Several weeks ago I was on facebook, instant messaging with a really funny and great guy named Dave Burchett. He’s a writer, blogger and television producer for the Texas Rangers baseball games. Anyway, in the middle of our conversation he wrote these words:
“Hey John, my 1-year Grace Anniversary was this week.”
I stopped typing, took my hands off the keyboard and just smiled. My friend gets it. An incredibly gifted communicator and writer, Dave cannot stop talking and writing about grace these days. It flows out of every blog he writes. Check out his website, Confessions of a Bad Christian. You’ll love it.
About a year ago, he and his wife were invited, through a friend, to an event we put on in Carlsbad, California. He came for the beach, the hotel and the food. He left with his entire world rocked. The Grace of God apprehended Dave. He knew the saving grace of God before that day. But grace, as a way to live every day, grace that would cause Him to trust God’s ability to woo his new nature rather than attempting to fix behaviors and appearance through his silly efforts, grace that would free vulnerability, trust, joy, playfulness and intimacy with Christ and others, grace that would free him from managing his sin by taking it out of hiddenness into the light where it would lose it’s power, grace that would teach Dave that God’s arm was around him, and that God was absolutely crazy about him on his worst day – this was all radically, astoundingly and wonderfully new. It began to repaint his entire landscape.
The nature of who and how grace apprehends is often perplexing to me. Others at the same conference, sitting at a table right next to the Burchetts might have said, “That was a good time. Enjoyed the teaching, some interesting insights. Those guys have some good takes. That Lynch guy was strange, but funny. Great desserts!” And they would stuff whatever concepts they learned into the duffle bag of a thousand other contradicting sermons and epistemologies. And not much would change.
God does not have twenty voices. He has one. And at the core of His voice, throughout all His different dealings with man, are these indisputable truths:
“Therefore now there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.”
“I have been crucified with Christ and it no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me.”
“I want to be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”
“For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.”
“We are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.”
“You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
I remember exactly where I was – back in 1987, in my office, preparing a sermon in longhand, on Ephesians chapter 1. I could no longer preach messages of “buck-up and try harder, like me.” And I could no longer bluff that I was living the life I was trying to convince others of. And God, through an environment of grace that had been enduring my arrogant, messages of religious self-effort, finally broke through. I said something like this to my audience that Sunday morning:
“Hey, I’m discovering I haven’t been preaching the truth to you. I was exegeting the text the best I could. It’s just that my methodology was bankrupt. I’ve been telling you in a hundred ways, that if you’ll just try harder, care more, be better, somehow you’ll get closer to God and He won’t be so let down by you. Something you can do to make things happen. It’s a lie. You can’t do it. It won’t work. It’ll let you down…If it’s any consolation, until this week I didn’t know it was a lie. So, if you’ll endure my learning curve, Ephesians has been convincing my heart of an entirely different way of living that God has for us. From today forth I will be preaching the grace of God and how to live out of who He says I am. I don’t know what I’m doing, but maybe we can learn this together. What do you say?”
That was over twenty years ago, and the same batch of rabble allowed me to stay and take a hack at learning these truths. Go figure.
Every now and then someone believes such verses and doesn’t try to balance them with other verses that seem to say the opposite. Instead they look at all confusing verses through the grid of the plain and clear revealed love, grace, delight and sovereign power of God for us. And they find themselves risking to stand against all the methodology, technique and impressive sounding hype of disciplined self-effort. Instead they trust Christ to live and release His power through them. It is scary. It feels like you’re giving up the store. But soon they put their full weight upon God’s ability to mature them. These are the ones who get to live free, free the captives, restore families, and experience the tender intimacy of a God who is not disgusted. They get to turn the world upside down. They have language for those who have waited for such hope all their lives. Oh, and they have a really great life – Messy, fragile, but unrehearsed, alive, authentic and full of playful joy.
Oh, and sometimes like my friend Dave, they can remember the day God apprehended them with grace to live almost as well as the day His grace first apprehended their souls to belief.