The Lord’s Inexhaustible Patience: One Real-Life Example

Second Peter 3:8-9 (ESV)
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

On April 26, 1970, at the age of nine, I received my very own copy of the Bible (Revised Standard Version) to commemorate having been baptized, full-immersion style, at First Baptist Church in Birmingham, Michigan. The inside front cover had been signed by all three pastors of the church; Homer Armstrong, David W. Bishop and William Sutterlin.

Memories of that day 47 years ago are mostly gone.

What I can recall clearly, however, is my surprise at the short homily that Pastor Sutterlin offered to us freshly-baptized kids as he placed the brand-new Bibles in our hands. While I am unable to quote him verbatim, the gist of his message went something like this: “Kids, some people will tell you to take excellent care of these brand-new Bibles, to not make marks in them or carry them with you around town for fear the bindings will get damaged. What I want to tell you is that my greatest hope for you is exactly the opposite. My greatest joy would be to catch up with you a few years down the road and discover that these books have been almost totally destroyed, covered with pen marks, and the binding falling apart.”

Less than seven years after this particular service, I had a pair of car keys in my hand and had stopped going to church altogether as I found other less-sanctified ways to spend my time. My RSV Bible had exactly one highlight in it, Matthew 25:31-40. The binding was in great shape, almost like new; the pages still had that newly-printed snap to them and the personal engraving on the front still glistened in gold.

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

This particular Bible has spent most of its life in storage, occupying space in one cardboard box after the next. After my wife Shelly and I moved into the home we bought together in 2005, we made a concerted effort to empty as many of our combined boxes as possible, getting rid of whatever we could along the way. For the first time in many, many years, my Baptismal Bible found shelf space in one of our finished living areas in the basement. That’s where my 10-year-old son caught up with it.

As he leafed through my old Bible in our breakfast room upstairs, my son (like all 10-year-olds) had many, many, many questions. I was somewhat “trapped” doing the dishes, so he felt free to just keep going with his interrogation until he felt like he had achieved a satisfactory explanantion of where this book came from, why his father’s name was on the front, and why it was in such good shape. Shelly and I have always been very open with our young son about how both of us strayed away from God as teenagers – and thereby brought all kinds of unnecessary misery and suffering upon ourselves as a result – so the puzzle pieces clicked into place for him, especially after I told him how Pastor Sutterlin’s greatest hope for my Bible was that I would need a new one in just a few short years. He laughed…but he also got the message.

On June 25th of this year, at The Crossing in Columbia, Missouri, Pastor Keith Simon preached a sermon entitled “Jesus Is an Awkward Dinner Guest,” taking as his text Luke 14:1-14. Prior to our family attending this service, our son had asked me if I would mind him taking de facto ownership of my old RSV. Would this prove to be a phase, perhaps, just a flash in the pan? Didn’t matter; I readily agreed that someone ought to make good use of that particular volume. I knew that edition had some color photos of the Holy Land in it, too, and this would sit well with my son, who is very much a visual thinker.

Halfway through Keith’s sermon, my Baptismal Bible received its second-ever highlight. Glancing over, I had to wonder if maybe Pastor Sutterlin’s greatest hope for my RSV, buried so long, might at long last find its fulfillment. Stranger things have happened.

Those of us who have lived as enemies of God – and since become painfully aware of that fact – tend to think in small terms of God’s generosity and His overflowing desire to be a blessing to nations, families and individuals. Conditioned as we are by the limits of human patience and kindness, we often make the mistake of viewing God through a distorted lens, a flawed framework that somehow allows us to see ourselves as the dinner guest who was begrudgingly invited by the Host at the last-possible minute. That being the case (or so we think), we ought to not expect the Lord to bless us “too much.”

This is not the God of the Bible. The God who maintains faithfulness to multiple generations is not stingy or limited in His grace like we are. He doesn’t sermonize to the prodigal; He runs to him and treats him like a returning prince. He does not fill the cup just enough to prevent the death of His people, His cup to them overflows. His generosity to the repentant is not limited by what the world has to offer, it is only limited by the willingness of His people to receive an embarassment of riches.

Hundreds of miles, more than 47 years, and what feels like several lifetimes later, I can rejoice that God does not love me less than He did when Pastor Sutterlin handed over my Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Long after one prodigal had been given up as “hopelessly lost” to the world and its vices, the true Good Shepherd left the 99 to search for the one.

It’s ridiculous. It’s scandalous. It’s just like Jesus.

Observing our young son put such a strong symbolic “bookend” to decades of my own sin, folly and rebellion is an overflow of grace and mercy that I am struggling to accept, even now. “Great is Thy faithfulness!”

Jeremiah 29:11
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Great Is Thy Faithfulness
Written by Thomas Chisholm (1866–1960).
Music composed by William M. Runyan (1870–1957).

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

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