Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Necessary Grace

March 23, 2016

"Grace, Grace, God's grace;
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, Grace, God's grace;
Grace that is greater than all our sin."

The old Gospel song of which those words are the chorus actually begins, "Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, freely bestowed on all who believe." Today as I attended the funeral of a ministerial colleague's father, I was reminded of how much I need that grace. The colleague's father was also a pastor, as was his father before him; a three-generation legacy of service. As my friend spoke of his dad, of his ministry to the churches he served, his commitment to his family, and all the things he did with and for his children and grandchildren, and his unrelenting concern that his children and grandchildren know Christ personally, I wondered what might be said of me when my day comes. After all, I'm closer to the end than the beginning!

My mind wandered over my years of ministry, getting stuck more than once in the mire of mistakes made, opportunities missed. I am more aware than ever before that we can't go back and redo or unravel what we've done in the past. Yet still I wonder what I might have done better, what I might not have done at all, how much more effective I might have been were it not for my weaknesses and shortcomings.

I suppose most of us have thoughts like this occasionally or even frequently. I fall into the "frequent" category, which is why grace is such an important matter for me. Without grace, I am without hope. Some years ago I talked with a spokesperson from another religion who openly contrasted his faith with Christianity. "We do not believe in vicarious atonement," he declared, "We believe that everyone has to pay for his own sins." I thought then, and I think now, "What a sad way to live."

If it weren't for grace, God's unconditional mercy and acceptance, I could easily get lost in the misery of my self-condemnation. It is a never-ending downward spiral. My hope, my only hope is in the words of St. Paul: "There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1) St. John describes Satan as "the accuser of the brethren," who will one day be cast down. Until then, we contend with him by exposing his lies. God convicts, the devil condemns. There is a big difference. Conviction brings hope through repentance and forgiveness. Condemnation simply degrades and destroys. Grace is God's way of dealing with our failure, sins, and shortcomings.

I don't need any reminding of my shortcomings, but I have to keep reminding myself of God's grace. So I sing that song to myself, and lean hard into the grace, mercy, and love of God. It's my salvation. For real.

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