The question I've been asking myself for the last few weeks is, “How do I describe one of the most life-changing experiences of my life in under 10 minutes?” God meets you in a moment, personally and powerfully, alters the trajectory of your life, and you're left trying to put it into words.
Sometimes a grace encounter can only be communicated by a tear rolling down your cheek or by pointing in Jesus's direction and saying, “He did it. I don't know how, but He did!”
So today I just want to point in Jesus's direction and let you know up front: “He did it. I don't know how, but He did!” Jesus is amazing. He can do stuff we can't. And my life is proof of that.
So you may be wondering what my story has to do with Sandy Cove.
Well, about seven years ago I came to Sandy Cove on a personal retreat, and I have the key tag to prove it — I'll tell you more about that in just a few minutes.
When I came, I was fortunate enough to be joined by a close friend, “a brother from a different mother” who had flown in just a few days earlier from Zambia. Both of us had been to Sandy Cove before, but this was our first overnight stay.
Our agenda was pretty simple: catch up on life, pray, rest, and enjoy the beauty of God's creation. And eat, of course. Put two pastors together and there's likely to be food involved. Bring them to Sandy Cove and there's definitely going to be food involved.
But as we drove down Sandy Cove Road, I remember feeling so tired. I was worn out AND aching for God to do something special, something significant, over the next 24 hours.
Looking back, I was in the grip of something many of us have experienced. It's called burnout. I was fighting off despair and wondering if walking away from ministry was the answer to the fatigue I felt. There was a heaviness I couldn't seem to shake. I was driving my wife and kids crazy. I had put on weight — a lot of it. I had bottomed out physically and emotionally. And spiritually speaking, I felt like I had nothing left to give. Maybe you've been there. It's no fun.
One of the first messages that greeted us that day was JESUS NEVER FAILS. Now, if Sandy Cove had a trademark or slogan, I'm pretty sure that would be it: JESUS. NEVER. FAILS. And it was those three words that set the stage for all that God would do during our visit.
Because only Jesus, the Great Physician, could do what I needed done in the Spring of 2011.
Jesus took a tired, broken minister and refreshed him. He reminded me that the remedy I was looking for couldn't be found in abandoning my calling, but in living more dependently on him. He took my burnout and despair and replaced it with lasting HOPE.
This is the kind of stuff only God can do, and as I learned in 2011, this is the kind of place God does it.
In the months leading up to our visit to Sandy Cove, I had been leaning heavily on Peter's words in 1 Peter 5:10-11. There Peter writes,
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ,
after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you
and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Those two verses became the cry of my heart. There were days I would pray those words a hundred times. I would cry my way through those words. I would long for those words to come true in my life. My heart had it on repeat: God himself will restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. And I'd say, “Yes, Lord, do it! Restore me, please!”
And right here at Sandy Cove, that's what He did!
Over in Room 350, I experienced God's grace like I had never experienced it before. In the depths of my soul, I was renewed. And the words JESUS NEVER FAILS became more than a comforting slogan emblazoned on a sign. Those words became part of my story, a fifteen-letter manifesto marking one of the defining moments of my life.
I look back now in awe. Because that night in May 2011 was life-changing, and that's really an understatement. Right here at Sandy Cove, in Room 350, God showed up and met me when I needed him the most. It's hard to put something like that into words. But there's a BEFORE Sandy Cove version of me, and an AFTER Sandy Cove version of me. I was transformed.
Sandy Cove is a special place, not only to me, but to countless others. My story is just one of thousands that God has written here over the years.
This is a place where the hope-filled message that JESUS NEVER FAILS comes alive and refreshes weary moms, dads, daughters, and sons. In one way or another, we're all beneficiaries of the grace that covers this place.
Back to the key tag. And let me just say that Stephen, our President and CEO, has used the power of his office to grant amnesty to me and my sister, so I have a green light to share this.
When all this happened back in 2011, it was a watershed moment in my life, and my sister, Rachel, worked at Sandy Cove. So I asked her if she would do me a favor. Very wisely, Rachel said, “It depends on what the favor is.” So I asked her if she could arrange for me to have the key tag for Room 350.
I wanted something to memorialize what had taken place in that room. And I knew that if a mattress or chair went missing we'd all be in trouble. Well, Rachel got me the key tag — I never asked how — and it's been with me ever since, a tangible reminder that JESUS NEVER FAILS.
Last summer, I had the privilege to share this testimony with our guests, many of whom have similar stories. So, how has God met you at Sandy Cove?