July 26, 2023
I have reached that age in life, where it is painfully obvious that I have forgotten far more than I remember. Sadly, I remember that I used to know it - have that tidbit of knowledge on the tip of my tongue, ready to be referenced without notice - but now, it seems to be filed so deep, I need a Dewey decimal system to even know where to look. I think it makes me appreciate my old fashioned printed books more and more. I can browse through my library and see a book that looks vaguely familiar. I may even remember that I liked it. In some cases, I marked it in some way to save it from being accidentally discarded. All because it had something that seemed important to say to me at one time.
It was my safeguard in case I should someday forget what it was. I wanted to be able to re-discover it again! I may remember the picture on the cover and then flipping through it, find some faded margin note, or highlight, or underlined phrases that tell me that I have arrived. I have in a sense re-connected with my younger self and that younger self's discovery of ideas that wound up shaping my thought processes for decades to come. In searching for something else this week, I found a book that I read over 45 years ago called, The Dust of Death, by Os Guinness. Yes, he is the great great great grandson of the Irish brewer, but that is not why I read the book. In fact after all these years there are only two words from the book's 400 pages that I remember: radical Christianity. I originally read it on the heels of Francis Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live, and together they seemed to hammer home the instruction of James:
James 1: 22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only
Both in their own way railed against complacent believers, who sat, seemingly paralyzed, unable to put any of their words into action. Those of you who heard the message on Sunday, will recognize a similar challenge. There we looked at the healing of the lame beggar in front of the Beautiful Gate of the Temple in Acts 3:1-10, and then likened it to our own situation. Except we then asked ourselves which role we were playing in our daily life:
Were we a disciple about to perform a miracle? or
Were we paralyzed and unable to act out our faith for some reason?
If you missed any of that message (or want to refresh your memory) I invite you to navigate over to the church YouTube channel and hear it anew at https://www.youtube.com/live/CYL7Ppm_cUA?feature=share The painful reality is that we all can be paralyzed at some time and in some situations. Os Guinness' book explored, among other things, two such situations - paralysis arising from the shear enormity of the task at hand.
The first reaction will be from those who say, can anything really be done? I have often seen people deeply stirred by the terrible dilemmas of modern society and excited by the relevance of Christianity only to be paralyzed by the thought of their own next step or contribution. The practice of Christian truth means, among other things, the practice of individual significance, a tiny yet earthshaking concept that must be asserted against the tide of cultural influences. Dwarfed by the vast complexity of the universe, many see themselves reduced to insignificance, and their initiative drained, as they lose their sense of individuality. Then it is almost as if inaction becomes elevated into a principle. But if God is God and man is made in his image, then each man (person) is significant. Each man's action can cause ripples that never cease. The heroes of life are not "great" men. They are ordinary men who do great things because they reckon on God being with them. They have no time for an "all or nothing" mentality. Better the significant "something" than the illusory "all" or frustrated "nothing." Such human significance is not easily measured. The odds were very much against David as he faced Goliath, but the difference between him and the rest of the Israeli army paralyzed on the sidelines was his affirmation of his significance under God. Theodore Roszak called the early Christians "absolute nobodies, the very scum of the earth ... a handful of scruffy malcontents." But under God, it was such nobodies who were still there when the Roman Empire disintegrated.
In a more down-to-earth example, I am reminded of a small church my wife and I began attending many many years ago. Within a few weeks of attending various church functions we began to realize that a handful of members had picked up a habit of lauding the pastor greatly while treating his wife dismissively. This dichotomous behavior was in turn putting a strain on the pastor's relationship with his wife and it was beginning to show up in the ministry.
My wife and and I were only two people, and new to the community to boot. But we resolved to pray every day for their marriage and demonstrate love and respect for both the pastor and his wife as a ministry team in all our interactions with them. Without us ever saying a word to a single other person on the subject, we noticed, one by one, others began to take note and copy our behavior. Within six months the disruptive behavior had just quietly disappeared; the vibrancy of the pastor's marriage and ministry returned.
Empowered by God, the actions of two people simply modeling more appropriate behavior, rippled through the church and changed the whole congregation. The second situation explored by Os Guinness was this:
The second reaction (to the enormity of the task) will be from those who say, How? All this is very well in theory, but how can it be translated into action? As Bertrand Russell remarked in one of his more tolerant moods, "The Christian principle, 'Love your enemies' is good ... there is nothing to be said against it except that it is too difficult for most people to practice sincerely." His emphasis, Os writes, was not strong enough. The Christian life is not just difficult for man; it is impossible. But it is exactly here that humanism leaves off and Christianity begins. It is only possible with God's help.
Paul's prescription is as follows:
II Corinthians 12: 9 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.
Let this be our strategy for life as well.
Your Brother in Christ, Warren Please feel free to share this DeacoNote with a friend, or post a related thought in the comments below. Warren J. Ayer, Jr. Chairperson, Board of Deacons United Church of Colchester