Monday, January 23, 2012

When Grace Became Amazing to Me

I'm not John Newton.

I didn't make my fortune trafficking in human misery. The 'hour I first believed' was not the dramatic event for me that it was for Newton. It could not have been. In fact, I wasn't amazed by grace until called myself a Christian for decades.

It was only after I decided to practice grace when practicing grace was painful that I began to love grace. Only then did the reality I have received grace become amazing to me.

Many years after I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior, I decided to take literally what Jesus taught about the Day of Judgment in His sheep and goats description. That decision reshaped how I lived out my faith. I began to do many things that I'd never done before. In the end, that decision changed what I believe.

One of the things I began to do was intentionally to latch on to a person who fit the description the 'the least of these brothers of mine' nearly perfectly. And, I began to take every opportunity to serve him.

It turns out that I chose wisely. The person I chose (call him Abe) is cynical, demanding, ungrateful, never satisfied, perfectionistic, foul-mouthed, judgmental, bigotted and, often, downright mean. On many days, for me even to come into his presence twists my guts into knots. Getting his food for him and taking care of him is never fun because I know that no matter how carefully I do it, I won't do it well enough. Being in public with him is a horror because I'm sure we'll be seen by people who know I'm a part of Faith Community Church who will condemn the church because its 'pastor' associates with a man whose opinions are so vile and whose speech is so coarse. I have never done anything for Abe because I enjoy doing it. I have only ever done it because Jesus specifies, "whatever you did for the least of did for me."

Here's how grace became amazing to me from almost the first moment I connected that closely with Abe:

I realized that I am Abe.

God loved the world so much that He sent His pure and perfect Son into the world to live in it and to die at the hands of the people of the world. When I think about myself in light who Jesus is, I get a more realistic image of myself and I have no trouble serving Abe. When I think about who I am compared to Jesus, loving Abe becomes easy. Liking him? Not so much. But, loving Him? How could I not? How could I have a hope of eternity with Jesus if I do not love Abe?

When I take Abe to see his doctor and I want to hang my head in the waiting room or examination room every time he opens his mouth, I gain a better understanding of what grace is: A kindness done that is not deserved. I realize what Jesus goes through sitting at the right hand of the Father as He intercedes for me.

And, I find grace more amazing than ever.

When Jesus talked about the cross, He talked about a sort of transaction taking place. He died on one for me. There was a ransom, there was redemption, there was reconciliation. (Sorry. I still will not say that there was substitution.)

But, Jesus says that if, in response to His cross, I don't carry my own cross, I am lost because I can not be His disciple. Carrying my cross will never be fun. Following Jesus, knowing His destination when He carried His, will never be, in itself, a pleasant journey. It will never be fun.

However it does, more often that I would have expected, bring joy.

And, it makes grace absolutely amazing.