August 9, 2017: Sharing Our Faith — Part 2
I love going to the movies and I really love movie trailers. I feel I have missed out if I arrive late and the trailers are done… or if the people sitting around me talk through them! The next time you go to the movie theater, watch the people around you while the trailers are being played (if you can peel your eyes from the screen). A trailer generally has all the best moments of the film, with the intention that it will entice you to want to see the full feature when it comes out. If it’s a pretty good trailer, people will turn to each other as soon as it’s done and make their “thumbs up” pronouncement. And if a person is an extrovert, he may even enthusiastically elbow a complete stranger sitting next to him and say, “That looks really good. You should go and see it.” Elena says that I have a habit of doing this.
The missiologist Michael Frost says, “Our lives should be a trailer for the reign of God! People should look at our lives and at our churches and say, ‘If that’s just a taste of what the reign of God looks like, give me the full feature!’”
When I heard that analogy, my heart sank. That is a tough request. I am not sure if my life is a terribly good trailer for the reign of God. If people knew everything about me, would they really want my life? And even if my life were all polished and perfect (which it is not), do I have to be a trailer for some kind of plastic triumphalism (“Hey, look at me, I am a follower of Jesus and I have it all together!”)? Because that script would not be true.
A few weeks later, I took a plane trip. The seat next to me was free and I happily considered it all mine until, at the very last moment before boarding was complete and the doors were shut, a clearly distraught woman ran onto the plane. She apologized profusely as she threw herself into the empty seat beside me. She explained that two of her flights had been delayed and a third one was cancelled, leaving her to jump on the next available plane and take a random unassigned seat. I smiled, but I was not ready to strike up a conversation so I buried myself in a book. She read my book title, Grace Is Greater, out loud. Then she asked me if I was a pastor! Reluctantly, I said “yes”... and she began to pour out her story. There were a lot of challenges in her life, not least that she had in the last eight hours received news that her mother was dying and she was now on a mission to get to her bedside. She said, “I don’t know if God is going to let me get there in time.” And with tears running down her face, she said, “I have made so many mistakes in my life. I wonder if God is punishing me?”
And right then and there, my heart broke for her. I could not help myself. Down went my book. I told her how much Jesus loved her. I told her that she was the apple of His eye. That God loved her so much that He would defend her with His fierce love even when she had absolutely no defense. That in the depths of His love for her, Jesus had taken all her mistakes upon Himself and He took the punishment. I told her that Jesus did not keep a record of her wrongs in His back pocket, ready to berate her should she stumble. I told her that to receive His mercy was to be set free of her past forever. And I told her that I knew this to be true for her because Jesus had dramatically and radically done this in my own life — and continued to do this, every day of my life. And finally, I told her that if He could do all of this, maybe it was not so hard to believe that He may have permitted two flights to be delayed and then cancelled a third flight so that she had to jump on the next plane that came along and take a random unassigned seat next to the only pastor on the plane. And then we prayed together. The sound of the jet engines lifting us from the ground mercifully covered her tears.
Later it struck me that the only credible trailer I could be was that I am and remain deeply loved by Jesus Christ and hemmed in by His mercy, despite my sorry past, despite my lingering attraction toward sin. I am a trailer that says, “I have done absolutely nothing to deserve the radical love, grace and mercy of Jesus.”
Paul wrote, “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions… For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2: 4-5a, 8-10).
Despite our fallenness, we are, therefore, through the mercy and grace of Jesus, to define ourselves as radically loved by God. This is our true self. Every other trailer is an illusion. Grace is greater.
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