“I thought I heard the captains voice but it’s hard to listen when you preach” –Bono
I remember when I was preaching at unstoppable in YC Manitoba. It was a wonderful weekend with kids hungry for good news and ready to respond and leaders who came expectant for God to move… a great environment for God to actually show up.
I decided to preach to myself. Bono makes a great point in the song Every Breaking Wave off U2's latest Songs of Innocence album, it is really hard to listen when you preach – but these days I find I’m listening while I’m preaching more and more. I was compelled to share from Romans 8 about the fact that NOTHING can separate us from God’s love. I said it even while in my own heart and mind I wondered if it were really true.
What I mean is that I kept wanting to say that only one thing can separate us from God’s love – ourselves. We can stop God’s unstoppable love. Can’t we? But then I listened to the ‘captain’s voice’ and I began to have a dialogue with God in my head…all while preaching to a bunch of teenagers about the unstoppable love of God.
Here’s the deal: I’m a Wesleyan Armenian in my theological framework. What that means is that I come from a Christian tradition that emphasizes ‘free-will’ – some other Christian traditions emphasize ‘Gods sovereignty’ and so we have these very different ideas about God and God’s will and how that works out in our human situations. I often liken it to two sides of the same coin… we are both describing how God works in the world from different sides of the same world.
But as I was preaching I kept asking this question:
If nothing can actually stop the love of God then the world would be a different place, right?
And it’s true...mostly... except for all the signs to the contrary, like whenever a baby is born, or the signs of spring begins, or a flower blooms, or people love each other sacrificially, or when young people stand in front of tanks or aid workers get beheaded and another one gets on a plane to continue the work… and on and on and on it goes.
Love – unstoppable it would seem. I kept hearing the famous words of the poem ‘the hound of heaven’ where the old opium addict tries to outrun God but can hear the hound of heaven right at his heels – pursuing him until he finally relents to God’s forgiveness, to his healing, to his plan. I remember my own prodigal rebellion and the relentless prayers and love extended to me and then Paul reminds me again that it was “while we were still sinners that Christ died” which really means, above many things, that there was nothing I could ever do to stop the unstoppable love of God… for even while I was rebelling, and extending my best fist against the purposes and even person of God, He responded with love. That kind of revelation is mind-blowing. As you can tell – I’m still processing what that means exactly.
One thing it does mean for sure, is that God’s love has nothing to do with my behavior. Rather than trying to gain his favor or secure his forgiveness, I can spend my time with wide-eyed wonder...simply receiving the unstoppable love of God. This will protect me from religious perfectionism, which is always at the Christians door, pounding away trying to get us to let it in – a demon really, that suggests our value to God is dependent on what we do instead of simply who we are. Love, unstoppable, will come whether we deserve it or not.
It will also protect me from indifference and fatalism... which is the other demonic force that tries to rob us of God’s unstoppable love. Just because God is unstoppable in His love does not mean His will isn’t thwarted every day by ‘unlove’. Closed and unloved hearts are the vehicles of hate in the world – you can find these people in churches or street corners or parliaments, you can identify them by the fear their lives exude.
The reality of God’s love is made known by lovers who have encountered this unstoppable love and it’s transforming power – and because of their sheer gratitude and joy, pass it on. They give it out as a resource that will never run out because that’s what unstoppable means and once you get that you join the unstoppable conspiracy of God's plan for the world – which is of course to love it awake, to love it to life.
So, I think I may just keep preaching – and listening… always trying to hear the ‘captains voice’ in the midst of the everyday, letting love bring me to life too.
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