4.16.2012

Grace is Enough

Earlier this month, in the midst of a busy week, I had the pleasure of getting a phone call from a dear friend of mine, who I have known for almost 30 years.  A call from him is like a spa for my soul at a time when I can surely use it, and I am deeply thankful that our friendship has grown in spite of geographic distance and each of our busy lives. 

He pastors a church that is small but growing, and even better than raw numbers is the depth of commitment and community that he is seeing. Curious, I asked him what people were latching on to about his church.  I was essentially wondering, "What's your secret?"  But of course there is no secret.  It is about being faithful to a message that is at once old-fashioned and cutting edge, which is that it is all about that elusive Christian concept called grace.

It is tempting in this day and age to proclaim a worldview in which I'm OK and you're OK.  Even if you want to come at things from a Christian perspective, from a perspective that is grounded in an ancient text, it is natural to want to soft-pedal some of that text's absolutes.  Sin seems so harsh, so let's focus instead of inclusivity and love and acceptance.

As a counterbalance, some churches go in the other direction.  But, however rigid and rules-oriented, these places are also offering an easy road to salvation: do these things, jump through these hoops, avoid these traps, and you're good.  This way, too, pooh-poohs the utter depravity of man, and the utter hopelessness of manufacturing one's own way back to God.

Real grace, believe it or not, is hard to accept.  It isn't a free pass to sin, or a softening of God's wrath.  In as self-reliant a country as ours, the notion of unmerited favor is hard to accept, especially when it comes to the fundamental question of whether we are alright with God, and of what our souls deserve in this life and the next.

But it is, at our core, what we long for.  And, as my pastor friend is faithful to that message, that reality, of real grace in the person and work of Jesus, people are drawn in.  For it itches many of our deepest itches - relationships, reconciliation, community, self-worth, meaning in life - as well as our deepest itch of all, which is that of our standing before God our Creator and Judge. 

Running a church and being a Christian is more complex than that.  But, in another sense, it is not.  Grace is, in fact, enough.  And I am joyful for my friend that he is finding this out in a wonderful way in his church.

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