Grace. Last week I made sure we got to church early. Frances Chan was speaking and I am a fan. We even took his picture, which is something I would not normally do in church. His books are so deep, insightful, convicting. As an author, he is so vulnerable, honest and real. It was the first time I saw him speak in person and wow! What a dynamic speaker! He is everything I could only dream to be as a speaker ~ hilarious, insightful, engaging. He touched the funny bone and the heart. His message had impact and covered trust and struggle, rejoicing and relationship. I walked away filled with worship of God and some good action steps to make me a better disciple of Jesus.
But. Yes, I have a but. It is a small but and an unfair but, since my expectations are unrealistic, more than even a super human like Frances Chan could meet. But, I wondered if his analogy about grace was enough.
He shared the story of how his daughter, normally an “A” student, failed one of her exams. She was so afraid of what he would do, what kind of punishment she would receive, and how much she might have disappointed him.
“You know what we are going to do?” he asked his daughter, when she finally faced him with the exam.
“We are going to go out to dinner to celebrate,” he said.
“What?” She was incredulous!
“Yup! We are going to go celebrate your first “F”. And even though it’s a school night, we are going to the movies ~ whatever you want to see.”
Wow! What a great parallel to God’s grace! I thought. Of course, that was Frances Chan’s intention. He had a powerful opportunity for a teachable moment with his daughter about God’s grace ~ he was also quick to point out that if it happened again he would have a teachable moment regarding God’s wrath!
But something about the analogy wasn’t sitting well with me. Something about it wasn’t right. It just wasn’t enough ~ it was too human nature, too natural and not enough supernatural. Let me explain.
You see, Frances Chan’s daughter was normally an outstanding student. After this mishap with one bad grade, chances are very good she would go back to being an outstanding student. Frances himself said she would because she is Asian (he got a big laugh from that one!) Wouldn’t it be natural for any of us to give her grace under these circumstances? These things happen. If she is anything like my high-achieving daughter, she probably had a hard time even giving herself grace for this minor blunder. So, in my opinion (no offense intended to a super great teacher), I think this kind of grace is not a stretch. It’s not a supernatural grace.
What about the kid who fails not one exam, but fails over and over again? What about the defiant child who doesn’t give a rip what their parents think? What about the one who insists on living life their own way? At what point do we stop taking them out to dinner? After the fourth, fifth or sixth infraction? See, this is a different story. This makes us pause. Continue to lavish grace on a kid like this? A little harder to imagine. So, at what point does our natural, human nature grace run out?
The thing is we, you and I, are the failing kid. We like to think we are the “good” kid with only minor infractions, easy to extend grace to, but think about it for a minute. How many times have you failed to live up to God’s standards? For me, too many to count. How often are your thoughts not in alignment with God? This is a daily battle for me. Do you ever have seasons in life when you just want to live life your own way? Let’s not talk about that, except to say that one of the best things I did was surrender my stubborn spirit to the Lord.
Oh yes, I think we can all agree we have been a defiant child to God…and maybe even more often than we would like to admit. And what is God’s response to us? At what point does He cross His arms and walk away? Never! God’s grace is never ending. From the most heinous act to the most minor offense, His love covers a multitude of sins ~ something our human minds and hearts can barely comprehend. Each time we fail and fall and come to Him with a contrite heart, He forgives, He forgets. He still lavishes unmerited favor and blessings on us. His grace and mercy are unfathomable. This type of grace is not natural ~ it truly is supernatural.
I loved Frances Chan’s story about his daughter and agree that it does give us a glimpse into God’s grace. I could easily understand and see myself giving grace in that situation. And that is precisely why it made me a little uneasy. The kind of natural grace I could extend to another has limits. It has memory. It is justifiable. But that is not God’s grace. How can we adequately explain His grace when His grace supersedes the natural? Really? Words can’t. His grace is incomprehensible.
Hope. I sat at the table next to my son, turned on my laptop and scanned my inbox. An urgent prayer request from Pastor Rick. I opened the email. Each word I read seemed to suck another breath from my lungs. It was tragic news. Our pastor’s son had taken his own life. My chest tightened as I imagined Pastor Rick and Kay, hearts broken to the core, trying to process the loss of their child. It was more than my imagination could take and I closed my eyes tight.
When you listen to a pastor, week after week, for over ten years, you begin to feel like you know him personally; though, the closest I’ve physically gotten to Rick was the one time he strolled through the church, patted my shoulder and warmly greeted me. And Kay I have only seen while she spoke from the stage. But to see them, to hear them speak, to read their books, well, you know these are two souls with tender hearts. Mom and Dad hearts. Human hearts. Crushed hearts.
You could be the pastor of one of the biggest churches in America, have faith that can move a mountain, and trust in the Lord with all your heart, but let’s be real, this has to hurt like hell. Maybe I’m not supposed to say that as a Christian, but the reality is, Christ followers are far from being immune to pain here on earth and hell hurts.
“What do people do who don’t know the Lord?” I asked, as much to myself as to my son sitting next to me. We both just looked at each other, still in shock and sadness. But my question has resonated with me since.
There is tragedy in the world every second of every day. You only have to log onto the world wide web to know that the tears shed from broken hearts creates a perpetual wave of sorrow. So when tragedy strikes, where does our hope come from?
Some people find hope and comfort in other people; but we are a very unpredictable species. Sometimes we can be loving and kind, comforting to those who hurt, and sometimes we can be preoccupied and busy at best, even cruel and callous at worst. Some people find hope and comfort in achievement and experiences, a means of distraction from the pain; but how long can you keep a body in motion? Every body needs some down time, and then what do you do? Some people find hope and comfort in things, in the process of acquiring things; but things get old, they break, they rust, they tarnish. Some people find comfort, though maybe not hope, in alcohol and drugs; but I know first-hand the consequences for this kind of grief therapy is unhealthy and the cost is too high.
It’s a broken world and a broken world can’t offer the kind of hope and comfort a grieving soul needs. Our Creator, God, knows this. And He knows the pain and grief associated with losing a precious son. His heart breaks with every heart that breaks, and He sees each tear that falls. He longs for us to call out to Him so He can wrap His heavenly arms around us.
And He knows how much hell hurts ~ and it is His greatest desire to keep us out of it. In fact, it is His fervent desire to have each one of His precious creation with Him in heaven one day. Heaven ~ paradise, a place free from pain and suffering, free from inhumanity and tragedy and most importantly, a place filled with the glory of God. Filled with His glory because that’s where He is ~ waiting to welcome His children, like Matthew, with loving arms. This, my friends, is where my hope comes from ~ a loving God, a redeemer, a place in heaven. And I know from years of listening to Pastor Rick that this is where he and his family have their hope . I also know their hope would be for you to know Jesus the way they do ~ if you don’t, would you consider getting to know Him now?
Censorship. I was talking with a new believer about prayer.
“You know, I don’t pray for myself. I just pray for my family and people I love.”
“Why not?” I asked. “You know, God tells us we can come to Him with everything.”
Oh, I spoke so confidently, with such conviction and wisdom. Of course, I believed it when I said it but later I realized that sometimes I am guilty of my own censorship when it comes to praying to God. It goes something like this.
“Hey, Jesus, I know you’re busy, got a lot a stuff goin’ on up there, so I am only going to bother you with the big stuff. I’ll take care of all the small stuff.”
“Lynne, I’m big enough, I can handle the small stuff, too.”
“It wouldn’t be right to ask you for help with something I can do myself, Jesus. I should be able to handle it, so I won’t even ask. After all, you help those who help themselves, right?”
“Lynne, I help those who ask.”
“Love you, Jesus, and I appreciate the offer to help, but I got myself into this mess, it is my responsibility to get myself out.”
“Lynne, the mess you are in is so great that you could never get yourself out. That’s the reason I died for you. I love you.”
It is a sly thing, this subconscious censorship, this idea that I know what is and isn’t important enough to bring before the Lord. I hate to use the “h” word, but I am feeling a bit hypocritical. Do I somehow think that as someone who has followed Jesus for a while, I no longer need to rely on Him for everything, big and small? Do you ever censor your prayer life? Thankfully Jesus is merciful and patient and He loves us enough to give us His Word, not ours, to be the final authority. And as I shared with my new believer friend, Jesus does indeed tell us to come to Him with everything. Uncensored.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.