Unlike John and me, who have been constantly on the move, my sister, Liz, has worshiped at one church since her conversion many years ago. It is an RPCNA (Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America) congregation in Ottawa, Ontario.
This is a sidenote, but their pastor, Rich Ganz, is a converted Orthodox Jew from NYC whose background was in Clinical Psychology. He is another L’Abri convert from about our own era, which always gives a sister-brother complexion to a relationship.
In any case, Rich began a little theological training institute and had different pastors in and out to teach young men preparing for the ministry. Of course, they would often preach to the congregation while they were there teaching courses. My sister talked again and again of a man from Ulster, Northern Ireland, whose preaching she found particularly powerful. His name is Ted Donnelly. Eventually, she sent some tapes of his sermons my way.
And one truly was life-changing:
I don’t remember the name or even the overall theme of the sermon I listened to – just a single illustration. He talked of a little child coloring a picture for his father. The finished product has only the vaguest – if any- likeness to what the child envisioned. It is a mass – and objectively, a mess – of lines, swirls, and scrawls.
The child presents it proudly to his father. And what is his response? Does he throw it back at him, saying, “This is a ridiculous mess! Come back when you can do something worthy of being given to me!”
Of course not. He accepts it as what it is – a symbol of his child’s best desire and attempt to please him. He sees the heart of love behind the oh-so-imperfect gift and receives it with delight.
Then Ted asked whether we really thought God was a less loving and tender father than that human one. Is He the kind of father who throws things back in your face because of their imperfection?
Of course not.
We are little children, aren’t we? And all our services to God reflect this. Our good works -all that we do to please and glorify him – are messy, outside the lines.
I believe it is the Heidelberg Catechism that says something to the effect that, in this life, even the greatest saint makes a mere beginning at holiness…Exactly. We are grossly imperfect.. So are our works.
God has set his love on us, as believers. And those imperfect works are near and dear to his heart. As the human father, he knows they are ‘age appropriate’ – all that we can offer him on this side of heaven with sin still at work in us. And he accepts them with pleasure and delight.
And that is another facet of the ‘amazing’ in Amazing Grace.
Note: I have been blogging only a few months and every post I am wondering whether or not I have already written of these things. If I have, forgive me. How does Tim keep track of topics after ten years?