Worrying, Wondering and Wandering – by Greg Albrecht
Friend and Partner Letter from April 2016
Not all those who wander are lost. – J.R.R. Tolkien (of “Lord of the Rings” fame)
There’s a scene in Stephen Spielberg’s movie Saving Private Ryan that I’ll never forget. During World War 2, a squadron of soldiers was sent to find and “save” Private Ryan. Their efforts were successful, but only at great cost. Some of the soldiers gave their lives to “save” Private Ryan. In fact, the best efforts of the Captain resulted in his fatal wound during a skirmish. As the Captain died in Private Ryan’s arms he whispered in Ryan’s ear, “earn this.”
The end of the movie fast forwards many years beyond World War 2, depicting now senior citizen Private Ryan taking a pilgrimage back to the battlefields and cemeteries of Europe accompanied by his wife, grown children and grandchildren. He visits the grave of his Captain, and now, the aging Private Ryan, conscious of his own fragile hold on life, remembers those words “earn this” as he kneels and “talks” to his Captain:
“Not a day goes by I don’t think about what happened… and I just want you to know…I’ve tried. I hope that’s enough. I didn’t ever invent anything. I didn’t cure any diseases. I worked on a farm. I raised a family. I lived a life. I only hope, in your eyes at least, I earned what you did for me.” (In case you remember me telling this same story somewhere else, this illustration is part of the conclusion of my book, A Taste of Grace).
When we take stock of our lives, following the admonition of Paul to examine ourselves to see whether you are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5), sometimes we imagine the “final judgment” when God seems to be holding the scales of justice. On one side of the scale, we envision all of the good deeds we have ever done, while all of our sins weigh down the other side of the scale. We worry and wonder. After all is said and done, have we made progress? Have we earned God’s approval? Do our victories outnumber our defeats? We get out our spiritual scales and rulers and calculators. We add and subtract and we hope that God will judge our final result as positive.
We are always and forever, because we are human, worrying and wondering about our wanderings. We take stock of where we are going and where we have been. Sins of the past haunt us. Did we spend too much time looking for love, satisfaction and meaning in all the wrong places? We worry and wonder about our wanderings, meanderings and philanderings. As time goes by, we wonder whether we have made sufficient progress to earn God’s love:
“Am I making progress? If I am really honest, it seems to me that the question is odd, even a little ridiculous. As I get older and death draws nearer, it doesn’t seem to get any easier. I get a little more impatient, a little more anxious about perhaps having missed what life has to offer, a little slower, harder to move, a little more sedentary and set in my ways… I am too heavy, the doctors tell me, but it is so hard to lose weight! Am I making progress?
Well, maybe it seems as though I sin less, but that may only be because I’m getting tired! It’s just too hard to keep indulging the lusts of youth. Is that sanctification? I wouldn’t think so! One should not, I expect, mistake encroaching senility for sanctification!
But can it be, perhaps, that it is precisely the unconditional gift of grace that helps me see and admit all of that? I hope so. The grace of God should lead us to see the truth about ourselves, and to gain a certain lucidity, a certain humor, a certain down-to-earth-ness. When we come to realize that if we are going to be saved, it shall have to be absolutely by grace alone, then we shall be sanctified. God will have his way with us at last.” – Gerhard Forde, “Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification”
As we ponder the death and resurrection of Jesus, the events surrounding Easter can inspire deep reflection and celebratory thanksgiving for the gracious invitation we have all received – to die in and with Christ that he may live in us. The twin towers of 1) the cross of Christ, along with 2) his triumphant resurrection stand forever enshrined as the proof of God’s limitless love and our sure hope of eternity beyond our own grave.
The cross of Christ stands eternally as the symbol of the love and grace of God, when Jesus willingly accepted, absorbed and assimilated the hatred and violence poured out on him.
They laid hands on him and put him to death. He did not stop them. We too have laid hands on Jesus and defiled, abused, slandered and betrayed him – he has not stopped us from taking advantage of his “good graces.” In the face of the greatest injustice ever, Jesus did not retaliate or insist on the justice we humans define as retribution. He restored and reconciled, with no retaliation or retribution.
And they buried him…thinking that he was gone forever. But the love and grace of God always wins! Reports of successful attempts to terminate the kingdom of God have been greatly exaggerated! Jesus rose triumphant over death and the grave, an eternal reminder that God’s sacrificial love always wins over hatred and vengeance, for Jesus responds to hostility and cruelty with love and forgiveness rather than resentment and retaliation.
As we ponder his death and resurrection, we realize that since we have started our journey with Christ, there are times when we have wandered far from the precious calling that he has given us. But, like the prodigal son, we are always welcomed home, embraced with open arms, ushered into God’s house, clothed in the best robe, given the Father’s ring and we enjoy a celebration in honor of the one who was lost, but now is found.
The triumphant resurrection of Jesus is the final nail in the coffin of death and the grave. It’s the final nail in the coffin of Christ-less religion that attempts to convince its followers that whether God loves us, and if he does, how much he loves us is based on being judged by law – by deeds – by transgressions – by anything that can be calculated and counted.
The triumphant resurrection of Jesus is the official beginning of the riches of God’s grace being offered and given to all humanity. Jesus’ resurrection is a huge party to which no one is excluded – everyone is invited. God’s grace is for everyone.
But the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t make sense, does it? After all, neither you nor I have ever known someone who died and then was resurrected, have we? But wait – by God’s grace we do know Someone whose resurrection boldly proclaims the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus… (Philippians 3:8). By God’s grace we may know our risen Lord!
Why, after all is said and done, would God still love you and me? We are surely doomed if he reviews the record of our life – our rap sheet is filled with lying, cheating, lusting and carousing. Our past is filled with animosity and resentment and, above all, ugly selfishness.
We can only assume God’s heavenly computer surely contains records of our wanderings, meanderings and philanderings…but his unqualified forgiveness assures us his computer server has been wiped clean! The resurrection of Jesus triumphantly and eternally proclaims that God loves us after all. He has no interest in our past – he forgives and redeems, without reservation or payback.
Just as God raised him from the dead…because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him (Acts 2:24) so too will it be impossible for death to keep its hold on you and me. Because of our risen Lord, we who are in him have hope beyond our own graves!
We celebrate our risen Lord thanking and praising God that his grace will have its way. We celebrate the “new math” of God’s grace that does not calculate or measure whether we deserve to be loved by God on the basis of the shame of our past wanderings, meanderings and philanderings. Because of our risen Lord, he loves us after all is said and done. He owes us nothing – we owe him everything.
We often greet other Christ-followers at Easter by saying “he is risen.” He IS risen – and he lives within us, not because we deserve it or because we have earned his love. All is by grace. He loves us after all. When all is said and done, God loves us no matter what.
When our risen Lord beckons to us, inviting us to follow him, we follow him by faith, which itself is a gift of God. Jesus does not tell us how long our particular journey on this earth will be nor does he tell us specifically how and when we will arrive at our final destination.
Jesus is our Lord and Savior – he is not a divine travel agent who supplies each of us with a list of all the five-star hotels and the superb amenities we will enjoy along the way. We follow Jesus knowing that pain and heartache and suffering will be part of our journey – just as his earthly sojourn was.
The resurrection of Jesus signals the beginning of all mankind being invited to follow Jesus in a life-long journey of grace and love. His cross was the once-and-for-all greatest demonstration of love. When we follow him, we pick up our own cross and follow him – always with the twin emblems of his cross and his resurrection in our focus.
HE IS RISEN! AFTER ALL IS SAID AND DONE, HE LOVES YOU AND ME!!
In the precious name of our risen Lord Jesus,