Thursday, March 3, 2011

Low Down Dirty Grace

Today I want to continue on the theme of the past couple of days.  We talked about anger and divisiveness, but today I want to talk about their alternative.  Today I want to talk about grace.  I am not going to talk about the high and lofty theological implications of grace.  I think we get so caught up sometimes in the concept of grace that we forget its substance.  Grace is not just some lofty idea discussed from the pulpits of church that we sing and dream about, but a very real world ideal that we must live up to.  While we rest in the grace of God, we have to understand that grace is anything but easy.  Speaking of grace in academic terms sanitizes it from what it really is.  Grace is not free, it is not even cheap.  Grace cost the son of God His very life.  Grace is not easy as as our Lord endured the pain and humiliation of being beaten, being mocked as a crown of thorns was pressed into His head, being scourged to an extreme we could not comprehend, and ultimately nailed to a cross and left to die all to give us the grace of God.  The trick of grace is that while it is easy for the receiver, it is never easy for the giver. We think sometimes as grace being a light shining down from Heaven when in reality is the long arm of God reaching into the filth of our lives to give us a lifeline to salvation.  Another thing about grace is that it is the ultimate denial of self.  For the received, it means admitting we do not deserve it.  For the giver, it means giving up our own desires for justice and vengeance.  Some people like to speak of grace as unmerited.  That is really a redundant term because grace, by its very nature, is unmerited.  Perhaps there is nothing wrong with emphasizing the aspect of unmerited grace, but I think by creating that redundant term you are implying that there is a such thing as merited grace.  The thing is, if it was merited, it would not be grace.  Grace is something freely given to us by Jesus Christ and it is something we are called to share with the world.  There are no caveats or conditions to that statement.  No matter what, we are called to share grace. 

In my life, I have had the wonderful opportunity to be involved with prison ministry in both adult and juvenile prisons.  If you ever want to see the effects of grace, I recommend volunteering in prison ministry.  I have seen people who once were murderers, gang members, drug dealers, rapists, child abusers, thieves, and racists all now serving the Lord with their whole hearts.  The anger and rage that once burned inside them has been replaced with the peace that passes all understanding.  Jesus shared that whomever is forgiven the larger debt loves the forgiver more and they are a real life representation of that concept.  Unfortunately, so many feel that these never deserved that grace.  Many who even call upon the name of Jesus for their own salvation also call on the Lord for convict's destruction.   That goes against the very desires of God Himself who declared through His word that His desire is for all to be saved.
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 NKJV
We must also understand that the word says that every sin and blasphemy against the Lord can be forgiven.  The only sin not forgiven is to ignore the Holy Spirit working in your heart to produce in you the faith to come to Jesus Christ.  Any other sin can be forgiven though Jesus.  Therefore, if Jesus took those sins upon Himself, who are we to withhold it from anyone else?  Are we the arbiters of the blood of Jesus determining who has and who has not the right to come to Him?  Are we to accept the grace of Jesus in our own lives but feel we have some right to deny it in the life of another?  By those attitudes we are telling Jesus that He was wrong to die for those sins.  We take that attitude at our own peril
Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.  Matthew 12:31-32 NKJV
So with that in our hearts, we need to live that attitude even to the worst of the worst.  For the murderer, we need to be praying for his eternity, not his death.  I am not going to argue for or against the death penalty in this post, but regardless of whether it is right or wrong or deserved or undeserved from an earthly standpoint, we are called to pray for his soul.  It does not matter who the victim was, Jesus still died for that sin.  God still desires that person to repent and come to Him.  Our desire still needs to be for his salvation.   Instead of crying out the Bible verses calling for the death penalty, we need to be sharing the ones about grace.  In the end your still sent the only begotten son of God to the cross.  Your sin was on His back and therefore His blood is on your hands.  In fact, it is that blood shed for us that cleansed you of that sin.  We may cry out for death because we think that justice demands it.  The fact is that we all deserve death. 
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 6:23 NKJV
If one deserves death, we all deserve death, but praise God that God offers grace instead. 

Even lower than a murderer in our society's eyes is the child abuser.  In fact, the Bible has harsh words for one who would abuse a child in that their punishment is likened to a millstone being hung around their necks and tossed into the sea.  But, once again, when God desires that all should come to repentance, He even means the child abuser.  He even means the child murderer.  Some may ask where the justice is in what I am saying. The answer is to look upon the scourged and crucified Jesus.  We may wish evil to come upon that person and dream of eternal millstones hung on their necks, Jesus says differently. 
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV
Yes, the grace of Jesus even takes that millstone upon His own neck as payment for the sins of the child abuser. 

How about terrorists? We go to war over them, killing thousands of innocents in the process.  I am not saying that war is never appropriate or that we should not defend out nation, but it should never be something we do out of desire, but out of necessity.  We take the attitude that it is better for our enemies to be dead than us.  We should not rejoice in the death of our enemies but we should mourn that it had to come to that.  Even those men who flew airplanes into buildings on 9/11 would have available to them the grace of Jesus should they have survived.  The ones who planned and funded it still have the grace available to them should they still be alive.  We should not be calling for their deaths, but praying for their souls. 
But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.  Luke 6:27-28 NKJV
In the end, God's desire for all to come to repentance means "all."  God did not say "many."  God did not even say "most."  God said "all." So whether its someone who told a lie or someone who is responsible for the death of millions and whether it is someone who stole a dollar or someone who stole the innocence and life from a child.  No matter who it is, God desires that person to come to Jesus and receive the free gift of grace. 

The other aspect of grace I need to address today is that grace does not sit and wait but grace reaches out.  Not only does grace reach out, but it reaches anywhere. Grace is not afraid to get dirty.  Grace reaches down from heaven and pulls us up out of whatever filth we are in and tells us we are forgiven.  The Good Shepherd did not wait for his lost sheep to return but went and found it.  The person who lost the coin did not sit around and hope it would turn up but turned the house over looking for it.  The Prodigal Son may have decided on his own to return, but in the end it was his father who was not only looking out for him each and every day but who ran out to meet him.  It was not Paul who had to come to his senses and realize the truth of Jesus, but the truth of Jesus came to him.  And for us, even for us, God did not wait for us to realize we need a savior before He provided us one. 
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.  Romans 5:8-10 NKJV
Jesus died for us while we were still enemies of God.  God did not wait for us to come and ask for a savior but He sent us one when we did not even want one or know we needed one.  Jesus did not die for our sins after we came to Him, but reached out to us through His death so that we do not have to face judgment.  Grace reaches out, and we must do the same. 

I remember a couple of years ago, a man went into an Amish school and shot and killed several children.  This man had no reason to do that and in the end took his own life.  The families of the victims ended up visiting the family of the shooter as an act of love and forgiveness and even attended his funeral in that same spirit.  I know they have some theological issues, but this they got so amazingly right that it puts us all to shame.  Think about it, they of their own volition sought out to love and forgive the man who shot and killed their children and yet we start small wars because someone hurts our feelings.  Shame on us.  Shame on me, shame on you, shame on everyone because which one of us has not been guilty of that?  We need to reach out in grace.  Grace does not wait for a confession or apology.  Grace does not wait for someone to have to make it up to them.  If you have to earn it through even an apology it is not grace.  Grace is not earned, it is given.  Grace is not payment, it is a gift.  Just as God offers that gift to all, we must offer it to all. 

Finally, my friends, we need to live that grace.  In that, we need to let people know they are forgiven.  I am not talking about going out with a church group and handing out Gospel tracts telling people that Jesus loves them.  There is nothing wrong with that, and in fact it is a commendable thing to do.  The thing is, that is not living grace, it is sharing grace.  We are called to live grace.  Living grace does not mean telling a stranger you do not know that sins you never heard about are forgiven him.  Living grace means going to that former best friend who stabbed you in the back and telling them you forgive them and love them.  Living grace means going to that family member who betrayed your trust and telling them that you forgive them and love them. Living grace means going to that unsaved person who hurt or offended you, even if it is in the worst imaginable way, and telling that person you love them, you forgive them, and Jesus died for them.  That is living grace.  That is the kind of grace that will change lives.

I want to challenge you all.  I want to challenge you to think of an unsaved (or saved for that matter) person who wronged you in some way.  I want you to seek them out and tell them that you forgive them, tell them that you love them, and tell them about Jesus. After today, do it again tomorrow.  Then the next day, and the next, and continue to do it until you are holding no unforgiveness in your own heart.  If you want to change lives, do not just talk about grace in church but live it in the world.  Not only will you affect their lives, but you will affect your own.  That anger we hold onto is our own millstone that we hang around our necks.  It weighs us down and prevents us from really experiencing the joy of the Lord.  As you forgive more and more that weight will get lighter and lighter and soon your own life will be changed.  Once you start to truly live the grace of God, you will experience grace like you have never imagined.  

I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to address the unsaved person who may have stumbled across this post.  Please, not matter how low you are, no matter how filthy your sin, now matter how badly or how many people you have hurt, the grace of Jesus Christ is available for you.  No depth is too deep or sin so vile that the long arm of God will not reach down and pull you out.  There is no sin so wretched that Jesus refused to bear on the Cross.  There is no person who sinned so much that there was no more room at the Cross to fit your burden.  Grab hold of that arm reaching for you.  Let God pull you out of that mire you have dwelt in your whole life.  He will pull you up, He will cleanse you, He will sanctify you, and He will grow you in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.  All you need to do is cling to that arm as through your eternal life depended on it.  
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.  Romans 16:24 NKJV

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