“Hey…did you hear about …..?”
The message flashed across my screen with all the annoying cling, static and pop that comes with such well intended
gossip info relay. It stuck right to my heart. It was the third such message I’d gotten in the space of a month. It’s hard to go there with the senders because I’m not there— I’m here; halfway around the world. From this distance communications are getting spottier as the space between real, deep and meaningful conversations gets wider the longer we are away.
It hurt to imagine that the information might be true. It hurts to know that there are real people– people I’ve loved deeply– caught in the crossfire. It stings to know how often I could easily be the same sort of “info relay person” and how there are still times I still feel the downward pull in my soul, itching to do the same and just, you know–“share”.
“…yeah, they really went off the deep end.“
It’s heartbreaking. When you know , as I do know, you’re just a simple, clay-footed sinner saved by grace, a.k.a. Christian…. and this kind of pain is always personal. It’s always real. If you have ever really loved anyone– especially God, then you can’t help but put yourself in another’s shoes and just imagine having to walk that path….just imagine having to carry that burden. As a community the hurt is always ours- not just “theirs”. And every one of us is always one step away from the deep end. No one really likes to talk about it — but maybe it would be helpful to at least acknowledge that “but for the grace of God there…go I.” or better yet, as Paul understood best:
“… by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” 1Cor. 15:10
Without a doubt, Paul was a man who knew his place of grace before God. In the verses before this, Paul is reiterating only what he knows to be true (my paraphrasing):
– the Gospel he’s sharing is only what he received.
– he was the last to get it.
– and he’s so unworthy.
Paul knows. He uses this phrase: “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (8) Untimely born. What a phrase… what a God! It makes me want to cry. Because I can put myself in Paul’s place– unknowingly marching along a dead-end road with orders in hand believing I’ve got God under my belt… having no idea that I’m actually headed straight off the deep end. Then WHAM! The overwhelming…never-ending…reckless love of God pulls me from the very edge and straight into the arms of Jesus. This!
so untimely born.
so deeply loved.
Can you feel it?
Backing up in history a little bit, to me there are few moments as stunningly beautiful and reverent as one of the last ones recorded for us of Jesus’s life. Paraphrasing, He’s on the cross, hung between two thieves. The crowds are mocking Jesus and one of the condemned men joins them… making his final act on earth that of shaking his fist at God. The other? As Luke records, he says:
“Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” (40-42)
He repents. Right there and then, hanging on the cross with no chance to make further amends, he is completely and totally—- utterly—- forgiven.
“And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43
Is anything more awesome?
I don’t know- I’m not some high-ranking theologian but I imagine that like the first of these men, Paul could have chosen to shake his fist at God when he was struck down on the road that day. He wasn’t only just about to have his life turned upside down- God was going to turn him inside out and it was going to be painful. No, instead, Paul gives us the benefit of his wisdom through the lessons he learned, a bulk of the New Testament, and ample opportunities to understand what having a humble servant’s heart before God looks like. I’m so grateful he did.
It’s these things – the life of Paul and the final moments of three men on Calvary, that I find courage and hope to bear up under the sometimes daily doses of sad news. It’s where I’m gladly reminded that God always has the final word in the midst of life’s choices– right up to the very last one we make. It’s helpful– even hopeful to know that God is still God –even at the deep end and even there…. He can make a way. He is the way. This is what I want to share.
“I couldn’t earn it,
I don’t deserve it,
still you give yourself away.
Oh! the overwhelming, never ending, reckless love of God!” (Culver/Asbury/Jackson)