint, it's a privilege to be among the walking wounded.
While brokenness is difficult, it's beautiful because it makes God look good. Your natural gifts draw attention to yourself while brokenness draws attention to your Lord. With this in mind, power is dangerous in the hands of an unbroken vessel.
Hemingway fittingly said, "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places." The Christian understands that God is the One who breaks us, and He uses the world as His instrument for doing so.
This brings us to the subject of loss. From childhood, we are all taught how to win. We're taught how to gain advantage and get our own way. Yet the secret of fruitful ministry is in learning how to lose.
When we're always winning and getting our way, Jesus Christ isn't getting His way. So the way to gain with God is to lay down our lives and lose.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it ..."
Jesus talked a lot about losing, taking up our cross, denying ourselves, and laying down our lives. These are the fruits of brokenness before God.
It's not hard to spot a Christian in ministry who isn't broken. Unbroken people don't know how to lay their lives down and lose. They only know how to try to win.
If they're criticized, they retaliate. If they're attacked, they return fire. If misunderstood, they defend in anger. They are capable of doing all sorts of damage to others in order to save their own ministries and keep their reputations.
On the contrary, people who have been broken by the hand of God know how to turn the other cheek. They know how to go the second mile. They know how to give their coats when asked for their shirts. They know how to speak well of those who misrepresent them. They know how to return good for evil. They know how to lose. And in so doing, they exhibit the Spirit of the Lamb and allow God to win.
In the words of E. Stanley Jones, "The God I find in Christ is a God who overcomes evil with good, hate by love, and the world by a cross."
Again, it is through the wounding and the breaking we experience that the life of Christ can be released through us. And that is where the secret of fruit bearing lies. So don't nurse your wounds. Let them turn to gold and not hyssop.
(4) Remember Christ's reaction to the people who rejected Him
There are two ways to respond to rejection. One is to react in the flesh and become bitter and angry and to retaliate against those who have hurt us. The other is to react in the Spirit, which is the way Jesus responded to those who rejected Him.
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
Jesus Christ refused to allow bitterness to take root in His heart. After standing under a hail of criticism from the Jews, the Lord stood before Pilate and was silent. When the Romans pierced His hands with six-inch nails, He prayed that God would forgive them. And when He rose again from the dead, He wasn't spewing venom over those who crucified Him.
Jesus didn't seek vengeance against those who misunderstood Him, nor did He justify Himself, setting the record straight in light of the lies that were told about Him.
While the death of Jesus is immortal, the unjust and indescribable pain that He suffered at the hands of sinful men was not upon His lips when He broke free from the grave.
No, He was utterly silent about the entire ordeal. He acted as though it never happened.
Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.
Many Christians cannot get over rejection, let alone misunderstanding. And that is why there is no resurrection in their lives.
In our own natural power, we are incapable of responding to pain the way Jesus did. But the good news of the gospel is that He lives inside of us, giving us both the power and the will to do His good pleasure.
The secret is in letting go.
Chesterton rightly said, "One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak."
A disciple in the school of Christ often learns more by suffering than by studying. Spiritual growth picks up its pace whenever you're looking down from a cross, and brokenness is a prerequisite for usefulness.
If you are a Christian, then, expect to follow in the footsteps of your Lord. You will know the scalding pain and heartbreaking disillusionment of rejection.
How you respond, however, will determine if you become broken or bitter.
If you view such things from a natural plane, you may get so depressed that your eyes cross, feeling that you have to climb up just to reach the bottom. These are the typical emotions that provoke grudges.
Someone once said that you don't hold a grudge. It holds you. Holding a grudge is self-inflicted pain. Consequently, bitterness doesn't imprison those who hurt you. It imprisons you.
Again, we do not have the strength to forgive others who wound us. But we have One who indwells us whose name is Forgiveness. And He is able and willing to forgive through us, releasing us and others.
You'd be wise, therefore, to seek to get behind the eyes of our Lord and see things from His vantage point.
You have a God who knows what it feels like to be rejected. But He also knows the preciousness of having a Bethany. A place where He is completely received, honored, and appreciated.
That is the subject of our next chapter ...
Excerpted from GOD'S FAVORITE PLACE ON EARTH by Frank Viola. Copyright © 2013 Frank Viola. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Frank Viola is an internationally renowned speaker and author. He is a leading voice of the house church movement, a group of believers that seeks to reconnect with the original model of Christian fellowship. Frank lives with his family in Gainesville, Florida.
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I purchased a Nook copy of God's Favorite Place On Earth yesterday and am already on my second reading! This unique little book is like the cherry on the top of all the books Frank Viola has written to date (I have been re-reading all his books from the late 90's onward)! It touched me in so many ways - anguish, laughing, crying, praying, edgeofmyseat anticipation, and finally - triumph! I had seen the beauty of Bethany previously, but Frank made it come alive in a way that provokes one to re-examine one's priorities in the who-when-where-why-how of worshipping our Lord and Savior. The most poignant part that really brought me to my knees in tears was the full understanding of Mary anointing Jesus with her expensive flask of nard - and just what that meant to Jesus and the reaction of all who surrounded them in that unforgettable moment. The beauty of her worship, the prophetic sub-moment, the totality of her love and commitment for Jesus is almost too hard to wrap your head around unless you have been at that same place in your life. I am just stunned. Simply a beautiful rendering of the facts about Bethany and its people, as told through Lazarus. I am recommending this little jewel to everyone , that they may better understand what Jesus needs from us (and by extension, Father God). It is my opinion that truly, if each Christian took the facts as presented in this book to heart and became a Bethany for Christ, we would see a totally changed 'church' in America. It would become a true Ecclesia exhibiting a oneness in Christ, a total love for Father, Christ and each other, that would have a great affect in local communities and eventually the world!
Drawing me in to the heart of our Lord Jesus, God used this book to help me truly partake from the spring of living water and be quenched. It lead me back to the place of reverent awe & worship I always desire to stay in! Through this book, God helped fuse the disconnect I was feeling between my heart, emotions & my journey with the Lord. Though our feelings & emotions can trick us and we must be sure not to be lead by them or even focus on trying to "feel" a certain way......... the truth is He DOES make us feel and He uses our emotions perfectly to draw us to His heart! LOVE does FEEL. We can't expect them or lean on them.....but praise God He has gifted us with feelings and it all fits right when He helps us bring them under His reign! We can't make the mistake of trying to disconnect our emotions from our faith... and we must never desire to give the Lord anything less than our whole heart. I am sure that the Lord will use this book for other personalities in different ways... there are so many practical lessons in how we relate to God, how we journey with Him... and others. But I wanted to share what He did in me through it. This is one of those works I know I will continually come back to. Through this story & lessons following, He has imprinted many lessons & visuals in my heart & memories to draw from in future dry seasons. I see so much clearer what the Lord is desiring in His people and I have been reignited in my vision to "waste my life" on surrendering to the Lord Jesus and giving Him lavishly my whole heart, soul & mind. Praise by to the Lord on the throne! He is so worthy of all our praise!!! I can't wait to see Him in person and look in His eyes and feel His embrace!! I can't wait to see every knee bowed at His name and SEE Him in His place of King!! I am so EXCITED for Him!!! To get all He deserves!!! For all the glory & honor for ALL to see!! For the full redemption He is going to feel of all He endured for me and you!! For the amazement of everything set right!!!! To look in His eyes and SEE the pure LOVE and acknowledgement, it was worth it, it was worth it!!! OHHH Lord Jesus!!! I can't wait to see you on the throne and to see your heart satisfied, your longings met in your beautiful Bride that you have presented to yourself radiant without blemish!! I see glimpses of it among this groaning and I am yearning to see the conclusion!!! I LOVE YOU JESUS!
Frank Viola is an American writer and blogger on Christian topics. He has written and co-authored a number of books including Jesus a Theography and the Jesus Manifesto. His latest book “God’s Favorite Place on Earth” is a book about the city of Bethany. In truth, I’ve never read a book quite like this, I don’t know if I could classify this book as historical, or expository, creative or devotional. It almost reads as one long sermon filled with all of the accounts of Christ that take place in Bethany. And if that doesn’t sound like much, think again. Bethany is where all of the events with Mary, Martha and Lazarus take place. And even though the author does take some literary liberties in re-telling some of the bible stories, he is never far from the heart of the scriptures. Frank Viola has an easy to read voice and is a wonderful story teller. If you like Max Lucado or Brennan Manning it has that same feel to it. God’s Favorite Place on Earth is a wonderful tale told in six parts through the eyes of Lazarus – in fact it could have been titled: the Gospel according to Lazarus! Mr. Viola is presenting a very creative, very enjoyable read for those who have grown too familiarwith the gospel narrative that I think most will find delightfully refreshing. Thank you to David C. Cook for providing a free copy of this book for a fair and honest review.