Tuesday, December 16, 2008

search-and-rescue operation

In this Salvage series, this past weekend’s topic was “Recovered” (my teaching cohort Joe had spoken on restored and recycled previously). For us at the Vineyard, typically when we hear the word recovery, we tend to think of our indispensible Growth & Healing ministry because it’s such a huge part of who we are and how we think. Based on our last stats, a large percentage of our adults have benefited from our recovery ministry. Plus, it was reinforced in the Reveal survey we did: we were off-the-chart with emotionally troubled folks. Let’s hear if for the “attractional leadership” theory!

When we talk about our recovery ministry, it means rediscovering our wholeness, of finding the parts of our lives that have been lost because of abuse or hurt or divorce or our own issues and addictions or poor decisions. It means to recover your sense of wholeness, of integrity, or to find the missing pieces of your life that have been lost or ignored.

But as it relates to our relationship with God, I wanted to look at recovery from God’s vantage point, from the simple angle of “finding something that was lost”. Eventually it centered on the idea that God is in the business of pursuing us, of recovering us. The problem with a talk like this is that it can feel like over-familiar territory for pastors and priests who speak a lot. Plus, it can take on an emotional tone that can smell manipulative to me; it’s like saying, “Some of you had fathers who never told you they loved you…” Gee, you think? Or it’s like giving a prophetic word-of-knowledge at the close of a message like: “I think God wants to touch people who have fear in their lives.” Hello? All of sudden you’ve got a post-Thanksgiving Wal-Mart rush to the prayer lines.

Nevertheless, there are probably two spiritual themes that can never be hammered enough, at least in my experience: God’s loving pursuit of us and our misunderstanding of authentic repentance. They’re connected at the theological hip, but I think people tend to drown one or the other out by emotional default when they’re given equal time in a thirty minute message.

I wanted to lean more into God’s search-and-rescue mission for us. I don’t think I was wholly successful (another late Saturday night depression…), but hopefully folks will read Luke 15 for themselves and God will break through. It is one of the most remarkable, comforting and humbling theological points Jesus makes.

In his autobiography, former atheist C. S. Lewis put it succinctly, “Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about 'man's search for God.'…They might as well have talked about the mouse's search for the cat.”

I would have liked to spend more time on that not being solely a “pre-conversion” experience. Frankly, I’ve been pursued by God my whole life. It’s painfully easy for me to nibble away like the maverick sheep in Luke 15. I hate it. But comfort and entertainment is the bane of American Christianity. I genuinely thank God that He pursues me.

The great—and nearly forgotten—poet, opium addict and all around troubled believer, Francis Thompson, put it beautifully in his masterpiece, The Hound of Heaven. Read the whole poem someday on the www. Here’s the first stanza:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat, and a Voice beat,
More instant than the Feet:
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

I love thinking about a Father who pursues us with unhurrying chase, unperturbed pace, deliberate speed and majestic instancy. And the jealous, protective tone of a God who says: “All things betray thee who betrayest Me.”

How can love not pursue?


1 comment:

  1. Interesting.

    Speaking of CS Lewis and atheists or agnostics, I particularly like this quote:

    "A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, 'darkness' on the walls of his cell."

    Simple and powerful, no?