I have been blessed for the last several months to be a part of the launch team for Jen Hatmaker's new book, For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards (available here on Amazon).
This is the final installment of my series taking chapters of the book that spoke to my work and discussing them. Thus far,we've covered crazy self-imposed expectations of parenting, responding to the millennial generation, and allowing the gospel of Jesus to be what He said it was.
This week: grace. That's it. Just grace. The topic of my seminary thesis, so you know, it is just a tad important to me. However, that thesis was written twenty years ago, and you know what? I had no idea what the word meant.
Oh, theologically, sure. We were told to choose one word that defined what we believed and described God and the gospel, or something like that. I chose grace. Somehow, I knew it would be a very important word for me. Or God knew. But really? I hadn't a clue.
More life had to be lived before I would have any idea what grace meant. Far more hurt had to be experienced, far more gratitude realized, and far more pride peeled away before I could even get a start on a kindergarten comprehension of that word.
See, I was a high school debater. I was also high school valedictorian. You know what all that means, in addition to being facts I can trot out to impress approximately no one at this point? I specialized in persuasion. I knew how to argue, I knew how to research, and I knew how to get it right. When I became a Christian, I took those skills with me into the brave new world of belief.
I soon discovered they could be used as weapons.
I believed in grace, but it was mostly grace for those who had already repented. My concept of grace looked more like forgiveness for those who already had figured out how to get it right.
Now, I understand the truth of what Jen says about that line of thinking.
“We tend to formulize the mysterious, opting for a more manageable gospel than the wild, unpredictable one we have. We’d like one with clearer edges and better boundaries, because who can fathom a Savior born in a barn who washed the feet of His followers before dying for people who hated Him?
It is no wonder humanity has long preferred legalism, which involves much cleaner territory. Give me a rule any day. Give me a clear “in” and “out” because boundaries make me feel safe. If I can clearly mark the borders, then I am assured of my insider status—the position I feel compelled to defend, the one thing I can be sure of. I want to stand before God having gotten it right. Doctrine is tidier terrain than flesh and blood.”
I wanted life, and grace, to be manageable. It wasn't until life got so unmanageable for me, beyond the capabilities of my valedictorian credentials, that grace screamed in, stunning and electrifying, like a comet with a star-streamed tail across my dark sky. Disorienting like that, too.
The God who spoke from a flaming bush and pushed his way into a cattle stall swaddled in blood and fluid never offered us clean lines. He brazenly led the way to coloring outside the clean lines when he dined with prostitutes and called tax collectors out of treetops.
God led us into the wild terrain of unmitigated, incomprehensible grace. And sometimes, we don't like it. [tweet this].It messes with our clean lines. It defies our borders. It threatens our safe standing.
Grace forces us to stare at the depths of our own capacity for sin. Honestly, I'd far rather stare at the depths of someone else's.
Looking at our own forces us to look at those others differently, as folks just like us. The place this is the most difficult, sometimes, is right in the chair next to us on a Sunday morning. Because if anyone should have it right by now, it should be those other church people, right?
“Church people are regular old sinners too. If I could fix this, I would. As it turns out, the church isn’t a gathering of shiny new pennies. It lets anyone in the door! All sorts of hooligans fill the sanctuaries: kind and good ones, angry and cynical ones, mean and judgmental ones, smart and funny ones, broken and sad ones, weird and awkward ones, precious and loving ones, scared and wounded ones, brave and passionate ones, insiders and outliers, newbies and lifers and trying-one-more-timers. Just a whole bunch of human people. Every church has all these folks. It is just the hottest mess, but clearly you belong here because everyone does.”
Church can sometimes be like this, right? And this is FUN.
Grace. A church throwing open its doors and admitting to the world that it is what it is. Not a bunch of people who have it all right and are waiting for the world outside to realize it. A bunch of people who, like the Israelites of old, have gotten it wrong time and again but who still show up, still try, still ask God to take them just one step closer to what He wants them to be. People who do not cover up their awkwardness to welcome the awkward into their world.
We don't see it often. But when we do, we recognize it immediately. It's grace.
“The breadth of God’s family is mercifully wide. Grace has no discernment, apparently. Jesus created a motley crew, plucking us from every context and inaugurating a piecemeal clan that has only ever functioned with mercy. We should be grabbing hands, throwing our heads back, and laughing that God saved us all, because surely this is the messiest family ever and He loves us anyway. Our shared redemption should keep us grateful and kind, because what other response even makes sense?”
That last line. That's grace.
|A favorite quote from another great book.|