God’s Irony

God continues to grow His church, even if that means letting a beautiful eighty-year-old building burn to the ground.
Zion Fire #1

From Philip Yancey’s excellent Reaching For The Invisible God (emphasis mine):

I think of God’s style as “ironic.” A more straightforward approach would respond to each new problem with an immediate solution. A woman gets sick; God heals her. A man is falsely imprisoned; God releases him. Rarely does God use that approach, however. An author of great subtlety, he lets the plot line play out in perilous ways, then ingeniously incorporates those apparent detours into the route home. Thus Paul gives thanks for his “thorn in the flesh” because it advances, rather than impedes God’s work through him; and Joseph can look back on his harrowing life and say to his cruel brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.” Although Joseph never denied his horrible past, nor minimized the trauma, he ultimately saw it as part of a meaningful story that served purposes greater than he could imagine at the time…

It should not surprise us that a sovereign God uses bad things as the raw material for fashioning good. The symbol of our faith, after all, which we now stamp in gold and wear around our necks or chisel in stone and place atop our churches, is a replica of a Roman execution device. God did not save Jesus from the cross but “ironically” saved others through Jesus’ death on the cross. In the Incarnation, God’s power stream of redeeming good from evil was stealthily underway.

It’s been over well over four months since Zion Church — that beautiful eighty-year-old fixture — burned to the ground. And yet, Zion Church — the people, the ministries, and the outreach — are still going strong, and in some ways, are in a better position than ever before.

On October 17th, 2007, Zion agreed to purchase the former Southwood Lutheran property, which is located at 5511 South 27th street (see pictures). No official timetable for moving in has been set, though we’ll obviously be doing so as soon as possible.

In addition to that, plans for a church plant back on or near the original 9th and “D” location are well underway. The starting date is expected to be April 2008, with a ministry once again focused on the downtown and near-downtown areas of Lincoln.

So a building burns down, an apparently insurmountable barrier at the time. And yet, we’re now on the cusp of seeing two churches where the was once only one, each serving, ministering, and witnessing to unique areas of Lincoln in their own unique ways.

And to top it all off, we’re able to accomplish all of this without any debt looming over our heads. If the original church had not burned down, we’d be moving forward with our building program. Which, while giving us wonderful new facilities, would have also incurred well over a million dollars of debt.

But between the insurance, donations, and capital campaign funds, we’re able to purchase a new building (and make any necessary repairs and upgrades, such as a new mural), pay off outstanding expenses, put aside seed money for a church plant, and still have some left over for a rainy day.

“All things work together for good,” indeed.

I still miss that old building, and I suspect that I always will. It was where I got married, and it was where Renae and I expected to baptize and raise our children. We’re currently attending a Wednesday night Bible study that takes place in Zion’s “education center,” which is located a block away from the original building’s site. And many times, as I’m leaving the study, I expect to see parents rushing over to the church to pick up their kids from Awana — only to remember that the church isn’t there and that Awana is happening elsewhere.

And yet the Gospel continues moves forward. God continues to grow His church, even if that means letting a beautiful eighty-year-old building burn to the ground. What seems like such a huge setback, a crushing one even, has, um, ironically freed and strengthened us. The potential now exists for even more work to be done in and for this city, and I pray that we’re up to the task.

I had planned to write this entry several weeks ago, but it got placed on the backburner for various reasons. Then someone on one of the forums I frequent pointed me towards the story of a Malibu-area church that was destroyed by the fires sweeping through southern California. And as someone who has also had the experience of seeing their sacred space go up in flames, my heart went out.

I felt compelled to finally write these thoughts down, both as a way to encourage them — that God can and will act “ironically” in their situation — and as a reminder to myself and the rest of my church family, so that we don’t forget how God has acted “ironically” in our situation.

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