This morning, I was all set to write a really angry post. I mean, I had my soapbox all dusted and ready. I was working on a title, and I even had a subtitle ready. (Something scathing, too, like "Silence, Ye Brood of Vipers.")
I mean, it's been one of those weeks. Just by reading articles and posting links, I have gotten into some interesting discussions/arguments. And if anything, it has reinforced that I have indeed changed many of my views over the past few years. And that change, is a good thing. A "real good thing."
See, in my younger days, I was quite the conservative evangelist. I had a list in my head of things that were spiritual, and things that were not. There were things I was allowed to and supposed to do as a Christian, and things I was not. It was a simple kind of faith in which formulas and checklists were the path to righteousness. A + B = C. Simple as that. And if you didn't adhere to such guidelines and believe the same things as me, you were probably, sadly, not going to make it into heaven.
But around ten years ago, perhaps a little more, God really began to change my heart. It's a long story, and a good one, but, I won't go into it here & now. The point is, it was a winding path to help me rediscover a pretty vital characteristic of God. Let's call it "Vitamin G:" Grace.
Grace is the reason I'm not ranting and raving in this post. Because of grace, I can take a deep breath, even when I'm frustrated and remember that I need it as much as anyone. See, sometimes I get frustrated with people who have a vitamin G deficiency. I've noticed a decrease in this essential supplement lately. Have you?
Symptoms of a lack of G include: pride, self-righteousness, judgmentalism, and the certainty that your opinions and beliefs are superior to everyone else's. Also, a lack of vitamin G can actually be contagious. As I learned for myself this week.
I find that when I am confronted with people who exhibit a lack of G, I get...itchy. Squirmy. Indignant. And then...angry. For about ten minutes, it's possible that it's a holy, righteously indignant anger, on par with the spitfire vehemence Jesus reserved for the Pharisees. After that, it all goes downhill. So to people who I may have hurt with my venomous reaction, I apologize.
But the real point of all of this is that we ALL need more G in our lives. We need grace for ourselves, and we need grace for each other. What is the point of the church, if not to display one of God's deepest, truest characteristics to the world? We live in a world that is desperately in need of grace, and we have a responsibility to dispense it. If there is anything I've learned over the past decade of my life, anything God has revealed to me about himself, it is that His very nature is Love.
We do a great injustice to the broken and marginalized of the world when we neglect to offer them grace & love because they do not meet our standards or prerequisites. Indeed, that is one of the very things Jesus chastised the religious leaders of his day for. Yes, there is a need for structure and rules at some level, for accountability and an understand of God's precepts set forth in the scriptures. But at some point we need to realize we've been going about this evangelism thing slightly backwards; whereas Jesus went out to the sinners and marginalized of his day and hung out with them, we expect those around us to clean themselves up first and then meet us at church.
Let me be clear: I need grace as much as anyone. One of the ways God ingrained that in me was by helping me be aware of my own failings, and then revealing his breathtaking, unimaginable grace and love for me. Despite my failings. So I must remember to show that to others. That includes, as hard as it is for me to remember, those people who themselves are grace-deficient. How can they learn grace, if I don't strive to exhibit it?
And if a lack of grace is contagious, how do we combat it? What is the remedy? I'm sure there are many, including a deeper understanding of God cultivated by reading more scripture with an open heart, allowing the Spirit to tug at your heart with examples of God's lavish, scandalous, extravagant grace. The next best thing is to be in the company of those who practice grace. I said at the beginning that I started this morning with an intention to write an angry, grace-less post, on the same topic. Thankfully, I went to church first.
I am deeply and profoundly grateful for Gateway Church in Austin. It's brought a lot of much needed healing into my life and is one of the things that keeps me from becoming a total cynic and giving up on the church altogether (not God, mind you, just the church). Knowing that there are honest Christians out there like me, wrestling with faith and trying to live it out authentically--it keeps me going. And that's why I write, too, to encourage others like me to keep going. We have to keep going. We have to keep up vitamin G, and work together to help God's kingdom come & will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.