I wonder why we, as a people, are just so bad at extending grace when we should be experts at it? As followers of Christ, we’ve accepted grace and experienced it firsthand. But when it comes to showing grace to our brothers and sisters it sometimes seems like we have no idea what grace even is at all.
I’ve spent my life in churches. My mom and dad always took me to church when I was a kid. I heard all about Jesus and heaven and peace. I learned the beatitudes and got a shiny plaque. The church people stood up and clapped for me. That was nice.
Somewhere along the way I started learning the difference between “good people” and “bad people.” Good people were people who went to church on Sunday. They didn’t swear or smoke or go to dances and they never wore bikinis. Bad people had weird hair, dressed funny, smoked and swore. They were bad and we were good. It was our job to make them good. Somehow, somewhere Jesus was involved with the whole equation but I wasn’t quite sure how. The most important thing was that people needed to be straightened out.
As I grew and moved from one church to another I learned different definitions for bad people. I met people who told me that other people who I thought were good were really bad because they read the wrong translation of the bible or listened to Christian rock and roll or wore the wrong clothes. That threw me for a loop because I thought that we were all on the same footing because we all believed in Jesus. They told me that some Christians were “being deceived.” Apparently there were “good Christians” and “bad Christians.” The standards change from place to place.
By time I was in my late teens I had several opportunities to sit on the front lines of some good ole’ church brouhahas. Most were in the context of something the adults called “church business meetings.” I remember one in particular where a woman did something in the church kitchen that ticked some of the other women off. The fireworks sent sparks everywhere. Man, they were really going at it, calling each other names and using charged words like “corruption”, “integrity” and “character.” I remember wondering how Jesus fit into the mess.
College hit and, frankly, I was glad to be free of “church.” But, by senior year, I decided “church” was probably the right thing to do so my wife and I wandered into a large baptist church near campus. By the next night we had three people in our little living room welcoming us and telling us all about their pastor. I remember one guy telling me, “He’s a man’s man, He’s no pantywaist.” That was odd.
We stayed at that church a few weeks and had another visit from some fellas telling Robin and I that we needed to be “re-baptized” in their church and “step up” to membership. I guess we got baptized wrong the first time? It didn’t count. We didn’t return.
Somehow I knew that Jesus was real in the midst of all the messiness. I had enough brushes with people of grace, people who let things slide and smiled a lot, that I knew I wanted to be like them. They had a peace that comes only through receiving and then giving Grace. They were ambassadors of Jesus. Ambassadors tend not to scream much or forcefully make people submit to their agendas, plans and goals. They represent.
We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.
I committed my life to being an ambassador and working in ministry. In these past 25 years I have witnessed some terrible carnage in churches. I’ve seen people fight about rugs and nurseries, soda machines and guitars, street signs and paint. I watched people leave a church body because of the style selected for new auditorium chairs. I’ve sat in budget meetings where brothers and sisters have fought for an hour about a $250 mission expense and then voted to pass a $5,000 line item for new choir robes without a word of discussion. I often wonder why we fight about the things we fight about. Why do we bear our fangs about so many things that really don’t seem to matter much?
Grace is undeserved favor. Grace is about putting others above ourselves. It is about walking the extra mile, turning the other cheek and stepping back from our agendas to consider others. It is about giving the benefit of the doubt. It is about seeing every part’s value and even paying special honor to the “less presentable” parts.
Where grace subsides, conflict abounds. Our tongue betrays the true condition of our hearts with hurtful, self-elevating words directed at our brothers and sisters. That rudder steers our ship on the wrong course when it promotes us as “good Christians” and denounces others as “bad Christians.”
Where grace fades pharisaism intensifies and fissures multiply.