Month: February 2018

Gigantic Waves of Grace

A man approached me after a Sunday worship service and said that he had been lying in a hospital bed for weeks on end, dealing with complications of his recently diagnosed leukemia. He decided to read through portions of the Bible, in hopes of finding some comfort and hope, when he sensed God directing him to Ephesians 3—the part about how wide and how deep God’s love is. For the first time in forty years, he said, he finally caught the love of his Father. “It came in waves,” he explained to me that Sunday. “Wave after wave of his love.”

The man said he became so overwhelmed by the reality that he actually prayed for God to stop revealing his love, just so the guy could catch his breath. “I can’t take it anymore!” he said aloud. “Just give me a second here to absorb what you’ve already shown me of your love!”

People such as he have seen God’s love, they’ve sensed his love, they’ve felt his love, they’ve known it. And those of us who have experienced this immersion into God’s love now serve him with all our heart and all our strength, because that’s what love compels well-loved people to do. He doesn’t dole out teaspoons full of love, not a soaked dishrag amount of love, but rather wave upon wave upon gigantic, overwhelming wave—washing over us, sweeping under us, surrounding us on all sides. It is wide, it is high, it is deep, it is long. It is in us and all around us and never lets us go. It envelops us and consumes us, it sustains us and empowers us. Wherever we’ve come from and wherever we’re going, we can’t help but run into God’s love.

This messes with the mind, doesn’t it? You can’t comprehend love so all-encompassing as that. All you can do is receive it.

If there were time in heaven, I think you and I would spend our first billion years there exploring the love of God. This is why heaven is filled to overflowing with worship, because God’s mysteries are finally being revealed. And don’t you know that questions regarding his great love must be first on everybody’s list?

Why the blessing?

Why the favor?

Why the care and concern and regard?

Why the provision?

Why the enjoyment?

Why the compassion?

Why the grace?

Until we’re bowing before his visible presence, we’ll never fully grasp the love of God. His love toward us is illogical and irrational and would short-circuit our brains if we could ever get close to sorting it out. But lovingly he says, “Between now and then, by the help of my Spirit, may you know my unknowable love.”

Isn’t that a beautiful thought? It’s like being let in on a divine secret, or like discovering the solution to the most complex puzzle in life. God offers us insider info on something that otherwise can’t be known.

And so I pray fervently and frequently for people I know who do not yet know Christ. I pray that they would be absolutely taken out by wave upon wave upon gigantic, overwhelming wave of God’s love. That they would be drawn by God’s Spirit to his welcoming side and then be given capacity for understanding just how loved they really are.

 

This is an excerpt from a book I wrote several years ago:

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Finding Joy in a Sad World

The last few weeks have been littered with intense episodes of sadness. First, we lost a young sherrif’s deputy, killed in the line of duty. A few days later, Pam and I lost a close friend to cancer. She was only 57. Two days later, 17 students were gunned down in their Florida school.  It seems grief and sorrow comes in waves, but lately it has felt more like a tsunami.

In the midst of this sadness, we hosted two funerals for our fallen brother, and 19 worship services in a two-week stretch. We’ve helped console a grieving city, offering hope and joy where there seemed to be be none. We’ve prayed, read aloud the Psalms, sang hopeful songs and sat quietly and listened to those who have lost so much.

Pastors and church leaders have wrestled with this tension for centuries. We have the sacred duty to point out the good news in a world that is found lacking. We have something to offer that is real and holy, but we have no magic formulas to make the pain go away. Grieving is a journey and shortcuts are not allowed.

In John 11, Jesus himself loses Lazarus, a really close friend. Once Jesus arrives at the family home, he is met by two sisters who had just lost their brother. Martha had questions and she was a bit angry at Jesus for not being there to prevent the loss of life. Jesus tells her “I am the resurrection” – he is the answer. Mary is another woman in the story and all she had was tears. The scriptures tell us that Jesus wept with her. Some days, we are Martha, with lots of questions. Some days, we are Mary, with lots of tears. Jesus is ok with both.

I’m telling the story of our last two weeks to remind my pastor friends that church services must allow for laments, sadness and sorrow.  It’s ok to mourn with those who mourn. It’s ok to hold hands and cry with those who have lost loved ones. It’s human to grieve.

Our worship services are usually joyful and inspirational. We laugh a lot at New Life and we have real rejoicing when we sing, preach and pray.  We’re also aware that not every worship service has to feel like a Disney production. The gathered church actually has the miraculous mandate to walk with people along the road of suffering until they get through the valleys of death. We’ve learned to embrace people in their place of weeping but not leave them there. 

We’re resurrection people who have been brought back to life. All of us who follow Jesus have the same story to tell. We were dead in our sins, but we found grace and a God who was pursuing us. We were once in darkness, but we now live in the light. That’s why we see sadness and sorrow differently. We know it’s not final and not the end. We know joy does come in the morning.

One day soon, Jesus has promised to return and set things right. Violence and crime will cease and the Prince of Peace will rule. Cancer will claim no more victims. We believe this. That’s why our hope is anchored in something that cannot be shaken by bad news. We’ve learned to sing about the morning while living at midnight.

I leave you with the words of Jesus, spoken to his devoted followers days before his own death and resurrection.

It will seem like all hell has broken loose—sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be quaking. And then—then!—they’ll see the Son of Man welcomed in grand style—a glorious welcome! When all this starts to happen, up on your feet. Stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way!” Luke 21-25-28 MSG

 

 

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