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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What Can you Imagine?

I begin by saying that until a second ago, it was pouring rain outside.  It has now lightened up to a bit more than a sprinkle – but still raining.  I only point that out because I went on two weather websites, one national and one local.  Both had down for our zip code at this hour a 0% chance of rain. 

We (“we” being humans) don’t know much!  I have no idea what weather forecasters do.  I don’t know how they decided to type in on The Weather Channel website “0” for % chance of rain.  It may be an impossibly hard job, like trying to call the block/charge in an NBA game.  Impossible.  We humans simply are lacking in knowledge.

Even more, we lack wisdom.   All the craziness in the world – Al Shabaab in Somalia, Islamic State in Iraq, Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Kim Jong Un in North Korea, Vladimir Putin in Russia; there is suffering all over the planet.  There is violence right here in the United States.  We are a nation born of immigration now trying to put a cap on immigration.  The hypocrisy in our attitudes to immigrants, especially Mexican, is unspeakably cruel.

But wait!  I intended this to be a positive post.  I start with rain and bad news; and the declaration that humans do not know much, are sadly lacking in wisdom, and sorry in our failure of compassion.  Alright!  That’s off my chest.

Maybe the biggest failure is my own lack of creative thinking.  And this leads me to two of the wonderful verses in all of scripture.  I hasten to add my recommendation that you read this in the NIV.  I don’t often recommend that version, but I am convinced that in this case, the NIV gets the spirit of the verse best.  Other versions may offer a better technical translation, but the NIV captures the essence, I believe. 

The passage is Ephesians 3:20-21, a doxology.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

It seems simplistic to say it, but God can bring rain when the weather people say there no chance, zero %.  God can bring peace even into a world of Al Shabaab, Boko Haram, and Islamic State.  God overwhelm people with joy as they meet Him in the Holy Spirit.  I feel like a child, like a simpleton, but I believe it is true.

These verses are a statement of glory raised to God.  He is glorified (that is what a ‘doxology’ does; it speaks a word of glory about God).  Ephesians 3:20-21 is appropriately used when the words are read in worship, corporate or private, as an act of praise.

But, notice what is embedded in the praise: theology. 

First, a theology of limitation dominates.  “Immeasurable” is unacceptable for business men and researchers alike.  God’s deeds cannot be counted and rational thought really does not tolerate that which it cannot measure.  I do not think enlightenment or reason is antithetical to God or faith in God.  But I am certain God, while speaking to us in our rational processes, goes way beyond what we can observe, count, measure, and describe.  God goes immeasurably beyond. 

We are limited in our view of God.  We are ridiculously limited.  God delights in our praise of Him, but does not need it.  We need to praise God so we can realize with certainty God is God and only God is God and we are not God.  I know I wrote “God” in that sentence six times, but it was not enough. 

People may think they can without boundaries.  When Han complained about rescuing Princess Leia, Luke promised that her riches would bring a handsome reward.  Han pressed Luke wanting to know how rich she was.  Luke said she had more than Han could imagine to which Han replied, “I don’t know kid.  I can imagine an awful lot.”  So we think.  God is so much more.  In fact, it is nonsensical that I would even try to convince my readers of God’s greatness and vastness and magnificence.  In doing so, I am trying to make the case for something that’s immeasurably more than I can ask or imagine.

However, God would have me do it because the second aspect of theology seen here is a theology of partnership.

The doxology says that he who does more than we can ask or imagine has his power “at work within us.”  Furthermore, the glory given him is given in the church.  This unreachable God reaches to us, fills us, works with and through us, and calls us His own.  Maybe the most unimaginable reality is that the solution to the problems caused by the terrorists and dictatorial governments I referenced earlier – the solutions will come from God working his love into the earth through His people the church.

I just had a conversation today with a friend whose wife had been a senior pastor but now is out of church altogether.  The church she was leading was such an unhealthy community, she had to get out.  I trust her calling, so I believe she did the right thing.  But here she is, someone with almost a decade of experience, a seminary degree, and a calling from God, and she is out because the church wounded her so badly.

This is where (and in whom) God’s power is at work?  In the church?  Seriously?

Absolutely – yes.  It makes no sense.  But I think that was Paul’s point in another of his letters, 1st Corinthians.

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
    and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.” 

The wisdom of God makes no sense in the eyes of a world that is actively rebelling against his rule.  We have the Spirit of God in us when we are in Christ, so we see differently.  We realize, going back to the Ephesians 3 doxology, that God always intends for human agents acting in unity, His church, flawed as we are, to be His representatives to the dying world. 

Unimaginable?  Oh, yes.  Of God?  Most definitely.

So, I wrap this up by thanking God. 

God, my Father, Savior, Redeemer, and Lord, thank you.  Thank you for the people who make up the church, warts and all.
Sustain my friend while she prayerfully seeks you in this time away from preaching and pastoring.  Convict the people in the church who hurt her – break their hearts that they might repent and turn inward to You.
Protect the Christians in the path of evil – those in Nigeria and Syria and Iraq and other places.  Protect them with your presence.  Through their witness, work miracles.
In my life, fill me with compassion that is unmistakable so that when people are doused by the compassion that pours from me, they will not even see me, but look to you, Oh Savior God.

That is my prayer.  It has stopped raining and is way past my bed time.  Good night.

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