This devotional today is the third of four written by Bill Kesecker for this Christmas season …
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” –Ephesians 3:16-21 (New International Version)
Well, the plans for going to the Grand Canyon are taking shape. A reservation is in. Fees have been paid. No guarantees that I’ll be accepted for the trip, but I’m moving ahead! God willing, I’m going down deep into the Grand Canyon!
Last summer I broke my left kneecap, after a very aggressive and tough fought round of miniature golf with two other fierce competitors. How in the world do you break your kneecap playing miniature golf?! You wouldn’t even make that up! It felt embarrassing to explain! On my next to the last visit, after the doctor had finished looking at the X-rays, I told him about my plans and asked, “Will I be able still to go to the Grand Canyon, and hike in and out?” His words were polite; his look told more, like, “You’re OLD, you’re CRAZY.” His eyes spoke expressively and LOUDLY! But, his voice replied, “Yes, you should be able to do this.” Then, he said something to the effect, “But, did you know there are 3000’ drop offs?” I don’t know exactly why he threw that in. I mean as long as I am not what is “dropping off” it shouldn’t really matter, should it?
But we’re talking about “deep,” aren’t we? To grasp the depths of God’s love in Christ? To dive in the experience a wonder, Yes? Paul is praying for us to have power to grasp the depth of the love of Christ. The love of Christ has a wide embrace of all kinds of people, and the love of Christ is as long as eternity to be expressed and experienced by his beloved. The late John Stott suggested that the depth of the love of Christ would reach the most degraded sinner. Paul would have understood that. He had been a religious fanatic and a great sinner in the words of Don Samdahl (1 Corinthians 15:9; 1 Timothy 1:12-17), but the apostle did not revel in his degradation, but rather in the grace and calling that God placed on his life to serve him in the love of Christ, in which he did revel.
John Newton was a “degraded sinner.” Newton, born to a Puritan mother, was a former slave trader and author of “Amazing Grace.” An article in Christianity Today states, “Newton had been reading Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ, and was struck by a line about the “uncertain continuance of life.” He also recalled the passage in Proverbs, “Because I have called and ye have refused, … I also will laugh at your calamity.” He converted during [a] storm, though he admitted later, “I cannot consider myself to have been a believer, in the full sense of the word.”
Nevertheless, Newton’s faith in Christ grew. He led Bible studies in his Liverpool home after he left the sea in 1755, was ordained in the Anglican ministry, and took a parish in Olney, Buckinghamshire, England in 1764. At the Olney parish Newton partnered with William Cowper who together collected three volumes that became known as the Olney Hymns. “The Hidden Life” demonstrates Newton’s growth as the grace of God sought him, filled him, and enveloped him in the love of Christ.
To tell the Saviour all my wants, / How pleasing is the task!
Nor less to praise him when he grants / Beyond what I can ask.
My lab’ring spirit vainly seeks / To tell but half the joy;
With how much tenderness he speaks, / And helps me to reply.
Now were it wise, nor should I choose, / Such secrets to declare;
Like precious wines, their taste they lose, / Expos’d to open air.
But this, with boldness, I proclaim, / Nor care if thousands hear,
Sweet is the ointment of his name, / Not life is half so dear.
And can you frown, my former friends, / Who know what once I was,
And blame the song that thus commends / The Man who bore the cross?
Trust me, I draw the likeness true, / And not as fancy paints;
Such honour may he give to you, / For such have all his saints.
–“The Hidden Life,” by John Newton
“In 1787 Newton wrote Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade to help William Wilberforce’s campaign to end the practice—‘a business at which my heart now shudders,’ he wrote. Recollection of that chapter in his life never left him, and in his old age, when it was suggested that the increasingly feeble Newton retire, he replied, ‘I cannot stop. What? Shall the old African blasphemer stop while he can speak (Christianity Today)?’”
John Newton knew who he was in himself. But, John learned who he was becoming in the love of Christ. It was not an easy journey. It was not a clean journey of steady upward progress. Christ doesn’t change a man as a programmer writes a code. The walk with Christ in his love covers rough terrain with often slow and laborious progress. We are sinners indeed, but we also hear the winsome call of Jesus, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV).
I am coming to see the Holy Spirit in messy lives. Mine for one! Yes, all of us! I see Him working, empowering, rooting, establishing, making sense out of a love that escapes words, that knocks the air out of me and brings me to my knees. I see Him more in a friend of mine. I am a fixer, a compulsive, fallible, foolish fixer. It’s so hard to stop! But I must. Being God isn’t my job in life! Needing Jesus, though, is and must be my air and heartbeat.
I hurt my friend with all my “fixing” advice. But I still see the Holy Spirit in him. When you see love and patience during crushing trial and searing disappointment, and painful frustration, you know God is present. I need to be reverent and see and often be silent. I need to weep and mourn when he does. To laugh and take joy when he does. To think about and mull over the uncertainties when he does. To pray for Light and Truth when we both need a love beyond what we have. I need the love of Christ because he does. So,
Amidst the roaring of the sea, / My soul still hangs her hope on thee,
Thy constant love, thy faithful care, / Is all that saves me from despair.
–“Temptation,” by William Cowper
“Dear Father of the Christ Jesus of Christmas, the depths of your love plunge deeper than our need. You are there, though sometimes we are not certain. I look inward too far at the emotions that seem far unlike your Son, and outward too much at the waves and turmoil of doubt and uncertainty. Please send your Spirit to sound Jesus’ Name to me, to salve me with Jesus’ love and grace. Empower me to grasp who I am in truth and by grace. By faith I praise you that I am not what I was, and I trust you for what you are creating me to be through your Son Jesus. I pray in His name, Amen.”