Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Observations from the Ledo Deck

Last week my wife and I had the incredible privilege of joining my family on a cruise to Mexico for our summer vacation. After a busy semester in seminary and church work for me and an equally busy semester of teaching and ministering for my wife, this vacation could not have come at a better time for the two of us. Somewhere between the plane ride home and being given my room key on board the massive vessel I found myself in awe of the incredible grace of God which had bestowed this break that I did not deserve. However, my euphoria grew into disappointment when I noticed that my grateful expression was not replicated on the faces of the strangers that boarded nearby.

The beautiful thing about cruises is that for an extended period of days, you get to escape the world (quite literally) and trade your normal routine for an exciting time of pampering, entertainment, fun, and food. Some escape in the sun, others escape in a bottle of cheap beer, others escape somewhere in the buffet line, and still other escape in the pages of the latest romance novel. For all onboard, the cruise offers an escape from a world of pain, economic depression, political turmoil, and personal stress to a world of sun, sorbet, sand, and shows.

Sadly, for many this escape is short-lived after the ship has docked and reality takes over once the luggage is returned and the drive home is complete. Many return to their routine believing that what they have just experienced is all they could ever hope to enjoy. Now they must return to the cruel world they temporarily forgot.

God? Sure….yeah right! How could God allow all of this stress and heartache? Why would a good God allow me to experience what I believe is happiness only one week out of the year in the summer? If there is a God, why does my life look like something out of the Titanic and not more like the Love Boat?

Interestingly enough, the answer is grace. Yes, grace!

Although most often used in discussions surrounding the salvation of the sinner, grace permeates the world at all times and in all places in a more general kind of way. Grace explains the sunlight, adequate temperatures, breathable atmosphere, and livable topography. Grace is to blame for the beautiful sunsets, seasonal fluctuations, provision of food, and ability to work and receive the fruits of that labor. Grace is the reason a family protects their child, strangers go to the aid of other strangers, and children share. Grace is God’s way of holding a fallen world together.   

Romans 1 calls this grace the “invisible attributes” and “eternal power” of God that is “clearly seen” and “understood through what has been made” (Rom. 1:20). Experienced by all, this grace goes unrecognized by the majority in those currently populating the world. Instead, what does go noticed is the pain and agony of countless children starving in Africa and the power outages that go on for days following a rare windstorm. However, don’t these disasters actually prove the grace of God in an indirect way?

Does not the anger over a starving child support the notion that children should not starve and remind many that their own child has plenty of food? Does not the frustration over power outages prove that power is a luxury that many take for granted and yet desperately depend on? More often than not, men and women in the developed country of America enjoy power, and do not see huge populations of starving children. More often than not, men and women live in the common grace of God’s provision, enjoying His gifts without even realizing it. However, when this grace is interrupted for a brief second due to a rare windstorm, people are quick to voice their disapproval of any notion that a God could ever exist.

Ultimately, the same grace that believers appreciate everyday is the grace that nonbelievers curse when it is interrupted. It is the reason why I acknowledge that my vacation is a gift from a God who gives every good thing (James 1:17), while others riding the vessel complain when their perfect vacation is interrupted by a rainstorm or sunburn. Grace is the reason believers give thanks in everything and the reason the unbelievers snarl when things get out of whack. The very fact that people complain when things go wrong suggests that there is a correct way to behave and live (a norm that is enjoyed because of the grace of God). 

In the same way light is more easily distinguished in the darkness, grace is evident and even proven in an ungracious world. Rather than marvel at the unrest and destruction people see, everyone should marvel at the common grace that more often than not holds the world together and keeps it from ripping itself apart completely.  

Just as a ship journeys from port-to-port people in life journey from stage-to-stage either toward or away from a loving relationship with God. Either they fascinate themselves with the world’s problems and blame God until they meet Him in judgment or they recognize the grace of God and enter into a relationship with Him that prevails for all eternity. In the former situation, God inevitably hands individuals over to their sins and allows them to experience the full effects of their binge drinking, gambling habit, destructive tendencies, etc. (Rom. 1:24-25). In the latter, God extends His special saving grace and leads individuals to true paradise (Acts 16:31). Where are you headed? What is your next port of call?

If the greatest possible experience for an unbeliever to enjoy is an extended vacation and temporary escape from their routine, Heaven represents the greatest possible experience for a believer to enjoy. Heaven is greater than any cruise. It is all inclusive, perfect, and eternal. Even more than that, it is freely offered through Jesus Christ!

Choose today to escape in the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. Don’t settle for what is common.