Rev. Dick is pastor of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Standale, Michigan. Previous article in this series: March 1, 2005, p. 252.
In the elegant books of creation we read, through the spectacles of Scripture, of sin and grace.
We read some tsunami books in our last Grace Life article. Those terrible killer waves that crashed coasts some months ago are not only lessons in earthquakes and “where to build your next resort.” They are spiritual books. They are God’s own literature of the “shock and awe” genre. They shock us into an awesome sense of sin and sin’s killer threat. Since God has written them, we dare not put the books down.
Though the reading be not for the faint of heart. Or though we think tsunamis are of no concern to us. Though we imagine ourselves on such high ground that we cannot be reached by tsunamis. Though we believe we are in the strongest of theological and ecclesiastical and Covenant Christian High School redoubts, and are doubtless, therefore, sin-tsunami-proof. We must, dear reader, Take up the tsunami, and read!
For, I fear, tsunamis of the sin variety are threatening our very shores. Or maybe they have already come. Perhaps we are being swept out into the troubled secular seas! Hard to think of it. Would not we have heard the waves come in? Would not, if they had come, if our houses and churches and schools had been smashed into, and we, tossed about, and gasping for air, and grabbing onto driftwood…would not we, certainly, as sure as we were smashed and tossed, and as we gasped and grabbed…have been aware of all this?!
Maybe. But let us remember—tsunamis of sin are from the devil. And the devil, as the Dutch like to say, does not come clomping into church in wooden shoes. So the devil’s sin tsunamis are mostly unheard, unnoticed, disguised. As silent subtle waves. Or more like an ordinary tide of ordinary things coming in and going out and maybe taking us with it. And not without some strange things bobbing in their waters by which we sinners are fascinated, and for which we would dunk. So we bob for strange things in sin tsunamis. All the while unaware of their tsunami-ness. And we have fun in the waves. And there’s Mary Lou swimming along. And Uncle Jed. And this program’s not crushing me. And that latest hit feels good. And imagine, all the people, and even those party-stopping parents finally at the party with us young people, and the Pope with the Reformed Pastor, and secular humanists with Sunni Muslims, and environmentalists with the President swimming, as one. And we church-folk—swimming where the grace is easy, and the living is me….
Amazing! The disguise of tsunamis!
Philip Ryken, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, notes especially two twenty-first century tsunami threats to the church in his book The City on a Hill. I wonder if these, Grace Life reader, are not among the tsunamis threatening us.
For the one, according to Ryken, is relativism. This belief has surely flooded the land. According to the relativist, there is no absolute truth. Truth is relative to the beholder, the situation, the era, the culture. But it is no one thing, and no one thing for everyone at all times. It is the belief, therefore, that there is no God, nor any possibility of God. It is a sign of the times of which Scripture prophesied—when men endure no sound doctrine, turn away their ears from truth, and watch for reality on TV.
Sound like one of those Indian Ocean tsunamis—very far away? Or that maybe this has hit Athens, but never will hit Jerusalem? I wonder. I wonder why, if it is so far away, we are not reading and studying the Bible more. I wonder, then, why our Bible Studies must be every other week, and even then, compete with Tuesday-night basketball games. And lose. I wonder if our being so swept up in the current of this world, busy in this and that, and too busy to stop and think, is because our faith and delight in the Rock of Truth is weak, even going under, drowning. I wonder if collectively we left off thinking and developing theologically when a certain theologian who preached an unconditional covenant was taken to glory according to the very unconditional promises he preached. I wonder if our thinking stopped for us personally whenever we got our newest boat. I wonder why talking shop and sports and sales is so much easier in narthexes, on cell phones, and in school halls than talking truth? And why is so often our theological talk in order to debate, and not to delight together in the deep things of God and grace, and not to learn, even, sometimes, from those with whom we disagree?
Is not all of this a practical postmodern relativism? Worldlings say “no truth!” We betray, by our lack of love of the truth, by our dusty Bibles, canned prayers, and heartless and sometimes ruthless defenses of the faith…that somehow or other the truth and we are not relating. Or Truth moves me less than I systematize or manipulate it. Or Truth is second or third cousin. No Brother. No Friend. No Way. No Life. And I am no priest of It. No Prophet of It. No reveler in It. Though I confess It is still King.
Another threat Ryken notes is narcissism. This is the love of one’s self and the love, therefore, of pleasing one’s self. The word is coined from the story of a fellow (Narcissus) who fell in love with himself. He used to contemplate and admire his image, so the myth goes, as he stared into a pool of water. That was all he did. And he ended up dying there by the pool. Pining away. In love with his lover. Himself. Dead.
Now an early warning of this tsunami has been given in God’s Word telling us that in the last days men shall be lovers of their own selves, and of pleasures, more than lovers of God. The question that needs putting is: is this wave, too, fast approaching us? Or has it already swept us out to Great America?
Seems to me the ground is wet everywhere, and even in the highlands of the country of the Reformed, with the waters, the tsunami waters, of this inordinate self-love, and this pleasure-seeking.
How else to explain why our skirts and blouses and bikinis may not reveal Victoria’s secret, but certainly suggest ours? And why is fasting as rare among us as an untidy Dutchman, a bloodless Italian, or an infralapsarian? And what else explains why the chief part of many thanks is contributing to the Christian schools or paying the budget? And prayer, the real chief part of all thanks is a lick and a prayer, the-same-words-at-the-dinner-table-every-night, and no sweating blood, nor real communion with and wrestling with and joy in…God? And gracious home-body godliness. Holy time alone with God and His Word devotion. On the job devotion. True love for all the saints. Ardent passion for even the pink-haired lost. Has virtue and life of this sort, grace virtue and grace life itself, been washed out to sea by the What’s-In-It-For-Me-Because-I-Love-Me Wave?
And you, young Grace Life reader—what do you look like? What will you look like when you arrive on the other side of adolescence into adulthood, or after you have been twenty-something for fifteen years? What can be, what shall be seen of you? This?
Look at those scars!
Snowmobile limp there.
Evident ability to relate to a ball, more than to self and to other persons.
Glazed hangover eyes.
Dateless and depressed.
Dated and still dating after all these years,
Looking more and more like the rider
On Man’s merry-go-round divorcee-making machine.
Behold this man, this woman!
Look at those scars! Deep, jagged, all over!
Stigmata, for sure—marks of the cross they have borne and are bearing!
True Church men and women—of today and tomorrow!
Godly! Down on their knees.
Theology to the toes, and down to their Friday nights.
Decidedly Christian, Truthful, self-denying, giving and growing believers
Glad Grace Lifers—living the life for Christ their Savior and Lord!
Not sure about you Grace Life readers, but these waves of the sin sort are certainly lapping at my shore. And yes, I will confess, I have been taken for some rather unpleasant rides whenever the relativism or the narcissism or whateverism wave has gotten the better of me…. And I bear scars, all over, and to my shame, of sin’s deadly waves.
God forgive this sin-tsunami rider! And you forgive me too, won’t you?
Here, however, is what I have found, and what I would share with all of you.
It is the grace waves. It is the salvation and blessedness of God in Jesus Christ. It is the experience of that salvation. It is the reflection upon this salvation, and the holding on to the truth of this salvation even when the sin waves come, or though we have been, even for a long time, at sea. It is the godly believing defiance of the waves of evil. It is being swept by grace onto the Rock that is higher than I, and higher than the greatest devil tsunamis can reach. And then riding those grace waves in a life of joy and godliness pleasing God!
Salvation comes to us that way, you know—by waves, grace ones. The inspired John speaks of this when he writes in John 1:16 that of the fullness of Jesus Christ have all we received, and “grace for grace.”
Think of that, will you?
Jesus, John has been saying, is the only begotten Son of the Father—very God, the Word of God with God and God Himself. In Jesus dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9).
And we have received, it is written, of just that fullness—of the fullness of God! This means we have received God! This means that God is now with us and we with Him, and there is joy and peace in communion with Him!
This all, because this same Son, Jesus, is Mediator. He is Savior. He is the only begotten and eternal Son who “dwells among us” in human flesh. As God in flesh, He dies on the cross for our sins. He is risen for our justification. He is at the right hand of the Father. And He pours out His Spirit. So that of the fullness of His own salvation, of the treasury of His own merit, of His righteousness, wisdom, holiness, and love, have all we received who believe on Him!
So God, and all the blessings of the salvation in Jesus, have all we received!
This way: and grace for grace!
Now this means by grace, and by grace fully in this new dispensation.
For the law was given by Moses. But grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (v.17). Not to say there was no grace and truth in Old Testament times. There was indeed! But grace only now in the fullness of the time, in the coming of the Son, in the fulfillment of the promises, in the pouring out of the Spirit…as a tidal wave!
Yes indeed, grace lapped on Israel’s shore. God revealed Himself to Moses on Mt. Hebron as the Lord God merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth (Ex. 34:6).
But now…overwhelming, inundating, poured-out-Spirit-of the risen Son, full revelation, Church-temple-making grace! And rushing grace. Rushing. Rushing into all the world, in all the places, high and low, in all the nations, and rushing to fill hearts—the free and beautiful grace of the salvation and abundant blessings and life of the Christ of God!
Grace, other-side-of-Calvary, new covenant grace!
And, of course, we know why. Wherever there are tsunamis, think “earthquake.” Same thing with tsunamis of the spiritual kind. The devil shook the earth with his first murderous lie. But now there has been another shaking. And from this the grace waves come.
You know this shaking, don’t you? It was prophesied long ago by Haggai. He spoke of a spectacular earth-nation-quake. He said this would occur when the desire of all nations would come (2:6, 7). Well, this desire is ours, Jesus! And His coming was when the world was shaken!
Oh yes! God in the fullness of the time stepped into time with His own divine foot! And ever since, that time and that earth into which He stepped has been set a shaking, and still is!
Epicenter, Bethlehem! Lie and status quo and citadels of men forever displaced and dislodged and set-a-tottering to doom. Waves of grace and truth set-a-going out, out, and ever out in enlarging circles and divine miles per hour—all by Christ’s coming. Grace wherever the Savior steps and in His miracles and grace words. Grace where He hangs. Grace killing death. Grace emptying a tomb. Grace now from the Commander of heaven. Grace flowing to nations through the proclamation of grace….
To you, dear Grace Life reader. And why, the reason why grace is to you sinner is only the grace itself. God had determined grace for you. And there you are in your resort. Or on your high ground or swimming with the best of the sinners, rather laughing with them, than crying with saints…and swoosh! No warning. And no possibility of resistance. There the waves are. And before you know it you and your life are visited and overwhelmed. You receive God. You believe God. You trust God. You know forgiveness, and peace and joy in the life from above. And you live by this wave grace—grace life.
More. When you sin now, young and youthful friends, the grace still comes. I really wanted to say this. I need to hear this. I thought you might too. Grace is for once. Grace is forever. And grace is for day by day. That, I believe, is in “grace for grace.”
There you are, on your shore. There I am on mine. The grace has come. The living is lovely. But something happens. We sin maybe. Even in our attempts to be godly young men dreaming godly dreams, we still wish they all could be California girls. Our spirituality is only a memory of the night we confessed our faith. Or we find ourselves with some sort of disease, some limit to what we thought was never ending youthful strength and vigor. Or God puts a wall in front of our path and our plans. And we hurt, our faith falters. Has God forgotten to be kind? We say. And those other waves start looking more and more good for surfing, or fishing, or swimming….
But then, all of a sudden you wake up one morning. And there is grace again. Or maybe it was there all along. You just didn’t see it, or received and appreciated it less than your stuff and your pleasures. But God did not let you go.
Nor will He. He will find you out. With grace. With grace favor, grace beauty, grace power. Grace! Sent from the epicenter, from the Lord coming once, and coming history-long, and coming again. Reaching you, and reaching me, and reaching fellow sinners. Day after day. Trial after trial. Struggle after struggle. Grace on our naturally barren shores. Grace smashing our own Self-fortresses, and our resorting-to-man resorts.
Grace to you. From God our Father. And from Jesus Christ the Lord. Through the working of the Holy Spirit.
And grace…wave upon wave of grace!
Believe it. Show they have come to you, and that you are no longer empty, but full of Christ, and full, like Him, and like sons and daughters of God in His image, of grace and truth! Tell the world that grace waves are the day by day lovely waters of your life—even the waters which take you out to work and to play, which are the waters of your relationships, and which take you home to rest.
Waves of waters that are sweet to drink. And our joy to ride.
Drink. Ride. And be gloriously…happy!