another oldie from the archive
If I am honest I have to admit that there are times that I get quite dispirited and pessimistic about the state and future of the church in Scotland and of my own denomination in the UK. There seems so little real vibrant Christianity around, so many congregations seem to meet out of habit and exist for little beyond gathering together for an hour on a Sunday morning. I find I can’t read Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones without thinking he must have been a time traveller and has been to many of the church’s I have been to. Its not just what I can only describe as a “deadening deadness” which seems to pervade so many churches that depresses me, its the fact that there is so much resistance to the very kind of change which might bring life to their “dry bones.” All of this seems to me to be very unpromising soil for God to grow His people into the future shaping, life transforming, people powered revolution I know He intends it to be. God seems conspicuous by his absence in so much British Christianity, I know many church leaders feel their churches are “God forsaken.”
Have you ever felt slightly stupid when you finally see something that has been staring you in the face all the time? Reading the Scriptures over the past week I have had just that experience. Something has suddenly become so clear to me that I feel a bit dim for not having seen it before. Its the fact that God seems generally to use the ordinary, the unexpected and the frankly unpromising when He wants to start a significant new chapter in the life of His people.
This thought was beginning to dawn on me when I read something from Alan Roxburgh which like a good pair of glasses made it clear to see. “God is always turning up in the most forsaken of places. Through Scripture God’s future comes from the bottom up in the most unlikely people and places. Imagine the people and places with the least potential, and that is where God’s strange future is likely to be found. Turn to Abram, to Israel about to die in Egypt, to a Gentile woman called Ruth, to a remnant in exile, to an old man keeping his turn in the Temple in Jerusalem where’s he’s told a son named John will come from his aged wife. Turn to a teenage girl called Mary, to a cross, to a band of unlikely men and woman who just don’t get what is happening as they hide behind locked doors. Here, in all of these unlikely places, is where God’s future bursts forth to change the world.”
I wouldn’t have chosen a group of particularly obstinate slaves to create a new nation to point to the reality of God. I wouldn’t have chosen a teenage girl, from a despised town, in a backwater of the ancient world to be the key figure in bringing God’s son into the world.. I might have chosen generals, philosophers, leaders and theologians to lead a new movement designed to subvert the Roman Empire and then the world but God instead chose fishermen, crooked tax officials, former terrorists and assorted other misfits with shady pasts. To take the Gospel message to the Gentile world my logic would have been to see one of the high profile Greek philosophers embrace the message, instead God chose a Jewish religious bigot who had built a reputation for sectarian violence. I hope its beginning to become as clear to you as it has to me, that God delights to use what we can only see as ordinary to do the extraordinary. God’s most significant acts more often than not come through the most unlikely and ordinary people. That probably in retrospect shouldn’t surprise us because its one of the ways that He ensures that we recognise His work. The only explanation I can see for the fact that Christianity sprang from such unlikely soil as a collection of Jewish manual workers, Roman collaborators and slaves is that God was, as they claimed, behind what they were doing.
When you think about it this characteristic of our God, to use the ordinary and unlikely to do the significant, should rob us of our excuses and fill us with expectation. I think of our little group here in Edinburgh meeting in a house led by me, someone who has struggled with mental illness in recent years, that doesn’t seem that promising even to me. If I was a betting man I wouldn’t bet on us making a significant impact on our city but after thinking all of this through I bet God does! Its our very ordinariness which makes us candidates for God to use in extraordinary ways if it throws us back in reliance on Him.
So have a think about your life and your church, does it all feel a bit ordinary, slightly unpromising, mundane? Well watch out because I suspect Abram, Ruth, Zachariah and Elisabeth, Mary and Joseph, Peter, James, John and the others were all thinking the same thing just before God started doing something significant in and through them.