August 31, 2011

Going the Distance

The dinner gathering was smaller than their last meeting 10 years before—more funerals than weddings these days. This was the 50-year class reunion for this small Christian college, and they numbered only 20 this time. The weekend festivities kicked off with an intimate dinner just for them in the dining hall.
Before the blessing and the meal began, the college chaplain, who had been invited to join them, began with a short devotional. Hoping to learn who had traveled the farthest, he began by asking each to give a short update on their lives and tell everyone where home was.
Planning a powerful biblical application from all this, the young pastor had earlier asked Jerry to go last. He had already met Jerry and was familiar with his story.
2011 1525 page14When Jerry’s turn finally came, the room fell silent as it had for none other. After 50 years this was the first reunion in which Jerry, their class president, was participating. All ears were eager to have the sketchy story of the past five decades filled in, for each had heard bits and pieces through the years from those who claimed to know—rumors mostly.
Jerry didn’t disappoint. He began a heart-wrenching tale of pain and suffering, some caused by his own choices, others not so much—such as the loss of his beautiful bride less than two years after they had wed. He told of years of abuses and cursing God. He had scoured the earth seeking an elusive peace in bottles, pills, and every form of strange spiritualism the world has to offer.
“This past spring,” Jerry continued, “God finally reached across all that and found me where I was.” Jerry told how all his bitterness had finally left him destitute, hopeless, and forever lost.
One evening, as he lay in his cot at a shelter, wondering how to bring it all to an end, he felt the irresistible tug at his heart to get on his knees and give God one last, desperate chance. That night, on his knees, Jerry experienced that peace that passes understanding, and a closeness he hadn’t felt since he was a young college grad “right here on this campus.”
Don’t Miss the Point
When Jerry paused, the chaplain looked around the room and saw tears and smiles everywhere. Slowly the room began to fill with amens and “Praise the Lord”s. Several got up to hug Jerry.

What Do You Think?
1. When have you felt distant from God? How did God bridge the gap?
2. If you were to counsel someone who felt estranged from God, where would you begin? What would you say?

3. Is there some way in which you are farther from God than you should be? Be honest.

4. Why is it important to know that God will go to any extent to rescue us from sin? How does that make you feel?

Sensing the time ripe for the object lesson of his clever planning, the chaplain began, “Friends, it would seem that Jerry has come the farthest! What a journey he has experienced, wouldn’t you agree? In Matthew . . .”
Jerry jumped to his feet, effectively cutting off and startling the young cleric. “You don’t get it!” he exclaimed. Turning to face his former classmates, he continued, “I meant for you to see that I actually came the shortest distance; I haven’t moved at all! It was God who traveled all that distance.
“When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, a great divide was opened between God and humanity; a vast distance that could never be bridged humanly speaking. But our heavenly Father provided a way to close that gap! Through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, God provided a bridge over that great divide. God came that great distance for me! And tonight He has traveled the greatest distance to this reunion for you.
“The apostle John says: ‘This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’ [1 John 4:9, 10].”
With that the chaplain humbly offered the blessing and they ate.
Greg Todd lives with his wife, Lisa, and two daughters in McDonald, Tennessee. This article was published September 8, 2011.