What do you think of when you hear the word grace? An old hymn? What some say as a prayer before consuming large quantities of food? Or maybe you flashback to a former girlfriend from Ohio?
If you’re a theologian or professional Christian, you might drift to the Greek. If you’re a new believer, the word undoubtedly has taken on a deeper meaning for you. However, if you’ve been around this church-thang for a while, I wonder if grace is still amazing to you.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to a large crowd of Bible college students. It was their third chapel that week, and you could almost taste the apathy when I was introduced as the author of Epic Grace ~ Chronicles of a Recovering Idiot (Tyndale).
They weren’t mean or rude, just completely unimpressed. Frankly, I’m not sure I blame them since I’m a nobody from nowhere. But even as I began to speak about grace, many of them went zombie on me (i.e. they became the living dead).
I cranked up my pace and volume, but my words seemed to bounce off their hearts like ping pong balls off a paddle. Once again, I pondered, “Has the church become so familiar with the theology of grace we have forgotten the incredible impact it can and should have on all of us?”
I spoke at a small church in the same town a few days later. From the beginning of the service, I could tell these were people hungry for God. Many of them were young, tattooed and body-pierced. Most of them entered into worship with passion and abandonment. When I got up to speak, it was as if they leaned-in to soak up every word. It was obvious that grace to them was far more than just a word; it was their life.
I found out later that many in this congregation were relatively new to Christianity and quite a few came from broken and shattered lives. Someone said to me, “Grace is the air we breathe around here.”
Grace should be like a rain that refreshes . . . like a warm sun on a cool winter day . . . like the air in our lungs or the blood in our veins. It’s not only a concept or a word. It must be what gets us up in the morning. It is what lifts us up when we fail. It’s what sustains us when the valley is so dark we can’t see two feet ahead. It must be what drives us to our knees in gratitude and what motivates us to our feet with compassion for the lost.
Paul, the author of a huge chunk of the New Testament, wrote a great deal about grace. Somehow it was never too far from his thoughts or his words. If you cut Paul, and he was quite literally cut on a regular basis, he bled grace.
Here are his words from one of my favorite passages.
Titus 3:3-7 (NIV)
3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Simply amazing! “Having been justified by his grace, we . . . become heirs . . . of eternal life.” We can’t earn it. We don’t deserve it. But because of the kindness and love of God, it’s ours for the taking.
Peggy was unable to talk at first. Her eyes were swollen and her makeup a disaster. Her breath smelled of cigarettes, and her dress was way too short for church (or anywhere for that matter). A friend asked her to attend church, and she said yes out of desperation.
After I spoke about God’s ability to redeem, restore and renew any life fully surrendered to Him, she knew in her knower what she had to do. But at first it seemed absurd to her. How could God forgive her after all she’d done? Drug abuse. Too many sexual encounters to remember them all. Abortion. Years ago, she had attended church as a child, but as a teenager, she told her parents and God what they could do with their religion, and she walked away.
Now, years later, she’s sitting in a church sobbing uncontrollably. Hoping it’s true. Hoping God can put the shattered pieces of her life back together. But all she can think about is how unworthy she feels and how unbelievable it seems to her that God might actually love this tattered rag-doll. But in that moment, Peggy discovered God is especially good at restoring broken people because He has so many pieces to work with. She entered into the fellowship of the broken yet redeemed that day.
Perhaps too many in the Church have gone too long without a grace-encounter with a person like Peggy. Maybe we’ve forgotten the moment we went from despair and darkness into hope and His light. Is it possible that we’ve sung the song so many times at so many funerals that amazing grace has become little more than familiar grace?
Once upon a time, I too was messed up, broken, bound by sin and living a lie, but because of grace, that’s not the end of my story or yours. The moment we wander too far from the tale of our redemption is the day we lose the wonder of grace.
Grace is ludicrous. It’s outrageous. It’s beyond our comprehension. Trying to take it all in is like trying to see every star in the universe at once. It’s just not possible. How could something so incredibly astonishing not overwhelm us?
I worry about any church, school or person where grace is treated with apathetic complacency. If grace hasn’t rocked your world in a while, maybe it’s time for a fresh awakening in your heart. Find a spot that captures your soul: a mountain, a sunset-filled beach, a quiet stream, a lush forest, a painted dessert, or a snow-covered hillside, and pray until your heart is broken and amazed again by God’s grace.
Don’t leave until you are weeping over the goodness of God. Don’t move until you can say, “Grace is still amazing, and grace is all I need.” Then ask Jesus to put you in the middle of a grace-encounter with someone like Peggy that lights a fire in your soul again.
Stay fresh. Stay focused. Stay fixed on grace that is greater than anything and everything. Let it be the very air you breathe. To do any less is to miss the miracle of God’s grace that truly is epic.