By His Grace
I will be traveling to West Virginia for less than 48 hours this week to speak to the teens from our student ministry, along with Knox Presbyterian from Kenmore New York and Hudson (Ohio) Presbyterian as they serve in the Charleston Area. By now, I think that most everyone has seen the devastation that has occurred in that region with rains and flooding that are now being heralded as a “once in 500 year” event. These 36 teens and adults were slated to do a variety of projects with our partner ministry Union Mission (www.wefeedpeople.com). But God had other plans. Before time was set into motion, God knew our teens would be headed to serve Charleston before the first drop of rain fell there. But how will they know what to do? As I watched the scenes of devastation on the news, I talked with my mom who is from that area, and she was crying. It was hard to see the place she loves the most in such devastation. For her, as for many of us, the thought of losing everything you’ve known is quite overwhelming. In fact, it is more than we can comprehend. How can this be a part of God’s plan? How can all this suffering, sorrow and fear contribute to the goodness that God promises us and the redemption that Jesus Christ came to bring? How can this be a part of the grace God promises us?
Paul understood difficulty and suffering in his life. He forsook his prominence as the “Pharisee of the Pharisees” status for something far less grandiose by cultural standards. Others saw a man who was shipwrecked, dishonored, beaten, scorned and eventually imprisoned. Beyond all of that, Paul had a thorn in his flesh, a physical ailment that he suffered. Some people thought it to be epilepsy, others blindness. No one honestly knows what Paul suffered. We just know that he truly suffered over a period of time. Three times he begged God to heal him but God did not take away his ailment. The use of the number three likely meant it was a relentless or encompassing part of Paul’s life that he wanted release from this “thorn”.
People who knew Paul would probably say to themselves, “poor guy! Look how messed up that stuff has made his life! What a shame!”. But Paul had a different take on it. He stated in in 2nd Corinthians 12:19, it says: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
The most powerful backdrop for God’s grace to be poured out and evident in Paul’s life was against the blackness and contrast of abject suffering. This world is broken by sin and it touches every part of our lives. From the flooding in West Virginia to the Relay for Life where we battle with loved ones to find an end to cancer. God’s grace shows through the brightest when it is generously poured out to wash over the hurt and suffering that seem swallow our world at times. We appreciate God’s grace and find our solace within it completely when it is all that we have to hold on to in our lives.
That is exactly what Paul is describing in 2nd Corinthians to us. God’s grace is so abundant, so powerful and so fulfilling that it overcomes everything our world can throw at us. It can and will even overcome sin and death. In the end, God’s grace will overcome every terrible and painful reality that we know experience. But let’s remember today before we worry about tomorrow. God’s grace is sufficient for whatever we shall face.
It is sufficient when we face hurt and loss. It is sufficient as our church continues to change and grow toward God’s future plans. God’s grace is sufficient when we feel overwhelmed, burned-out and completely beyond our capacities. God’s grace can move us beyond sins that seem to bog us down time and time again. We can grow in our faith and we can heal in our relationships. We can find God’s way forward in our churches, our families, our selves. And that happens when we believe that God’s grace is all that we need.
That is my prayer this week for our teens and leaders, as they serve well outside many of our comfort zones, loving and praying with those who have literally lost every earthly possession. For them to rest and to lead others to rest in the all-sufficient grace of God. In this, both their lives and the lives of those they are serving will be transformed. They will be drawn in to God’s presence as they let go of what they have lost, and exchange it for all that God freely gives to them as they are found in the amazing grace of the Son of God. In fact that’s my prayer for our lives and our families, and for our church as we seek God’s plans and purposes together. May God’s ever-sufficient grace be evident against the backdrop of our own weakness!
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