Beauty from Ashes

By Mark A. Taylor

Time and again we see and feel God’s presence most clearly in the midst of human tragedy. It’s as if we need to strip away all our pretense of self-sufficiency before we can fully submit to God, who was the only one in control all along.

Consider the ongoing reports of Christians at work in the aftermath of the terrible Joplin tornado. What besides such a crisis would have stimulated the outpouring of service and generosity that Joplin residents have received at the hands of Christians from across the continent? What else could have brought the town’s believers out of their separate buildings and face-to-face with each other in one community of mutual need?

Something similar happened in New York City and Washington, D.C., 10 years ago. Scores of city residents encountered Christian love for the first time at the hands of Christians who came with concern and an open checkbook.

And according to Brent Storms, “The spiritual landscape of Manhattan has changed dramatically in the past 10 years.” He cites growing church attendance, stimulated by an explosion of new church plants since 9/11. Researcher George Barna reports, “The likelihood of someone from the Northeast claiming to be a Christian rose by 10 points during the 1991-2011 era, from 72 percent to 82 percent.”

Chris Travis, lead planter at Everyday Church, one of Manhattan’s new church plants, said, “There’s a beautiful, redemptive significance to starting grace-centered communities in a city that was the target of attack.” This Sunday, September 11, 2011, “Everyday Church will be exchanging ‘beauty for ashes’ in her own small way (Isaiah 61:3, New Living Translation),” he added. “On the 10th anniversary of those terrible attacks, we’re going to skip the sermon and instead roll up our sleeves to prepare and ship dozens of care packages to soldiers in Iraq. Tragedy strikes like lightning—we can’t control it. But we can always choose to love.”

And we need not wait for tornadoes or terrorists. If we’ll get close to our neighbors and coworkers, we’ll discover tragedy that doesn’t make the headlines. Each death or troubled birth, each divorce or disease or lost job is an opportunity for us to love the sufferer in Jesus’ name.

“When we mix the Word of God with real feet-to-the-pavement living, we can experience a kingdom feast every day and invite others to join us at that table,” Lance Ford wrote in a new book, Right Here, Right Now.

As we remember that awful day 10 years ago, we can realize that God always works, even when our world seems to be falling apart. And that’s a truth to motivate ministry from every congregation and every Christian in every community every day of the year.

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