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Sunday, September 25, 2011

dead things

God works in a mysterious way.  That's a line from the old song by William Cowper.

The divine operates so much differently than the human.  If it were me, I would fix things before they worsened.  But God does His work on a scale that we don't usually understand.

He specializes in bringing life to dead things - dry bones, Joseph's dreams, Sarah's womb, Abraham's hopes, Lazarus.  What we believe is impossible is the beginning of His greatest work. Where there is no spark of life remaining, He creates vitality and abundance.

Look at the unrelenting faith of Abraham in the presence of death:

And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.  (Romans 4:19-21)

Abraham's body was dead, so to speak, and Sarah's womb was dead (in regard to childbearing). But that was what God was waiting for. 

Lazarus was dead, physically dead, for four days. But that's when Jesus chose to work.

What is dead in your life?  A relationship? Dreams? Ministry? Hope?

Deadness is of no consequence to God.  He is the Giver of life.  Bring your grief and loss to Him.  Surrender your plan of action. Trust His good will.  Wait on Him.  And watch for His mysterious, life-giving work in you.

"God . . . gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did."
 (Romans 4:17b)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

startling, genuine Christianity

Recently, I was reading a bit of David Kinnaman's thought-provoking book unChristian. (Baker Books, reprint 2007.)  It deals with the younger generation's prevailing perception both of the evangelical church and of the gospel message we present.The purpose of the book is to help Christians today realize that the things we say might mean something very different to the culture we are trying to reach- we need to know what they're hearing.The Gospel doesn't need help; the Gospel-bearers do.  Just like trying to witness in a foreign language, we may not be connecting.

He reveals surprising answers from those surveyed.  I was surprised by his statement that, according to the research, many of the people we are reaching out to are not unchurched, but rather de-churched.  That is, they have been significantly impacted by the church at some point in their lives but have chosen not to maintain that connection. The book has many eye-opening passages. It would be a great resource for anyone who wants to reach others for Christ and especially for pastors who want their churches to offer more than a schedule of services. It is a strong reminder that Christianity has a brand - how we represent Christ to those around us is very important.  We must be cautious that as we shun evil, decry wickedness and herald political righteousness that we are not really using religion as a smokescreen for behavior that is hypocritical, self-centered and safe. The point is not to "pretty up" the Gospel, but to model Christ authentically, with His motives and love.

This perception challege is really nothing new.  Christianity has always suffered from bad publicity. Remember the days of Nero?  Christian wasn't a positive title then.  It probably meant then what it means to some now - bigot, uneducated, uncaring, strange.

But no perception can stand against the radical truth of Jesus' teaching.  The principles we are to live by can shatter any argument.  Love your enemies.  Go the second mile. Return good for evil. This kind of public relations cannot be smothered by public opinion. It's shocking and attractive message is unchanging. It draws others to Christ in us, to the love and mercy found in Him.  It is a message that is people-focused. And that describes Jesus' earthly ministry pretty well.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

never forgetting

Ten years ago today, I was a young mother who had just sent my first-grader off to school and was home with my three-year-old and one-year-old. The Quesenberry family was living in Birminghan, AL in the fall of 2001.  My first awareness of the events of that tragic day came in the form of a phone call from one of our parishioners who asked me if I had heard the news.  She then proceeded to tell me what was unfolding.  From that moment on, I was glued to the images and reports of our national tragedy, today known simply as 9/11.  I remember flying a flag on my car.  I remember an impulsive desire to go to NYC as if my presence would make a statement to the world that ordinary citizens cared. I remember a strange sense of mourning for people I didn't know who died that morning - on ariplanes, in skyscrapers or at a military desk.

For my family, the national horror receded just four days later when on September 14, 2001, my youngest brother was critically injured in a motorcycle accident in rural Indiana.  That first weekend following the 9/11 attacks found me watching the media coverage in the waiting area of the trauma unit of Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. There were flags and ribbons on hospital bulletin boards; medical staff wore flags on their scrubs and the recovery and clean-up efforts were the biggest news of the week.  But now I understood that, no matter the scale of a tragedy, for the families personally involved, the scope narrows down to the one you love.  Being unable to talk to them, being helpless to aid them, being unsure if they would live - all part of the grief that obliterates the sun and clouds the future.

By God's miraculous intervention, my brother left the hospital a few weeks later and after spending time in rehab was able to return home. His medical team thought it would be months before he walked again, but he was walking before Thanksgiving of that year. His recovery is a gift, and we are thankful.

Yet, many who suffered anguish on that day in 2001 did not experience a return to life. For them, grief has become the new normal. Missing that loved one is now an unwelcome, but routine, part of living. Today must be a bitter reminder of all that was lost and all that will never be.

In all of this, God is the constant. The terrors of earth cannot sway His power or shake His faithfulness.  He has been there in the cataclysmic moments of my life; He is there for all who call on Him.  Our world is cursed by sin and those who commit evil acts because of it, but He is a refuge for all who need His strength.

On every anniversary of 9/11, I have tried to listen to at least part of the ceremonial "reading of the names." There are so many.  They represent people of many ages, many vocations and many ethnicities, but all created in the image of God and loved by someone somewhere. God knew them all, and in the vast scope of horror on that day, He didn't miss anyone in the smoke or lose sight of anyone in a stairwell or on the floor of a cockpit. He didn't forget about firefighters who put others before self; He didn't lose track of officers working in a government building. He didn't overlook a plane pitching over quiet Pennsylvania. He is the God Who is good and loving though wicked men use their free will to violate the rights of others. He is the Christ Who weeps with the bereft. He is the Lord Who helps a nation pick up the fragments and build again.  He is the Father Who is faithful to all who call upon Him.  Today, I remember, and with my nation, I mourn. But not without hope.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

the fragrance heaven loves

"Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee." (Psalm 141:2, RSV)

"What is incense good for? It appears to serve no practical purpose at all, and its smoke and fragrance soon dissipate.  Our prayers are like that because they seem to accomplish little and they soon vanish, but God likes the smell of them."      (-Elisabeth Elliot, Be Still My Soul, Revell, 2003, p.111)

What a thought this is! No matter that we cannot see the productivity of our praying - God says it is pleasing to Him. It lends another level of importance to the words we offer to Him.  Not only are we interceding on another's behalf or asking for personal guidance or declaring blessing on a friend, we are involved in something that brings delight to our Father.

In recent years, I have discovered that prayer is not at all limited to the benefits we can see. God uses every word I bring to Him to further His purpose in my life. And the prayers I offer in my deepest chasm brings me nearer Him than I could imagine. After all, He is the One to whom the fragrance rises; what appears to disappear on earth ascends to heaven's throne room where it is effectual and blessed.

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