God is often at work in counterintuitive ways. We often chase after big shiny things or “important” people who make us feel good about ourselves and guarantee us a table with the cool kids. But all across Scripture, God is working in and through weakness. He is working in and through the deadbeats, the moral reprobates, and the homeless guys. Who woulda thunk it?

The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians that the cross of Jesus is foolishness (1:18) and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1:25). A few verses later Paul says, "But God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him, you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who posts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:27–31).

We often go looking for proof of where God is at work, don’t we? We see power, influence and git-‘er-done attitude in an expertly tailored Italian business suit and say, "that’s where God is at work!" And yet, God keeps showing up in weak and despised things. As Martin Luther writes, "The cross is not simply the end of the journey in our quest for righteousness—not simply the destination of a happy outcome of life with God for us dead sinners; it is also the means by which the journey is made, and the experience of the journey itself.”

The Christian life is cross shaped. It’s going to be a bit of a grind, and we can’t always trust our senses to reveal where God has “shown up.” Often he reveals himself where we least expect it. Where has God shown his glory most clearly? Two thousand years ago when a baby was born in a barn. Imagine the smell. Was there an ancient equivalent of hand-sanitizer? And yet, there’s a baby laying there in hay. A barnyard animal’s toilet paper. If that weren’t scandalous enough, the glory is best displayed at the cross of Jesus Christ. The equivalent of the modern day electric chair. From the outside looking in, barnyard births and electric chair executions are not where you find winning resume building moments. And yet, as Carl Trueman has put it, "If the cross of Christ, the most evil act in human history, can be in line with God’s will and be the source of the decisive defeat of the very evil that caused it, then any other evil can also be subverted to the cause of good." God is at work despite the pee-drenched straw, the stubbed toes, and the waiting around in funeral parlors. When your life is in the crapper, when your church is torn apart by wolves, God is present even when you can’t see it, or feel his presence. I have hope that in the trials of life, he still makes beauty out of ashes (Isaiah 61:3).

Similarly, I have, in the past, put hope in leaders who had a successful, strategic vision. A vision of a future church, but not the church as it existed in reality. Their vision destroyed a church loved by many. A church built on the backs of good people. They were used, discarded, and then blamed for the failure. Thank God none of us have to hope in a fleeting vision, but I can hope in the secure reality that God has and is reconciling all things to himself in Jesus. This story line is secure. Jesus himself said, “Fear not, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33) and “All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).

We are living in the reality of an already/not-yet kingdom. Or put in fancy-schmancy theological terms, we exist within the tension called "inaugurated eschatology." This means that Jesus has already established his kingdom and the new creation has begun, but it’s not a done deal yet. Imagine a state of the art, heat seeking missile launcher. Once the computer locks into a target and launches that missile, it will find its target. High tech weaponry may not be the best analogy, but you get the picture. Our lives in the present exist before the missile gets to the target. But it’s a guarantee that it will get there. In the meantime, we still lug around decrepit bodies plagued by gout and indigestion, churches get ruined by megalomania, and Thanksgiving with the family this year is going to be as awkward as it always is when uncle Mort drinks too much wine and starts airing family grievances again. Still, God has a way of becoming present even in the rough edges of life. As the genius poet/singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen has said in his song Anthem, “there is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

 

From Matt Johnson’s new Key Life/New Growth Press book, Getting Jesus Wrong: Giving Up Spiritual Vitamins and Checklist Christianity.

Find more from Matt Johnson here.

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