I will come back to this blog and this idea. I just need to settle into my new ministry and church first.
I remember pretty distinctly the day I met Bobby. It was my 3rd grade year. I was at a new elementary (same town) and Bobby had just moved to town. Even though we were in the same class we were never friends. In fact over the next four or five years we became sworn enemies. We wouldn’t just exchange words, but we also exchanged blows. We fought and fought dirty. Every year the tension that grew would eventually explode and there would be an awful violent fight. I never liked Bobby and I think it is safe to say that he never liked me. The fighting was not well hidden and even our families did not like one another. Other kids in our neighborhood were in on the action, helping stir things up or taking sides. It was inevitable that the majority of our neighborhood would be brought in on the arguments and fights. However, there was one event that would change the dynamic of the neighborhood and the fighting relationship. Bobby was riding bikes in the neighborhood one day with some friends. He was pedaling as fast as he could go, while looking back over his shoulder. He turned his head just in time to face a stationary side-view mirror on a large truck. There was no time to stop and his face hit that mirror at full speed. Bobby had a concussion, lost teeth, had his jaw wired shut, and had many other lacerations on his face. I didn’t gloat over his injuries. I really didn’t feel anything at all. We had both been staying our distance that year from one another. But my mother felt something and decided that we should do something nice for Bobby and it should include a personal visit. But more on that later…
The entire Christian story revolves mainly around one week in history. I think that is simply amazing. A week where many prophecies were fulfilled, Jesus gives up his body as a final sacrifice for all, and then he does what no other God or prophet has been able to do by rising from the dead. I think that grace is the unique quality of Christianity. Unfortunately, due to being human we cannot conceive of having something so life-giving without doing anything for it, so we have not spoken as much about grace. The truth of the matter is that the beginning of grace also includes the cross, the unique characteristic of living in Jesus.
Grace has many beginnings and one of those is due to the cross. You really need to understand that crucifixion was a means of torture and humiliation. It was Roman invention, not a Jewish one. The victims would be stripped naked (for humiliation) and nailed through their wrists and feet (For torture). It is believed by many that suffocation was the cause of death as the lungs filled up fluid. It was a slow and painful death that played out on a hill outside the city where everyone could walk by and see. This was Rome’s way of saying don’t make the same mistake.
I think it is safe to say that Jesus would rather be doing anything else than being crucified. I think sometimes we have this picture in our heads that Jesus was excited about the cross. We believe that since he talked about it and prophesied towards it, that he wanted it. That Jesus just couldn’t wait to be a sacrifice for all humankind. Well, there is a difference between living out God’s will and wanting what that may mean. If there is any indication at all that the thought of having to go through such horrendous torture was agonizing for Jesus, it was his prayer in Gethsemane. Jesus didn’t want to go to the cross, but He did want to do his father’s will. And for Jesus the will of God always won out.
Now back to Bobby. I knew that what my mom had suggested was the right thing. We both knew that this might not change anything in the fighting relationship we had. But sometimes you do what you don’t want to do, because it is the right thing to do. So we took our gift and headed across the street. I timidly knocked on the door and his dad greeted us. Needless to say that he was surprised, but in the moment of crisis there seem to be no memory of wrong and a strange absence of bitterness. I remember walking to his room, exchanging hellos, and handing him the gift we brought. We sat and listened as he told the story of his accident through heavily medicated and foggy eyes. He was grateful, you could tell and as we left he made a strong point to say thank you! It was the only time I was ever in his house. There was never another incident between us. And even through reluctance I learned that day not only what grace means, but what it looks like too. Grace begins with sacrifice!
1. Describe a time when you received or gave grace
2. How does the cross point to grace?
When you begin to read the Bible through the lens that Grace began in the garden, it changes how you read the rest of the Old Testament. You see the grace given to Cain, Noah, Abraham, Moses, the prophets, Saul, David, Solomon, and the many people of Israel.
So, back to the answer of Jesus. John 1:1-2 has become my favorite scripture. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Jesus was with God when He created the world and all that is in it. He was with God when Adam and Eve took that first bite. He was with God when Cain killed Abel. He was with God through the flood, the covenants, death of prophets, and idolatry of kings. And yet he comes in the flesh to establish fully the kingdom of God.
Jesus dispenses grace because he has been taught by His father the importance and need for it. Jesus has a different vision, new eyes, than the world of his time (and even our world today). Jesus shows compassion to the outcasts of society: lepers, women, non-Jews. He speaks to people that have little to no religious influence and condemns those who are most influential.
One of the greatest examples of all of these things coming together is in Matthew chapter 9. Here Jesus commands Matthew, a tax collector, to follow him. Matthew would have been despised by not only religious leaders, but by anyone who paid taxes. And the story really takes a interesting twist when after calling him, Matthew invites Jesus to a party with armpit of Jewish society; tax collectors and sinners. Tax collectors were known for how they cheated others for personal gain and the “And sinners” were known for being Jews who chose what Jewish laws they would follow. They all sit around the table sharing food, swapping stories, and laughing at one another’s jokes. Jesus doesn’t shun the party, he joins it. Jesus doesn’t preach about their need for repentance or their destiny to Sheol (Think deep, dark, tortuous Hell). Jesus only preaches when the Pharisees, the religious leaders/rule keepers, ask His disciples, “why?” Jesus acknowledges the need at this table for help and dispenses their life medicine in the form of mercy…grace!
And this begins Jesus’ pursuit of those in need of a break and how the Father freely gives life through His grace.
We are following hundreds of people through facebook, twitter, blogs, etc. I even have a following. And we are pursuing dream jobs, financial gain, long-term relationships, and church homes. And while we follow others and pursue life may we be given vision for following Jesus and pursuing His grace!
How are you pursuing God's grace?
What strikes you most about Jesus in the beginning?
What grace are you dispensing today?
Like everything grace has a Genesis, a beginning. In fact, if I took an informal poll around my office (I work for a church) and the most common response was Jesus. Now, Jesus is a great response for most church questions and in the end this is the correct answer to the grace question. But…getting to that answer may be different than we thought at first.
Celebrating the beginning of Grace with Jesus’ life and/or death and resurrection is like us celebrating our birthdays. Think what you want about whether a human life begins at the point air is entering the lungs or when the first set of cells begin to divide, something is happing in the womb to create the body of a human. Grace is definitely linked to Jesus and his time on this earth, however that began in the beginning with God.
After reading Genesis chapters 1-2 we quickly understand that everything is good. Of course when we read chapter 3 we get the picture that things in this perfect garden, with perfect God, and good creation can go wrong. Adam and Eve make the mistake of a lifetime (literally, has there ever been another mistake that affects the rest of life as we know it). They eat from the forbidden tree, become knowledgeable and feel shame. Adam and Eve are disappointed. God is disappointed.
And yet unlike the mistakes that are made on the potter’s wheel, God doesn’t just smash up all of creation and start over. He doesn’t call his one mulligan. God speaks, reprimands, draws up conditions and consequences and shuts down the garden.
And there you have it…the first appearance of grace! Grace begins with the nature of God, which is mercy. He not only forgives Adam and Eve and allows them to live, but he begins to multiply the entire earth with more imperfect human beings only so that He can continually offer grace and one day fully redeem all of his creation back to its original Genesis; perfection.
Discussion (click "comments" above):
What is your response to God’s grace in the garden?
How did grace begin for you?
I have been praying these past few weeks about how to put these discussions of grace together. I decided that I must hit the gas pedal and go and steer as the curves come. So today begins a journey and discussion about grace. It may go for years or we may run out of gas within weeks.
My deepest desire is to make this subject approachable and a real discussion. That will mean that I need those of you who read this particular blog to comment and give feedback. I will enter the prompt of thought through a post and then you hit comments and offer other thoughts. Please disagree with what you find to not fit and agree with what you do find that fits. I promise not to slam you and to protect you from others who comment. The comments you give could actually lead us to the next post and steer our questions and thoughts.
My prayer is that we will find new passion and meaning for a topic that has been a staple of Christianity since the beginning of the world. As we explore this theme may God grow us to be people of perpetual grace!
I will try and post once a week and hopefully you will comment at least once a week. Soon maybe we will find a more definitive title for this particular blog...but for now it is, "Grace."