I am fortunate to have my very own vacation retreat.
No… it’s not a cabin in Aspen (yes please).
It’s not a beach bungalow in the Caribbean (again…yes!).
It is my humble childhood home where my parents still live in Anderson County, Kentucky.
As life goes, I think I only began to realize its value once I moved away. When I came in for respite during my time in Haiti, it began to transform in my mind from childhood home to luxury home. Hot water. Protection from mosquitos. Comfortable bed.
Now as I come in from out of state, a fresh breeze greets me and the sounds of crickets and frogs replace the sounds of traffic. Trees and ponds replace the tall buildings and highways. I love to watch storms roll in across the fields and hear the leaves make songs in the wind.
Unlike my childhood days when it was filled by the bustling noises of my three brothers and myself, it is now a quiet home where the ticking clock sounds more like a lullaby than the stopwatch we were always racing.
It’s a place where I allow myself to be quiet.
It’s a place where I shut up long enough to hear God speak.
Tonight, I was taking advantage of one of the “amenities” the retreat has to offer – the hot tub – and hoping for some quiet time with the Lord. Sitting under a dark and cloudy winter sky, I attempted to relax tense muscles as I began to pray. I prayed for my sweetheart who is currently on mission in Africa. I thanked God for all He’s been doing in my heart these past 10 months since I arrived back in the States. It’s been such a painful heart surgery, but I have been set free from burdens that I have carried for more than a decade. While I am so thankful to feel like I have been given a completely new heart, I still find myself frustrated at times at how sinful I am. I hate sin.
With bubbles churning around me and my eyes closed praying, I sensed a bright flash of light. Startled, my eyes popped open as I searched for the source. Thinking it was maybe just one of my parents turning on a light in the house, I closed my eyes again.
The flash. Again.
A couple thoughts ran through my mind: Either a perv neighbor was taking my picture, or lightning was moving into the area.
Suddenly, I felt a fear wash over me. Sitting in a hot tub during a lightning storm would be like covering myself in fish guts and blood and jumping into a pool of sharks.
Maybe it was the fact that I had just been considering my sin, but my fear of the lightning somehow simultaneously manifested as a fear of God. Lightning is so powerful. It could kill me in an instant. And God created it! He is infinitely more powerful, and unlike lightning, has an agenda. He is passionate.
Man, I thought, if He wanted to, God could just strike me down right now. Sitting here in my swirling pool of sin. He HATES my sin!
Ugh. If only I feared God this much when choosing to sin as I fear lightning while sitting in a tub of water. My sin matters.
But wait… I thought. He hates my sin, but He also loves me SO MUCH.
How?? What is it that stops him from striking me down violently?
As I determined that the flashes of light had come from a car’s headlights bouncing off our nearby barn, I tried to relax again, my mind swirling like the bubbles in the hot tub around how God could passionately hate my sin but love me so much at the same time. What stops the lightning of wrath against me?
He spoke the gentle name right to my heart.
While sitting in my cesspool of filth, my sins swirling, and a thunderstorm of God’s wrath looming overhead, Jesus steps out of his comfortable home and into my nasty tub.
But wait, Jesus, I think. You didn’t do anything to deserve this. My sin is so gross. And God says I need to be punished. The lightning is coming… and it’s for me!
He doesn’t say a word but just by His presence, I know He loves me so much. Anyone who would abandon His comfort and step into my filth must! Gracefully, He gives Himself up as the lightning begins to come down. Somehow, as the storm roars and the lightning pierces the water, He absorbs all of the shock, His body convulsing from the sheer power of God’s wrath against my sin. My cesspool.
I am alive.
He is dead.
My sin killed Him.
And He did it willingly, stepping down into my filth.
What a love.
I look at the water… it’s clear. My filth is gone.
It’s been atoned for.
I imagine God the Father in heaven… His eyes roaming the earth. And each time His eyes pass over me, in my pool, He no longer sees me and my sins. He sees Jesus, who is now seated with Him, pleading my case.
This one has been accounted for.
No further punishment needed.
I breathe a sigh of relief.
My sin sucks.
I hate it.
But whether or not I sin, God still loves me infinitely more than I can even imagine or comprehend. And just as I did nothing to deserve Jesus loving me and stepping down into my cesspool, I can also do nothing to make Him stop loving me.
Because there’s nothing I can do, like I do when I enter my place of retreat, I can now REST. I don’t have to busy myself trying to be “good” or trying to prove myself.
Jesus did that for me.
I deserved the wrath of the lightning.
But when the wrath came down, it didn’t strike me.
Living with a constant awareness of grace means that I am so much more grateful. It means that I don’t strive to please God to earn love and favor, but that with a changed heart, I do everything to bring Him glory. It means that I can live joyfully because I have been saved from death and given a second chance. It means my heart is set on fire with a love for Jesus, the one that saved me. It means that I can live in freedom because it’s not about me and my sin anymore.
It’s about what Jesus did.
So when I drive back to the big city in a few days, the place, the sights and the sounds might change, but the rest in my heart doesn’t end. It stays with me.
Lightning is powerful.
But grace changes everything.