Overwhelmed by love

I am overwhelmed by love,
Overtaken by your mercy,
Lord, your goodness without end
Will be the house in which I dwell.

Brian Doerksen, When You Shepherd Me  (based on Psalm 23)

Late last Sunday evening, as I sat down to write a blog post, two very contrasting story lines vied for my attention.  On the one hand there was the ninth anniversary of 9/11 and all the fuss over Florida pastor Terry Jones’ misguided plan to burn copies of the Qu’ran.  On the other hand, there was the free spaghetti dinner that All Nations Church had hosted for students at University of Ottawa the previous evening.

It’s pretty easy to tell which of these is more worthy of attention, isn’t it?  I mean, who cares about a spaghetti dinner, compared to an event that captured the attention of the world media and on which even Barack Obama and Sarah Palin found common ground?

And yet … when I tried to blog about the Qu’ran-burning episode, the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let me.  That’s the only way I can describe it.  He didn’t exactly forbid me, or stop me directly – but the words just didn’t flow, and I found myself without anything to write. 

This, of course, poses a problem for a writer.  I suppose I could have come up with something on my own, but that’s not what God has called me to do with this blog.  I don’t just want to write words originating in my own human wisdom.  So I asked Him what was going on, and He spoke to me very clearly.  (For those who wonder what I mean by statements like “God spoke to me” :  No, I didn’t hear Him with my physical ears, but a very clear thought suddenly “popped up” into my awareness – a thought that I immediately recognized as coming not from my own mind but from the Holy One). 

As He often does, the Spirit answered me with a question. 

What do you want to focus on – darkness or light?

As I considered this question, it shed a great deal of light on why I had not been able to blog about the Qu’ran burning episode.  I saw that although this sad tale appeared to be significant, and had indeed captured much attention, if I focussed on it in my blog, I would be giving attention to a distraction, something that originated from the Prince of Darkness.  I would be in danger of giving glory to the Enemy and his works rather than to the Lord of glory and His works.

On the other hand, if I focussed on the spaghetti dinner, simple and mundane though it might seem to be — why then, I would be writing about an event that was truly noteworthy — an act of positive spiritual warfare that carries the potential to permanently change the lives of hundreds of people, and influence the whole direction of our society for the better.

Hang on, you say.  Isn’t that a pretty big claim to make for a simple spaghetti dinner?  How can it be that important?  And how can it be an act of spiritual warfare?

As I attempt to answer that question, let me begin by explaining why I found my involvement in the spaghetti dinner to be so profoundly moving. 

It wasn’t because of anything that I did.  I didn’t really do that much, and all of it was simple stuff.  I grew some tomatoes that Marion made into a crock pot full of spaghetti sauce. I helped set up tables and chairs, sliced cucumbers, served spaghetti noodles and gave out cookies.  Marion served in the kitchen for several hours, putting veggie trays together, and helping to cook more pasta and make more spaghetti sauce when we began to run out.   None of this is especially complicated or noteworthy by itself.  What got my attention wasn’t what we did, but what everyone did.  There were so many volunteers – at least fifty, according to our leading elder Steve Wilkins.   Numerous volunteers gave out several thousand invitations on campus during the week prior to the dinner.  Others, like us, cooked spaghetti sauce.  Throughout the event itself, a small army of volunteers were cooking pasta, slicing vegetables, serving food, setting tables, decorating the room so it looked attractive, setting up a sound system, providing literature, greeting students with smiles and words of encouragement. There were even volunteers who handed out cookies and buns to students who had to wait in line for a long time because there were so many who came to the dinner – more than 600, representing a 50% increase from the previous year.  Some of the volunteers did amounts of work that were truly prodigious – like Janie and her 1200 home made chocolate chip cookies.  All of them served willingly, with a smile and with genuine enthusiasm.  And the students loved it!  In addition to a free meal, they were provided with information about Church on Campus (a student ministry of our church), as well as a new Student Alpha ministry that will be starting shortly on the UOttawa campus.   They also saw people working together to show kindness in Jesus’ name.  Many of the young adults who were volunteering did a great job at showing a genuine interest in the concerns and needs of the students who came to the dinner.  None of this was spectacular – there were no fireworks – but I believe it was very significant in the eyes of the Lord. 

It was significant, first of all, as a practical demonstration of God’s love.  God loves students, as he loves all people.  We know this to be true in theory, but God values faith that is put into action.  Last Saturday I saw genuine love being put into practice, and I was deeply moved.

I was moved not only by the dinner itself, but by what it represents.  This was not just a one-off event, but an expression of a genuine and ongoing commitment to reaching out to students with the good news of Jesus Christ.  The next morning, as Marion and I stood in line for a hamburger at an after-service BBQ, we chatted with a young woman who was a first year student.  She hadn’t even been at the dinner, but she had learned of our church through the outreach activities that had taken place the previous week on campus.  That evening, at the first meeting of Church on Campus (a student outreach ministry), over 70 were in attendance.  A number were young adults who are already a part of All Nations, but quite a few were students, and some were new to the church and possibly new to the Kingdom.

Students matter to God.  Of course, all people matter to God – all have equal value in His sight.  At the same time, reaching university campuses represents a strategic act of spiritual warfare.  The university campuses of the historically-Christian Western nations have become increasingly hostile to the gospel in the past few generations.  But that’s not the whole story.  Universities have also been the scene of some of the greatest revivals in North America’s history.  Reaching out to students has the potential to change the course of a generation and a nation.

Any successful presentation of the gospel requires a combination of truth and love.  People who have been blinded by the Enemy’s lies desperately need to hear the truth about who God is and who they are.  But they not only need to hear the truth, they also need to see the power and love of God being demonstrated by people who have fallen in love with Jesus.  As I contemplated the spaghetti dinner, I was overwhelmed by the love of God, and deeply moved because of how I saw His love being displayed by His people.  I realized again that I am still, and will forever be, a student of the ways of God.  I am humbled and deeply challenged by the grace displayed by so many of my brothers and sisters, and I am so thankful to be part of a fellowship that has such a lively sense of mission and in which we can all learn together to walk in God’s love and then give it away. 

More, Lord!