31 Oct 2016

Transforming Grace

You know what I find disturbing about us Christians?

We have a holier-than-thou attitude.

interesting title no?

I would not have said this ten years ago. But a lot has happened in ten years, the most important being this: I have seen the darkness in my soul. Yes, I have come to the place where I understand that when Paul called himself the chief of sinners, it wasn't hyperbole. We all rank first place when it comes to harbouring demons in the dark alleys of our souls.

Yelling at kids?
Thinking of divorce?
Entertaining hurtful thoughts?
Ego trips?
Seized by discontent?
Poor stewardship?
Lack of love?
What if i try out...?

Been there, been that.

This reckoning has in turn done two things. One, I am much less shocked by confessions. Second, I have begun to strip away at the notion of 'the other'. I identify with others more than I differentiate from them.

Thomas Cole, Voyage of life

If you have ever met a personal darkness, sensed a shadow, wrestled with a demon, chances are you want to either reach for HyperGrace - it's no big deal, or we collapse into UnderGrace - we are wrecked with guilt and try our best to cover it all up.

I use these monikers to represent the two common ways we respond to glimpses of what lurks beneath our respectable, put-together selves. In HyperGrace, we may -

. brush it off as not really so serious compared with...
. create a spiritual scorecard by pumping up more rigour for spiritual activities (from dancing to Bible studies).

On the other end, some of us veer towards UnderGrace where we -
. smile and act nice, totally inconsistent with what's tugging at our hearts
. blame others or beat up ourselves for not measuring up
. endlessly analyse what went wrong

This happens to the individual, and even to groups and entire churches.

The problem is that both of these take us away from Transforming Grace, which the Bible says is given to the 'humble'.

You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe  with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because he cares for you. ~ 1 Peter 5v5-7
Peter wrote this. I dare say no one knows about Grace and humility the way Peter does.

He was the blustering disciple who boasted of his loyalty only to find it crumble when faced with the threat of persecution. He is the one Jesus re-creates a memory of his calling {read this John 21} so that he could be restored. He tasted Grace that morning when his professional fishing efforts yielded no gains. He tasted Grace in the fish on live coals and the poignant words of restoration Jesus spoke into the depths of his being.

He humbled himself in admission of his shadows and failures and was reunited with His Lord in love and mission. Still, he would have moments of weakness, but those are moments and not definitions.

Being humble is connected with casting our anxieties on God. 

We are anxious whenever we don't know the outcomes to things or when we anticipate a negative result. But Peter, he has learnt that. All his bravado cannot gainsay the truth that he has limits and he cannot really fix some things, even if he can swing a sword the way he can throw a net.

Transforming Grace - that flows downward to the bowed and receptive heart - happens when we humbly agree with God that we don't have the answer but we know God does.

I love Danielle Strickland's* definition of humility: agreeing with God about who you are.

Mind you, God does not think small of us. No, he thinks wonderful thoughts beyond our wildest dreams. Yet, he remembers and knows we are dust. We are finite. We do well to remember that of ourselves and others. That's when Grace happens. Peter tells us that God's intent is to exalt us. God knows we cannot reach the heights of who we truly are unless He raises us up.

The verses has another dimension:
You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because he cares for you.  
I admit that this is the bit most of us don't really like. After all, whether it's our families or work or churches, we all know elders and leaders who we struggle to respect and follow. But here, Peter reminds us that there is the basic posture of being submissive that counts if we want to experience Grace. To be fair, he speaks here of an environment where there is the effort to honour one another.

Being humble creates a flow of God's Grace into our lives and situations.

We will meet, experience and share Grace when we are willing to kneel with the broken, sobbing alongside, hurting with them, remembering this could just as well be us. This is when Grace creates community.

We will know, be touched and grow in Grace is when we are willing to face our need for it in an authentic and vulnerable fashion. This is when Grace creates courage.

We will stand upon and lead stronger out of Grace when we will call out our tendency to hide, gloss over and conceal. This is when Grace creates maturity. 

These three are good indicators of the present workings of Grace in our lives: community, courage and maturity.

To have reckless self disclosure without regard for others lacks maturity.
To have endless discussions without actions shows a lack of courage.
To be part of unending gatherings where our deepest concerns are never shared or heard means there isn't real community.

Perhaps try this: you may well notice that from the American elections, to ISIS, to the latest local news about things gone wrong, our standard way is to point out what's wrong, in clear denial that we could go so wrong ourselves (and it's a miracle we didn't). This stance has rarely helped us get anything right in the end.

It is a peculiar thing. The knowledge that we are saved by Grace and sustained and sanctified by Grace's operations in our lives should be grateful, joyful and humble. Yet so often, we the chosen, the elect, the faithful - saved by Grace - have a way of turning Pharisaical.

We start to distance ourselves from 'the others' and become a holy huddle of sorts.
We have our share of doing good and pitching in to improve things, but in our hearts there is a line that says 'we' and 'them'.
We go on a religious treadmill seeking out new and amazing ways for spiritual experiences.
We complicate matters. The Pharisees churned out 613 checklist items to keep the law....how many have we generated while regularly refusing to encourage the formation of lives through basic disciplines of prayer and Scripture and a commitment to community?

Nicodemus was a Pharisee. But he was different. He was at least humble enough to seek out Jesus and considered fresh possibilities. On the other hand, we have the thief that hung next to Jesus. His was not the robe of religiosity but the rags of crime. But he too experienced Grace when he humbled himself to admit that he deserved his sentence.

Go down with a name like Nicodemus or go down without a name like that lowly once-thief. Just be known by God and be touched by His transforming Grace.

Some of my best record of Grace's tracks:
Grace in the story of the woman in John 8. She got it, they didn't
Take that small step, Grace is coming
The wide mercies of God's cradling Grace
Failure isn't final. Grace is.
I married a non-believer, is God mad at me?
How do you see your life?


1. If you want to know the 613 laws

*as heard on Global Leadership Summit 2016

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