Sunday, April 03, 2016
Sunday Afternoon Tea - To Grace or Not to Grace
Recently, after a week filled with challenges, I turned on the floor lamp behind the reading chair in the Study and curled up in the overstuffed chair to enjoy a new book. The earbuds of the itty bitty iPod were inserted and the music of John Denver had already begun... Rocky Mountain High to be precise. I had to smile. Music by my favorite tree hugger. Book by an Anglican priest that people I trust said was very good.
Symbols of my own odd makeup I guess.
I've always been on the edge of quite conservative and ummm... not. Many of my interests coincide with my more liberal friends such as Alternative Medicine, herbs, health foods, organic gardening, unschooling, etc. My favorite films and books run the gamut from British classics to Babylon 5.
However, my theology is, has, and always will be conservative. I cringe at Oprah, roll my eyes at my favorite authors who are borderline liberal in their theology, set books aside that completely ignore orthodoxy, and find myself looking up Scripture when listening to some TV preachers.
Although I try very hard not to fall into being a Pharisee. I don't want to be adamant about things that have nothing to do with Salvation... like when Jesus is returning. I have my opinions but good friends have differing opinions and that's okay.
I talked with a former pastor at one time about a friend who was ultra conservative in her theology. So much so that she was causing division in the church over some very gray areas such as what version of the Bible should be read from the pulpit. She was a lovely person, very kindhearted and generous except when it came to what people believed that had nothing to do with their salvation.
He reminded me of her background, having been saved after many youthful indiscretions. Hers was a quite miraculous and life changing salvation experience. Our pastor had found in his years of being in ministry that quite often people who came from such a background felt more comfortable building up high walls of rules around themselves as a protection from falling away into past ways of living.
The trouble came when their self imposed rules, quite often more Pharisee than Christ-like, were required from other people in their lives. When jumping through self imposed hoops were required for others to be considered "Christian". That made a lot of sense to me at the time and since then.
In some ways it explains my need for orthodoxy as I came from an unchurched background. I will always stand firm in the Essentials of the Faith. Which means I will continue to be uncomfortable when preachers teach from the pulpit words that only tickle the ears of those listening and rob from their flock the Truth of the Word.
However, in my distaste of cheap grace, I must remember not to trash... real grace.
For you see, I think that is what the "tickle your ears" preachers are robbing from people. Yes, there really are rules in the Bible and just as God warned Adam and Eve there were trees they were not to eat from, He warns us there are these things called sins we are to refrain from, too.
Not because He doesn't love us but because He does. He created everything so He certainly knows the consequences when Mankind and Womankind cross the line into doing that which He has warned in His Word to refrain from.
We, as followers of Christ, must never water down the Gospel. It doesn't need it for the power of the real Gospel is in all of it, not what we think people want to hear. Jesus Christ changes lives. Really. Powerfully. When we accept the gift of His salvation, He goes to work in our life to change us from a lowly caterpillar to a beautiful work of His art.
We become what He designed us to be from before we were conceived in our mother's womb. He thinks of us and smiles and can't wait until we reach perfection, which will not be while we walk the sod of this world. That's okay. He knows we are "but dust". In the meantime, He is always working within to make us more like Him. Which is pretty wonderful.
Which comes back to real grace. When I was pondering what would become this blog post, I was wondering how many Christians have friends who are different than themselves. Do you have friends who do not agree with your Christian beliefs? Does Jesus want us to remain in a place with people who only think as we do?
I don't think so.
I have come to realize my years spent before accepting the gift of Salvation from Jesus are part of my Story. They are essential to how He wants to use me to be His eyes and His ears and His hand and His heart to a hurting world.
I can talk to the worst of sinners with no problem. I remember surprising coworkers in my former corporate life when I agreed to attend a departmental party given by our gay designers even though they knew I believed such a lifestyle was not of God. I had worked often with the men and had a good relationship with them. I was always kind to the coworker I knew was having an affair with her boss as well as the factory supervisor whose colorful language would make a sailor blush.
For you see, we are to be His fragrance in a lost world. Have you ever been shopping at a thrift store and you are able to tell the sweater you are trying on came from the home of a smoker? I can. I have a couple snowmen which were a gift from a very dear Christian friend who happens to be a heavy smoker. Even now when I pull them out of their box at Christmas, I detect the odor of cigarettes.
Jesus wants each of us to carry with us a fragrance. His fragrance. What do your non-Christian friends think of Jesus after spending time with you? How about your Hindu neighbor or your Jewish coworker? How do you treat the woman whose dress indicates she is a Muslim? Do they know you love Jesus and by spending time with you... can they trust that Jesus will love them?
Oh, my friends. It is never easy and there is a line we cannot cross. There is such a thing as cheap grace when the world is taught they can do whatever they want because God is Love. Forgetting that God is also Holy. That He sent His Son to be the sacrificial Lamb because He knew we could not obey the Law and be perfect.
Cheap grace is not grace at all. Real grace is when love is shown to the sinner and we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Real grace is when our gay family member knows we do not agree with their lifestyle but is invited to share fried chicken and mashed potatoes with us on a Saturday afternoon.
Real grace is putting our arms around the teenager who had the abortion and telling her God still loves her and so do we. Even though we believe abortion takes the life of a real live heart beating baby. That is real grace. God's grace.
Grace is a stained glass window filled cathedral. Grace is helping the college roommate clean throw up when they have stayed out drinking. Grace is reading the Bible. Grace is forgiving our parents for their lack of parenting skills. Grace, my friends, is Easter Sunday. Grace is Thursday and Friday and the Saturday before Easter.
So when you think of where you came from and of your own failings. Think of His Grace. Then use those experiences to help another find Him in their darkness. Be His fragrance. Be His Light. Be His melody. Never perfectly but good enough. As the song goes, you are the only Jesus some people will ever see.