Friday, May 9, 2014

Experiencing Grace... Again

It may be that, at some point in your life, you were deeply touched by a profound encounter with Jesus Christ.  You found peace, love, and joy.  Your mind and heart was swept up in the awe and wonder of God.  Perhaps you were deeply moved for a few hours, days, or weeks.  And then, eventually, you returned to a more normal routine of daily existence.  Over time you drifted from your spiritual experience and got caught up in the demands of career and family.  What happened next is that you began to treat Jesus like some old friend from another town whom you dearly loved in years past but have just lost track of.  Of course, it was unintentional.  You simply allowed circumstances to separate the relationship.  Preoccupation with something else took over.  Now, you often find yourself with this low level irritation, frustrated with others and unable to love as you ought.  You have become what the late author Brennan Manning called a “Christian agnostic” – people who do not deny Jesus, but just ignore him.

            If your days are trivial and hectic; if the clock determines what you do; if you are numb to the news and headlines around you; if you are all jangled and jittered by life’s circumstances; if phones and computers and gadgets rule your day; if there is little room for responding to humanity humanely; if you have settled into a comfortable piety and a well-fed virtue; if you have grown complacent and lead a practical life; then you are in need of being touched again by the grace and love of God in Christ by treating Jesus as if he were your very best friend as well as the awesome Son of God.

            We are all still here walking on this earth because none of our failures and lack of faith have proved terminal.  We are alive today because of God’s radical grace.  The forgiveness of God is a gratuitous liberation from guilt and regret.  It is an extreme amnesty.  Through looking in the mirror and seeing personal sinfulness we amazingly end up encountering the merciful love of the redeeming God.  The grace of God says to us, “Hush, child, I don’t need to know where you’ve been or what you’ve been up to; just let me love you.”  When we have experienced that kind of love, we are then in a position to love one another deeply from the heart.  It is a new life of love, the kind of love that comes from God – an unconditional love that is permanent and will never go away – it is imperishable (1 Peter 1:17-23).

            What this all means for us as God’s people is that we will not just show love when we are assured that we will be loved in return; we will not just wait for others to show love to us first; we will not expect to reach some higher level of knowledge or spirituality in order to be gracious and loving; we will simply love with the kind of love that has been given to us by Jesus. 

As God’s born again people, we love with a gracious, sacrificial, vulnerable, and desperate kind of love.  It is the kind of love that is like the intensive care waiting room in a hospital.  I have spent hours with people in such waiting rooms.  In the intensive care waiting room we are strangers, but there is a loving vulnerability to being together.  I have sat waiting with anguished people and listened to urgent questions: Will my husband make it? Will my child walk again even she lives? How do you live without your companion of thirty years?  The hospital waiting room is different from any other place in the world. And the people who wait are different. They can't do enough for each other. No one is rude. The distinctions of race and class melt away. Each person pulls for everyone else.  Vanity and pretense vanish. No one is embarrassed about crying or asking tough questions.  In that moment their whole world is focused on the doctor's next report. Everyone intuitively knows that loving someone else is what life is all about.  By God’s amazing grace we will all learn to live like that without having to learn it the hard way in a place of intense anxiety and suffering.


            There is always someone who needs God’s love as much or more than we do.  Christ’s resurrection is not some flash-in-a-pan – it has staying power – it is real and permanent.  And it is our hope of living a new life of gracious unconditional love.  Scores of people today look for love in all the wrong places.  As followers of Jesus, let’s show them the source of true love:  Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  Jesus has come to you and shown you the full extent of his love through the cross.  Jesus chose to enter this broken world and limp through life with you.  Jesus actually expects more failure from you than you expect from yourself.  And he gives grace.  So, all of our failures to love as we ought can be laid before Jesus because there is grace that covers it all – a deep love that forgives, redeems, and makes new.  Amen.

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