Friday, July 29, 2011

Gary's Story

I was thinking about Gary Swetland's story today. In the three years that Gary was at Grace Chapel, he grew deeply into a rich understanding of the love of Christ for him. Of course, his assurance of that love did not always grow in a strictly linear fashion, as even this last Feb. Gary was once again struggling with dying and meeting God. I wrote these words to him in early February, "The Bible describes Jesus as the light of the world who shines into the darkness and promises that the darkness will not overcome Him. Know that, though we struggle, you will not be left in despair. Jesus has tasted death for you and even though you have not been there, Jesus has. He’s the One who lives and reigns in your heart, so be assured friend."

I remember first meeting Gary a few years back when he shared feeling a deep sense of inadequacy before God and struggled with the near-impossible task of being able to "work off the guilt." When I first met Gary, he said that his cursing was out of control and that he smoked a lot and that he wasn't sure if he was OK with God. I reminded him of a song called "Come Ye Sinners," one that we sing at Grace Chapel that he had heard at that point and a song that has this line, "Let not conscience make you linger, not of fitness fondly dream; all the fitness He requires is to feel your need of Him.” I told Gary that this is why Christ had to come, to live a perfect life and provide a perfect sacrifice for him and for His Beloved people. I told Gary that it will never be good enough, except for the fact that God finds us acceptable in His beautiful Son Jesus given for us; faith is that which apprehends the grace and acceptance of God, you see?

I was reading from Francis Schaeffer's The God Who Is There this morning and some of Schaeffer's words struck me as they reminded of Gary's journey and how he came to grow into a deep assurance of the love of God for him:

We must realize that Christianity is the easiest religion in the world, because it is the only religion in which God the Father and Christ and the Holy Spirit do everything. God is the Creator; we have nothing to do with our existence, or the existence of other things. We can shape other things, but we cannot change the fact of existence. We do nothing for our salvation because Christ did it all. We do not have to do anything. In every other religion we have to do something- everything from burning a joss stick to sacrificing our firstborn child to dropping a coin in the collection plate- the whole spectrum. But with Christianity we do not do anything; God has done it all: He has created us and He has sent His Son; His Son died because the Son is infinite, therefore He bears our total guilt. We do not need to bear our guilt, nor do we even have to merit the merit of Christ. He does it all. So in one way it is the easiest religion in the world.

But now we can turn over because it is the hardest religion in the world for the same reason. The heart of the rebellion of Satan and man was the desire to be autonomous; and accepting the Christian faith robs us not of our existence, not of our worth (it gives us our worth), but it robs us completely of being autonomous, p. 182-83.

You see, even though Gary had lost much of his freedom in one sense, his body being ravaged by porphyria and restricted to a wheelchair, nonetheless, it wasn’t until he gave up the autonomy of his heart to God, that he found the peace that he so desperately sought after. I kept telling him on Wednesday, a couple of hours before his death, that he was in a good place, to know that Christ is the Good Shepherd and that the Good Shepherd never lets His sheep go, ever. I told him to let the peace of Christ wash over Him, that he was a blessed man and that He was strong in the embrace of the Savior.

Really, God didn’t so much care about the smoking and the cursing, but He wanted Gary’s heart, and Gary gave it to Him; I’ll be forever grateful to the Lord for Gary’s salvation. As Schaeffer says, “Christ did it all.”

1 comment:

MJSwetland said...

To Bro from Bro,
Thru all my 58 years on this earth my oldest brother Gary was always there. The past couple of weeks I have done much reflecting and remembering the past. Growing up as a grade schooler and then on to high school, my Bro was always there. I've come to feel (in the past couple of weeks) that Gary was a much better big brother to me than I had been to my younger brothers. I had to start calling Bro "Timex" during his last couple days here with us. Like a Timex watch he just kept on ticking. When his main spring finally wound down, it left a void in my heart and my life. But knowing that he is now watching over me, from a much better place, I find comfort and feel blessed.
Until we meet again - I remain your adoring younger Bro.

Matthew J. Swetland