Sunday, March 9, 2008

What I'm Reading....

I'm going to try to be more consistent in writing about what I'm reading. I have this terrible habit of starting five thousand books at once, so it take forever to actually finish one. I've recently finished one that I will soon write about, and within the next couple of weeks, I should be finishing up some more. I'm going to try to hold off on starting any more for a little while. Although the waiting list is long. Too many of you have been giving good book recommendations! But here are some thoughts on a book I've recently begun to read....( I know, I said I wouldn't start anymore until my currently-reading list gets shorter. This is the last one. I hope.)

Another book I bought at the Focus on the Family bookstore while in Colorado was Grace Gone Wild by Robert Jeffress. This man's brother-in-law was my pastor growing up and our friends, so I've always noticed his books in the bookstore. This one has caught my eye for a long time. But about five hundred books catch my eye every time I enter a bookstore, so I have to exercise much self-control anytime I'm in one. So you can imagine my glee when I saw this particular book on the 75% off clearance table.

Church environments I've been a part of in the past have ranged across a wide spectrum from grace-ignorance to grace-abuse. I've seen many people completely overlook the notion of grace, and in more recent years, I've been exposed to some examples of grace being abused. Grace being used as an excuse for spiritual laziness. I've seen the terms "grace" and "legalism" misused in such disturbing ways that many Christians are starting to believe that because of grace, it doesn't matter how we live and the choices we make. And as I've seen that more, God has really been stirring something in me. I don't know what it is exactly, but have a growing desire to know how to respond to that. How to be a good grace-receiver myself. And how to be an example to the Christians around me of what it means to know grace and walk in it. And what it doesn't mean. So this is a journey I'm just beginning and certainly am nowhere close to "having it down" yet.

I remember reading a blog several months back that brought me to tears. The author wrote transparently about her struggle to resume church attendance after a devastating loss in her life. Although she expressed heartfelt love for the Lord and her experience of Him was very evident through her writings, she did not know if she would return to church. She was unsure of how essential it was, and it was her feeling that God's grace (unearned by man) made it an unnecessary activity, i.e. God saved her from having to earn His approval, so why would she need to prove anything by going to church? I felt compassion for her. I really did. I understood how her grief would lead her to not feel like doing something like that. I certainly can't say that I know for sure how I would respond in a similar situation. I think I know what is right, but do I always respond to circumstances the right way? Absolutely not! I am incapable of doing so, without supernatural power anyway! So I certainly sympathized with her feelings and understood that such feelings are probably a natural part of the grieving process. Hear my heart on that. I want Jesus to fill me with compassion for people in situations like that. I know I need grace and mercy often.

The part that made me really sad though was reading the 60 or so comments by Christians who literally praised her for her decision to not do something she didn't feel like doing. They didn't acknowledge truth about God's heart for our involvement in the local church. Please hear me on this - I certainly would not have told her what to do or "preach" at her that she was doing the wrong thing. I think it would have been just as disappointing if the comments had been void of compassion and took on a tone of instruction at a time and in a context that wasn't appropriate. I know God is patient with me as I take a long time to agree with Him sometimes, and I am overwhelmed by His sweetness in that. It is so undeserved. I don't know exactly what would have been the right thing to say in that situation. But I think there are definitely some wrong things to say in that situation. I think it would not be right to tell her she was doing the right thing if it goes against the teaching of Scripture and the character of God. The commenters saw her authenticity as noble while ignoring the fact that it was based on untruth. I believe it is possible to show grace and empathize and encourage someone in that situation while refusing to call sin something that it isn't. And I was struck with grief as I observed these comments and their consistency in expressing the notion that grace allows us to pick and choose which commands of God we want to keep. Almost as if we get to decide right and wrong. It was like they really believed that the freedom that comes from grace frees us to try to "be God" and live however we want. That couldn't be further from the truth. And again, I'm not really good at knowing how to approach situations or conversations like that. I struggle with it and have no expertise on that whatsoever. I just know that I was bothered by this way of thinking that says grace means nothing is asked of us. I see in the Bible that although our salvation is a free gift of grace, Christ asks us to be willing to give up everything to follow Him. It's not an exhange. We don't obey to fulfill the requirements of our salvation. But obedience is still an essential element of the Christian faith! And I certainly don't know the hearts of those who commented on that particular subject and it could be that that's never what they intended to express, but still, that's what they communicated. And I think their supposed perspective represents what a lot of people within the church really think concerning grace and what it frees us to do and be. Grace didn't free us from having to obey; it freed us up to do and be what God designed: vessels of His holiness that exemplify who He is so that He will receive more glory. Anyway, that was just one example of how I've seen that "grace-abuse" lately....I didn't mean for it to take this long to tell.

My favorite resource on this subject is Dietrich Bonhoeffer's classic The Cost of Discipleship, where the first chapter or two deals with the topic of "cheap grace" versus "costly grace" and what Scripture really says about how God's generous supply of grace should be our motivation to obey Him and not a reason to disobey when we want. Well, this Grace Gone Wild book speaks to that issue as well, and it is definitely easy to read, and so far there are so many good illustrations that have helped me to understand what he is saying. I'm not very far into it though. I'll let you know more about it as I read more. In the meantime, I'll give you a little snippet:

"Although we were originally created in His likeness, sin shattered His image within us. We can try to mend that image through good works and religious ritual, but we are broken beyond repair. However, in a burst of undeserved generosity, God offers to give us a brand-new nature that He purchased for us at the expense of His own Son, Jesus Christ. Why does He offer to do such a thing for us?...One word: grace. God's unwarranted burst of generosity."

I love Jeffress' wording there: "unwarranted burst of generosity." Sweet words. While I'm learning to recognize some of these examples around me of grace-abuse, I am convicted that I corrupt grace all the time in my own life. Maybe it seems like I do it in smaller ways. But they're not smaller. I do the exact same thing as these others. Every day, in fact. These words remind me of the purpose of the saving grace God has given me: to give me a brand-new nature. But do I cherish that grace enough that I actually choose to live consistently according to that brand-new nature of holiness?? Every time I let sin hang out in my heart instead of kicking it out through His power, I am clearly saying that the price paid on the cross wasn't worth it to me. Not that day or with that particular sin. I don't think there's any worse grace-abuse than that. And I do it every day.


Christa said...

What a great post. I don't think we can ever spend too much time reflecting on what God has done for us through Grace. I was just thinking the other day about what a patient and merciful God we serve. I get tired of my own sin and yet he continues to be patient and full of Grace with me. I am just one of the many people that He does this with. It is unfathomable that He could love us to the point of death on a cross. I am unworthy, but sometimes I really do start to believe I am worthy. What a huge misconception of truth. Thanks for sharing this.