Living the Wonder: The Breathtaking Destiny of Christ’s Love

(Randy writing)  This final of four Christmas devotionals is by our dear church friend Bill Kesecker. We thank him for these deep insights upon Scripture that dig into our souls. It is such a blessing for a church to have such wonderful servants as Bill — a guy who would be your top draft pick on your Bible trivia team, but who also humbly serves well with children and teens. Do thank him when you see him.

“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)

You probably noticed that I switched “deep” with “high.”  I have followed John Stott’s reflections on what these four words mean in the context of Paul’s prayer, or considered whether they simply express the sweeping vastness of the love of Christ by building noun upon noun.  I think both are true; either/or just doesn’t really account for the big Gospel that Paul sees in Jesus Christ.  I think that Stott saw the flow of deep and high fitting his reasoning and sensibilities, for, if the love of Christ reaches the depths for a degraded sinner, so also the love of Christ exalts to the heights that sinner who is declared righteous in Jesus and who will be glorified for all eternity.  Well, let’s dive once more into the wonder of the love of Christ.

That’s an interesting word, glorify!  Glorification is “the final step in the application of redemption” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology:  An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, p. 829).  What’s particularly interesting is the grammar of Romans 8:29-30:  “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”  Every one of the verbs bolded is in the aorist, or past, tense in the Greek New Testament.  But clearly, if “glorified” is the FINAL step in the application of redemption, is it not yet future?  And, the answer is “Yes.”  So, how can Paul speak of a future event as past completed?!  Paul did not fail Greek class.  He knew what he was asserting.

Paul was affirming to the believers at Rome and to us that the salvation we have in Jesus Christ rests on God’s plan and work, not ours.  God can guarantee that the work that he has accomplished in Jesus could be completed, would be completed, was completed, has been completed, and will be completed.  Paul can speak of that work of salvation in us who trust in Jesus as totally completed.  Salvation rests one hundred percent on the finished, sufficient, and accomplished work of Jesus Christ!  God does go deep to find a sinner and will go high to exalt him to his very presence now and forever.

I would like to make an observation here about sinners.  I know that I have referred to the degraded sinner in these devotions.  I want to take care to note that the Gospel of Jesus puts me in every list of sins in the Bible.  It doesn’t make any difference what your or my perceptions may be about how good I am.  Bill Kesecker is not good enough to be accepted by God as righteous.  My hope is in Jesus Christ alone.  My heavenly welcome will be the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ whom I trust as my Savior and only Righteousness.  If you are measuring your life by me or by some other man or woman, STOP IT!  The comparison is empty, futile, and worthless.  Find your hope in Jesus Christ!  And, he’s looking for you right now, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10 NIV).

Frederick M. Lehman penned “The Love of God” in 1917, capturing something of Paul’s vision of the love of Christ Jesus.

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell.
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled
And pardoned from his sin.

O love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong!

It shall forevermore endure—The saints’ and angels’ song.

Let me give William Cowper one more word.  Scriptures tell us, “It is written:  ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4 NIV).  In his terrible struggles in life, Cowper learned the fragility and unfaithfulness of human needs, senses, and emotions.  Hear his advice:

God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform; he plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines, of never-failing skill; he fashions up his bright designs, and works his sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints fresh courage take, the clouds that you much dread, are big with mercy and will break in blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace; behind a frowning providence, he hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour; the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan his work in vain; God is his own interpreter, and he will make it plain.

–“God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” by William Cowper

Well, Friends, we’re on a journey if we are following Jesus.  It’s long, sometimes hard.  We need prayer, and this week we have looked at one of the most extraordinary prayers ever:  “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.”

Remarkable!

“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.”

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Living the Wonder: The Deep Dive of Christ’s Love

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.”

Living the Wonder: The Grace Base of Christ’s Love

This devotional today is the second of four written by Bill Kesecker…

“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)

Paul’s vision of the love of Christ is massive, compared to that of which we are accustomed.  I mean he prays that God will strengthen believers with power through God’s Spirit so that Christ may dwell in believers by faith.  He prays that we may grow and be founded in love and have enough power even to grasp the nature of the love of Christ and to know his love that surpasses the accumulation of knowledge that would help us to see its shape and dimensions.  Paul doesn’t want us to “think” it, but to know intimately and personally the love of Christ and be filled full forever with Jesus and his love!

Jesus showed his disciples and the Syro-Phoenician woman that love was wide enough to bring Jew and Gentile together as one people under the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus.  John’s Gospel gives us one of, if not, the best definition of God’s love when he declares, “For God loved the world in this way:  he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (3:16, modified to reflect the Greek text).  John doesn’t present the love of God in terms of emotion, but of action: “he gave his one and only Son.”  This kind of love surpasses knowledge.  It is something more that what you think or reason about.  We can massively mount up vocabulary and polysyllables to capture the essence.  But, bottom line, God gave his Son for sinners.  You and me kind of sinners.  Nice ones, polite ones, likeable ones, pretty ones, lying ones, profane ones, multiple offender ones, hypocrite ones, religious ones, pagan ones, pious ones, humble ones, disturbed ones.  The list of descriptors could never end!  And God loves us in Jesus.  And we don’t even get any credit for being appealing enough to capture his attention.

“He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.  This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:9-10 NIV).

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV).

If the love of Christ is wide enough to embrace Jew and Gentile and make them one holy people, fellow citizens, and members of his household (Ephesians 2:14-22 NIV), the Gospel of Jesus declares the love of Christ long enough to reach back into eternity past to purpose to treat us graciously and to stretch out completely for all eternity present and future to fill us to the measure of all the fullness of God.

William Cowper (pronounced “Cooper”), a contemporary of John Newton of “Amazing Grace” fame, would have despaired of those words, however, being consumed with paralyzing bouts of depression throughout his lifetime.  Reflecting on Isaiah 57:15, Cowper penned,

The Lord will happiness divine / On contrite hearts bestow;

Then tell me, gracious God, is mine / A contrite heart or no?

I hear, but seem to hear in vain, / Insensible as steel;

If aught is felt, ’tis only pain, / To find I cannot feel.

I sometimes think myself inclined / To love Thee if I could;

But often feel another mind, / Averse to all that’s good.

My best desires are faint and few, / I fain would strive for more;

But when I cry, “My strength renew!” / Seem weaker than before.

–“The Contrite Heart”

Cowper’s despair derived from the mountainous burden to generate such a love and to silence the loud fears of enough.  Is my heart contrite enough?  Is my spirit lowly enough?  How can we factor such intangibles that even the Lord will not lay on his sons and daughters?

Not all of us despair, however, but we may just back off a few or more steps from Christ, when we think of such love as a commitment we should, or must, or have to keep.  But, is Paul’s love of Christ the effort of a super Christian?  How in the world can I love with an eternity-spanning love that has only once been seen manifested in the whole of human history, and that in Jesus Christ himself?  Where do I, by myself, come up with that mammoth perfection of loving actions, every time, every moment, every day, all my life?  I’m exhausted!  Flat out exhausted by the thought!

“Give me some help, Paul!  Come on!  Are they just words, Paul?!  Just beautiful, calligraphic words with scrolls and flourishes, beautiful to behold; death-giving to attempt!”

“Wait, Bill!  Look at Ephesians again!  ‘For this reason I kneel’ (3:1, thought interrupted and picked up again at 3:14a NIV).”

“Bill, relax, rest in Jesus, son!  Ask, ask gently and humbly, ask in faith, ask your Father, knowing he loves that prayer for you, even ask for the strength and will to ask, and ask again!  God didn’t save you because you had potential to live the Christian life all by yourself.  Remember?  “While. . .still sinners. . . .”

“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 (Ephesians 3:16-17a NIV, emphasis added).

I believe Mary, mother of Jesus, gives us a sense of the balance here:  not my intense exertion, Lord, but “I am the Lord’s servant. . . .  May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38 NIV).

“Dear Father, for your mercy and forgiveness I come by faith in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.  You see, Lord, how I fall short of the love of your Son Jesus in my actions and thoughts and words and attitudes.  I am not worthy of your love, and I fail to live out the  love of Christ.  I don’t even know how to try sometimes.  And at other times I don’t even want to try.  But, Lord God, I trust you!  I bow my knees to you like Paul did.  I ask you to supply what I don’t have and can never give.  I offer myself to you.  I love you, though I feel ashamed to say it.  I love you by faith, Father.  May you make true in me what you are as my Father.  By your Son’s intercession and your Spirit’s power may Christ’s life and love dwell in me now and forevermore.  In Jesus’ name, I come to you.  Amen.”

Living the Wonder: The Broad Embrace of Christ’s Love

This devotional today and for the next three days are especially given for us by our dear TSF friend Bill Kesecker.

“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)

I’m making plans to go to the Grand Canyon in 2019.  The Canyon is a chasm 277 miles long and 18 miles wide.  Its depth plunges over a mile (6,000 feet), and the Grand Canyon is home to 70 species of mammals, 250 species of birds, 25 types of reptiles (Oh, my!), and 5 species of amphibians (not really planning to meet any of these “friendly” critters!).  The stats are impressive, but kind of meaningless!  I mean, we’re talking numbers!  But, that’s NOT the Grand Canyon.

Just a view of some of the photographs I’ve seen is the breathtaking story (just the way a friend described to me when she and her husband saw the Grand Canyon for the first time on their tenth wedding anniversary!).  The vast, stretching, plunging vistas, the gorgeous red-bronze rock faces bathed in the setting sun, the golden river slicing its way through mountains of rock, lighting strikes piercing the atmosphere over and into the Canyon, and millions of sparkling, starry globes piercing the black velvet sky.  That’s the Grand Canyon.  That’s what I want to see!  That’s what moves me to adventure.  I can stay home to peruse statistics.  However, I must dive in to experience a wonder!

In his letter to the Ephesians the apostle Paul is on his knees, begging God to equip the young Christians at Ephesus to dive in to experience the most miraculous, multi-dimensional wonders the world has ever known!  Paul pleads with him that they may know the love of Christ!  Not know about it!  Not facts, not statistics, not theological statements and definitions, not creeds and catechisms!

Know the love of Christ!  Better, know the Christ who loves!  Know the man, know what He said, know how he said it, know his rebukes to the proud and religious, know his tender pursuit of the scorned and the unrighteous who knew full well they didn’t belong, had never belonged, and couldn’t even figure out how to belong to anyone like this man.

Mark’s Gospel tells a great story of a conversation Jesus had that, frankly, he didn’t want to have.  He was in the area of Tyre, just outside where the Jews lived.  Jesus was tired, desperately tired.  He didn’t want one more conversation, not one more request, nothing but silence, prayer, sleep.  But here she comes!  A woman rushes in.  Greek-speaking.  Born in Syrian Phoenicia.  A woman.

She pushes into the room and falls onto her knees before him.  She blurts out her plea as only a desperate mother could, begging Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.  The woman had heard of what Jesus was doing in the region.  She had heard countless stories.  Her passion grew with each as his fame spread, “Jesus, please, I beg you, help us, Jesus!”

“First let the children eat all they want.”  Probably a common saying known to all in the countryside, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”  His eyes fixed on her, staring intently.  Looking for a twitch, a wince, a flash of anger, some kind of response.  How had she taken his words?  What opinion of her did he hold?  Silent, Jesus watched and waited.

“Lord,” she said in even, measured, determined, sustained tones, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  The woman was not prepared to go anywhere until Jesus heard her plea.

The parable showed that Jesus’ mission was first to the covenant people of God, the Jews.  The woman had no place in that assembly.  She was a Gentile, she didn’t belong, she couldn’t make herself belong.  But her daughter needed a miracle, she had to have a word from Jesus.  There was no other place to go.  None whatsoever.  And still on her knees, she wondered, “Was he Lord of the Jews only?  Or could the unworthy, unprepared, irreligious partake of the crumbs tumbling from the table of those feasting?”

The silence screamed like a horrifying storm for what seemed forever.

Was that a twitch at the corners of his mouth?  Was a knowing smile breaking on his lips?  No, not sure?  “For such a reply, you may go.”

“No, Lord, please, don’t send me away, please, No. . .,” trembling, she thought.

“The demon has left your daughter.”

She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon had gone (see Mark 7:24-30 NIV).

Is this the love that Paul knew and wanted these young Gentile believers to know, too?  Is this what he wanted them to grasp, to take hold of, and to cling to for dear life?  How wide, and long, and high, and deep is the love of Christ?  He wanted them to know it so fervently that he was on his knees begging God to root them in this love as seeds sprouting deep into the soil, not letting go, reaching downward and outward, and possessing and owning the ground that fed them and growing more and more fruitful in that exhaustless love.  As a foundation, level, firm, stable, and sturdy that will take the full weight and expanse of a magnificent structure of glorious and enduring purpose that will not ever fail to fulfill its mission.  Christians, come on; dive in to experience a wonder!

Merry Christmas, dear ones!  We celebrate today the coming of Jesus, the love of God on display!  “O, Come, let us adore Him!”

“Dear Father, please answer Paul’s ancient prayer for us today, that we will not only grasp, but be possessed by the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge, but not grace!  Grant that we may know Jesus today and experience his love forevermore and be granted the grace to give His love to others, without distinction in full measure.  In the name of your Son Jesus, Amen.”