Canadian police are searching this morning for two men suspected of stabbing at least ten people to death in a rampage that has shocked the nation. At least fifteen others were injured in the killing spree.
In other news, a suspect has been charged in connection with the disappearance of a Memphis teacher investigators believe was abducted while jogging Friday morning. She has not been found at this writing.
And a government administrator admitted yesterday that there is no timeline for when residents of Jackson, Mississippi, will have access to drinkable water. It has now been a week since pumps at the main water treatment failed, leading to the emergency distribution of bottled water and tanker trucks for 180,000 people.
Artemis I postponed again
In contrast to the fallenness and finitude of humans, the Bible says of our Creator: “He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure” (Psalm 147:4–5).
On this Labor Day, the contrast between his omnipotence and our limitations is illustrated powerfully by our latest astronomical endeavor: Artemis I was postponed again Saturday due to a fuel leak. Assuming it launches later this year, the flight test will be an uncrewed mission around the moon that will travel an estimated 1.3 million miles.
Let’s put that achievement into perspective: the distance from the earth to the moon is 238,900 miles. The distance from the sun to Neptune, the outer planet in our solar system, is 2.78 billion miles, which is 11,636 times further than the distance from the earth to the moon.
The distance from our sun to our nearest star (Alpha Centauri) is nearly 25 trillion miles. The distance to the edge of our Milky Way galaxy is 600,000 trillion miles. There are as many as two hundred billion galaxies in the known universe, each of them containing an estimated one hundred billion stars.
And God made all of that.
“Draw near to the throne of grace”
After proclaiming the enormity of God’s creation, the psalmist brings his omnipotence home to us: “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man” (Psalm 147:10). In other words, he is not impressed with our finite, fallen capacities.
Instead, “the Lᴏʀᴅ takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (v. 11).
To “hope in his steadfast love” is to depend intentionally and unconditionally on the grace and mercy of our Lord: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
It’s been said that grace is getting what you do not deserve; mercy is not getting what you do deserve. Both are vital to human flourishing in this life and in eternity.
But both come with caveats made ironic by Labor Day.
“Jesus heals all who come, and casts none out”
The caveat to experiencing grace is that we must admit that we need what only God can do, that our labors are insufficient to earn what God can only give.
In Mark 1, we find a leper imploring Jesus for healing. “I will; be clean,” our Lord responded (v. 41). With this result: “And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean” (v. 42). Commenting on this miracle, Charles Spurgeon wrote: “The sinner is in a plight more miserable than the leper; let him imitate his example and go to Jesus . . . and there need be no doubt as to the result of the application. Jesus heals all who come, and casts none out.”
Spurgeon also observed that Jesus touched the diseased man and so “made an interchange with the leper, for while he cleansed him, he contracted by that touch a Levitical defilement. Even so Jesus Christ was made sin for us, although in himself he knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
He added: “That hand which multiplied the loaves, which saved sinking Peter, which upholds afflicted saints, which crowns believers, that same hand will touch every seeking sinner, and in a moment make him clean.”
The only caveat is that we lepers must admit we cannot heal our leprosy and then bring our disease to the only One who can.
“My wretchedness is no match for thy mercy”
The caveat to experiencing grace—getting what we do not deserve—is that we must admit we can do nothing to earn God’s grace. The caveat to experiencing mercy—not getting what we do deserve—is that we must admit what we have done that requires his mercy.
Henri Nouwen observed that the human cry for mercy “is possible only when we are willing to confess that somehow, somewhere, we ourselves have something to do with our losses. Crying for mercy is a recognition that blaming God, the world, or others for our losses does not do full justice to the truth of who we are. At the moment we are willing to take responsibility, even for the pain we didn’t cause directly, blaming is converted into an acknowledgment of our own role in human brokenness.
“The prayer for God’s mercy comes from a heart that knows that this human brokenness is not a fatal condition of which we have become the sad victims, but the bitter fruit of the human choice to say no to love.”
The good news is that “the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11, my emphasis). As A. W. Tozer noted, mercy “is something God is, not something God has.” No circumstance can change his character.
Tozer therefore rejoiced to pray, “My sin and wretchedness is no match for thy mercy.”
“Everyone has a need only God can meet”
On this Labor Day, you can trust in your labor or you can admit your need for God’s grace and mercy. But you cannot do both.
I saw a church sign recently that said, “Everyone has a need only God can meet.”
What is yours?
What will you do with it today?
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