Awestruck – Part 3

February 1, 2012

When we are awestruck by the greatness, glory, and grace of God, we are shocked by the depth of our depravity and sin. That was Isaiah’s experience. It was also what Paul experienced. His encounter with the Risen Lord led to his conversion and his call to be an apostle, a herald of the Gospel to the Gentiles. He came to see himself as a “wretched” man unworthy of the grace of God. In that marvelous passage on the resurrection in I Corinthians 15, he writes, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” (I Corinthians 15:9-10) Paul never lost sight of either the shock of his sinfulness or the awesomeness of God’s grace.

I was recently re-reading a little of the spiritual journey of John Newton, the English preacher and hymn writer, best known as the author of “Amazing Grace.” Before his mother died when he was but seven years of age, she had sown into his life the seeds of the Gospel. When he was old enough, he joined his father as a merchant seaman and quickly began to live a life of sin and godlessness. Eventually, Newton became the captain of a ship engaged in the slave trade. Although he was a hardened sinner with no use or thought of God, he picked up a religious book one night he had found on board and began to read about the sacrificial suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. The question entered his mind and haunted his soul: What if this is true? Later that night a violent storm battered the sailing vessel, and although Newton was an experienced seaman, he was frightened to death and began to cry out, “My mother’s God, the God of mercy, have mercy on me!” That was the turning point in Newton’s life, which from then on was devoted to preaching and praising his great and glorious Savior. Like Paul, he never lost the sense of shock and awe.

In one of Newton’s lesser known hymns, he wrote: “In evil long I took delight,¬†unawed by shame or fear,¬†Till a new object struck my sight and stopped my wild career.” The words, “unawed by shame or fear” captured my attention. His sin was no real shock to him. He goes on to write about seeing Jesus “hanging on a tree.” It was then that he began to feel the conviction and crush of his sin, writing, “My conscience felt and owned the guilt, and plunged me in despair, I saw my sins His blood had spilt, and helped to nail him there.” Until we truly “own” the guilt, we cannot understand grace.

Newton finishes his hymn: “Thus, while his death my sin displays in all its blackest hue, Such is the mystery of grace, it seals my pardon too.” I can’t help but believe that we need a little more shock and awe injected into our lives from a fresh visit to the cross. It is only then that we are continually awestruck by the greatness, glory, and grace of God. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!”





Awestruck (Part 2)

January 24, 2012

In my last post I wrote about how awestruck I was recently seeing and holding my new granddaughter for the first time. I was moved with an overwhelming sense of the beauty and purity of this child and the power of God to create and bring forth this miracle of life. I confessed that I was also struck with the fact that it had been a while since I had experienced something like this – this sense of being awestruck. I also asked the question: When was the last time you can say you were awestruck by something of beauty, purity, and power?

In recent years I have heard so many people say something like, “Nothing shocks me any more.” We live in a time when man is awed by almost nothing. Although we may name a military operation “Shock and Awe,” it seems to me that shock and awe are largely unfamiliar experiences to most of us. This is not a good thing. Technology throws everything in our faces. We have become so de-sensitized to the good, bad, and ugly in our world that we are seldom moved with extreme emotion, seldom shocked by great evil or awed by great Good. More personally, it seems we have lost the perspective of shock when it comes to the depth and depravity of our own sin along with the capacity of to be awed in the presence of Holiness and Power. The two are connected. Without being awestruck by the greatness and glory of God, we are not likely to be shocked by our own sin and shame.

It was Isaiah who, finding himself in the presence of God, awestruck by his majesty and glory, cried, “Woe is me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” That’s the kind of shock and awe we need to rediscover in our day

Do we not become like that which we worship? Have we not become as cold and mechanical as the technology we bow down to, flashy, but unfeeling and unthinking? Have we not at some level come to believe that technology will rescue us from some undesired outcome and save us from ourselves? When we make idols for ourselves and trust in the gods of our own making, we deprive ourselves of responding in pure humanness, shocked by our own sin and shame, awestruck by the greatness and glory of Almighty God.


January 16, 2012

My son-in-law, Joe, picked me up at Logan Airport about 12:30 that night. We were another 45 minutes from their home in Marblehead, north of Boston. I was more than a little anxious to see my first grandchild – Isabella Rose – for the first time. She was just five days old and already a legend in my mind and large in my heart.

Elliott, my wife, was already there, of course, having flown up North for her birth and to assist Laura, our daughter, not to mention Joe. Even at that hour at night everyone was wide awake, except for Isabella, who had just had her middle-of-the-night meal and was fast asleep in her mother’s arms.

Welcoming hugs quickly gave way to Laura’s gleeful question. “Do you want to hold her?” As I gazed in emotional wonder into my granddaughter’s little face, I was truly awestruck! Taking her into my arms, I studied her tiny features. “I want to see her eyes,” I said. That’s all it took. Elliott started tickling her chubby little cheeks and calling her name. “Bella, wake up. Pops is here.” Squirming and stretching, she finally opened her eyes, and we looked at each other eye-to-eye. I was far more impressed that she was, I’m certain. The encounter was very brief as she quickly returned to her contented slumber, but I was in love!

Reflecting on that night and the days that followed over the week of Christmas, and remembering the sense of complete and utter wonder I felt with Isabella, I asked my self how long it had been since I had been so awestruck. I realized it had been a while – a long while.

It made me think. To be awestruck is to be moved by an overwhelming encounter with beauty, greatness, purity, or power. It could be something as simple as the beauty of a rose, the grandeur of a snow-covered mountain peak, the purity of an act of selfless love, or the destructive energy of a tornado, hurricane, or some other powerful display of nature and nature’s God.

I was overwhelmed by the innocence and purity I saw when I looked into Isabella’s eyes. I was moved in my heart to see the greatness of God in the frail beauty of this budding flower. I was awestruck by the power of God to create this little life in his love and likeness.

I was awestruck and now question where that sense of wide-eyed wonder has been for so long. What I’m thinking is not very flattering, but I’ll share them anyway in future posts. I doubt that I’m the only one who has somehow, somewhere lost that sense of awe in the presence of beauty and greatness.