October 12, 2014

God’s Indescribable Gift

Passage: Deuteronomy 8:7-18, Psalm 65, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, Luke 17:11-19
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Whenever I hear some wonder of creation explained, with respect to its intricacies, I am led to marvel and gratitude for the Creator.  When I think that wonder upon wonder, vast and beyond our ability to count, God imagined as God created the world for human habitation, I am humbled that so much was done for us.  I invite you to watch this short video by Rob Bell that is part of a larger talk titled, Everything is Spiritual.  He captures well a small slice of these wonders.

We tend to thank God for the things that take our breath away; things that amaze us.  It is not likely that you have counted, but each of us takes approximately 23,000 breaths every day—each one as important as the one before.  The process of inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide is a complicated respiratory task that requires physiological precision.  Maybe we should thank God, not just for that which takes breath away, but also for every other breath too!

So rich is the creation, so marvellously diverse, that the universe is wonder upon wonder without end.  Vast and rich as the creation is, the Creator himself can only be vaster and richer. Today, on Thanksgiving Sunday, I am led to wonder and gratitude and adoration as I ponder the universe which has come from God’s hand.

1. And yet so rich is God that he has made something more marvelous than the firmament: he has made you and me and countless others.  I find, that even though my heart and mind soars in wonder at the marvels of the firmament, I am profoundly aware that the greater delights are in relationships with people.  It is one thing to be taken by the beauty of a sunset or the glory of mountaintop panorama; the very same sunset or panorama is somehow enhanced when shared with a friend or loved one.  Of this sort of shared experience with a good friend, my friend remarked, “some things you just can’t put a price on.”  This wonder of being energized through shared experience may be why we take pictures with our phones and upload them to social media for instant sharing.

I am energized when I see people gathering for worship and it isn’t just so I won’t have to be by myself.  A few weeks ago I was energized by all the people gathering for a golf tournament that I was playing host to along with Mark Cullen. It wasn’t just because they showed up.  Their names were already on our tournament documents having committed themselves to being there.  There is an energy I sense in my experience of them being there in person that is never captured by a list on a page. And I don’t have to know people personally to be energized by them.

Just why people energize me I’m not sure?  But I think it has something to do with the marvelous diversity in human beings who are, after all, the crown and the glory of God’s creation.  In the old creation story in Genesis 1 we read that after God created anything he pronounced it “good.” He created planets — “good”; vegetation — “good”; animal life — “good”.  But when he created humankind there were two uniquenesses in the old story: one, God blessed man and woman — blessed them in that they alone were created in his image and appointed to fellowship with him; two, he pronounced what he had done “very good.”

It was a few weeks ago following worship.  We were on the front lawn (lemonade on the lawn) when a young man and his six or seven year old son were riding a tandem bicycle by the church and stopped.  They went into the sanctuary to pray.  When they came out I had a chance to speak with them.  He told me he was Muslim from a Middle East country and had gone to a catholic school as a child.  It was his own son who saw the church open and asked to stop to pray.  I have no explanation of what it was specifically that energize me—I just know that I felt blessed by that brief encounter.

People may be nameless to me, but they aren’t nameless, and certainly not nameless to God. They are the crown of God’s creation.  Every last one of them is a beneficiary of our Lord’s sacrifice.  He surrounds them with arms and hands whose nail prints they may ignore for now but can never finally deny.  Again and again, therefore, people whom I do not know at all are an occasion of thanksgiving for me.

I also find that anywhere I am in this world children capture my attention.  It is just fun to watch children at play.  I can see little boys at play joining in the seemingly naturally-arising competition for anything; who can climb highest, run fastest, and throw farther.  I have no idea how to describe what girls do, but they do in a little herd.

And, of course, an occasion of thanksgiving are those friends whose generosity and friendship towards me are extended so freely.  And beyond friendship, what about those people—one or two, perhaps even a third—who are soul mates even when we are silent and love us even when we are obnoxious?  It is easy to complain about “people,” complaining that I have all too often imbibed.  Upon more sober reflection, I am grateful to God for the people God has brought before me, not to mention the soul mates who do not forsake me.

3.  “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15), exclaims the apostle Paul. As marvelous as God’s creation of the universe is and as energizing as people are this is not the indescribable gift Paul has in mind.  God’s indescribable gift is plainly Jesus Christ.  He is indescribable inasmuch as his sacrifice grants us access to the Father himself, and it is his face which mirrors the face of God so as to give us the knowledge of the glory of God. (2. Cor. 4:6)

I do marvel at the vastness and richness of the creation. At the same time, I’m aware that the creation which came forth from God’s hand isn’t exactly the creation which confronts us now, for the creation now exists in the era of the Fall.  Something has gone wrong.  Certainly I take joy at all that children give me.   At the same time, everyone knows that to be among children, whether as parent or as schoolteacher, is to shed all doubts concerning the doctrine of original sin.   Of course I’m enriched by the people whose lives flow through mine like osmosis.  But I also have no illusions about the human heart; I haven’t forgotten that the 20th century, just concluded, is the most murderous in the history of humankind. Nature is beautiful; and in a fallen world nature is also blood red.

The gift of Jesus Christ is indescribable just because it is the one gift, the only gift anywhere in life, which isn’t marred by the Fall.  This gift has no downside, no qualification, no reservation, isn’t impaired in any way.  In giving us what is dearest to him — his eternal Son — God has given us himself.  At what cost we can only glimpse dimly, yet glimpse enough to know that the cost is as inestimable as the gift is indescribable.

The apostle’s exclamation is effusive — “indescribable gift!” — just because the apostle’s experience of the gift is so rich.  He knew that as the risen Lord stole into his heart the myriad confusions and contradictions in his life disappeared.  No longer did he think it was God-honouring to persecute Christians.  No longer did he think that only his ethnic group made up the people of God.  No longer did he think that favourable standing with God was something he had to achieve, could achieve, or had achieved.  He knew himself gathered up in an embrace that freed him to give up his misguided frenzy.

I marvel at the generosity of friendship that people give to me even when I know I give ample ground to make them wary. And then there is those one or two people who have forgiven me, cherish me and refuse to abandon.  What these people have done for me has left me knowing that I am blessed inexpressibly. I also know that what they have done reflects a vastly greater blessing from God himself.  When Paul writes with amazement and brevity, “He loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20), he uses so few words just because he knows that the indescribable can’t be expressed.

Can’t be expressed, but can be held in one’s heart, can become the truth which quietly transforms us and informs us for the rest of our lives, can become the foundational certainty which sustains us in our living and will see us through our dying. “He loved me, and gave himself for me.”

To know this gift is to know that the gift will be pressed upon me until God completes that good work which he has begun in me. (Philippians 1:6) To know this gift is to know that God will indeed heal that creation of his which, although fallen now, still exhibits splendour and marvel everywhere.

With all this talk of thanksgiving let me be clear that such thanksgiving never denies the painfulness of problems.  Such thanksgiving remains because, in a world of loss and pain, our God who is close to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18).  No one is beyond God’s gracious help.


John Henry Jowett, a British preacher of an earlier generation, said this about gratitude: "Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic." What did he mean? He meant that gratitude, like a vaccine, can prevent the invasion of a disgruntled, discouraged spirit.  Like an antitoxin, gratitude can prevent the effects of the poisons of cynicism, criticalness, and grumbling.  Like an antiseptic, a spirit of gratitude can soothe and heal the most troubled spirit.

Do you ever notice that it is graciousness and grumpiness don’t go together?  The cultivation of a gracious spirit leads to joy.  True gratitude drives a lot of grousing away.

It is when we know God as our Saviour that we learn that this one who loves us is also our Creator.  We see that God gave himself for us in the Son to turn us to love God and to love one another.  As I know the One whose depths are unfathomable and whose gift of himself is indescribable, I am rendered ever more grateful for people whose richness is inestimable, and for a universe whose wonders are endless.

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!