Monday, January 23, 2012

Extravagant Grace

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson for 1.28.12
“My wife is ... a mirror. When I have sinned against her, my sin appears in the suffering of her face. Her tears reflect with terrible accuracy my selfishness. ... But I hate the sight, and the same selfishness I see now makes me look away. ...“The passion of Christ ... is such a mirror. Are the tears of my dear wife hard to look at? Well, the pain in the face of Jesus is harder. It is myself in my extremest truth. ... The death he died reflects a selfishness so extreme that by it I was divorced from God and life and light complete. ...“Nevertheless, I will not avoid this mirror! No, I will carefully rehearse, again this year, the passion of my Jesus--with courage, with clarity and faith; for this is the mirror of dangerous grace, purging more purely than any other.”[1]
Have you seen that commercial that’s out right now that’s pushing some prescription medication?  It shows a “doctor” standing outside, next to a full length mirror, and he says, “I wish my patients could see what I see.  Then as each person walks past the mirror, his (or her) health concerns pop up on the mirror.  They’re things like “high cholesterol,” “risk for heart attack,” and other things like that.  The problem is, the reflection of the person doesn’t change at all.  They just look the same.

I think the commercial would be much more effective if the image in the mirror changed, Portrait of Dorian Gray style, ya know?  Like, if the person had high cholesterol, there’d be big chunks of fat stuck all over him.  Don’t ya think that would work lots better?

Well, it’s kind of the same way with us.  We walk around in our little lives thinking we’re pretty much okay, but we don’t see ourselves the way God sees us. 
“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” Revelation 3:17
Now THAT would be an eye-opening experience, wouldn’t it -- to see the world from God’s perspective?  That’s kind of a lot to think about.  We want to think of ourselves as pretty likeable, but we’re not seeing the thick, oozing coating of sin that God sees.  We can’t imagine how far we are from His original creations, Adam and Eve.

And, as if all that didn’t make us hard enough for God to love, much less even look at, our sins took the life of His Son.  Now, if you’re a parent, you know how you feel about anyone who had just hurt your child’s feelings…

Well, put all that together, and we really should be absolutely hideous and completely unlovable, from God’s perspective…and yet…
“I learned an enduring lesson about grace from my church's response to Adolphus, a young black man with a wild, angry look in his eye. Every inner-city church has at least one Adolphus. He had spent some time in Vietnam, and most likely his troubles started there. He could never hold a job for long. His fits of rage and craziness sometimes landed him in an asylum.“If Adolphus took his medication on Sunday, he was manageable. Otherwise, well, church could be even more exciting than usual. He might start at the back and high-hurdle his way over the pews down to the alter. He might raise his hands in the air during a hymn and make obscene gestures. Or he might wear headphones and tune in bebop music instead of the sermon.“As part of worship, LaSalle [Church] had a time called ‘Prayers of the People.’ We would stand, and spontaneously various people would call out a prayer for peace in the world, for healing of the sick, for justice in the community around us. ‘Lord, hear our prayer,’ we would respond in unison after each spoken request. Adolphus soon figured out that Prayers of the People provided an ideal platform for him to air his concerns.“‘Lord, thank you for creating Whitney Houston and her magnificent body!’ he prayed one morning. After a puzzled pause, a few chimed in weakly, ‘Lord, hear our prayer.’“‘Lord, thank you for the big recording contract I signed last week, and for all the good things happening to my band!’ prayed Adolphus. Those of us who knew Adolphus realized he was fantasizing, but others joined in with a heartfelt, ‘Lord, hear our prayer.’“A group of people in the church, including a doctor and a psychiatrist, took on Adolphus as a special project. Every time he had an outburst, they pulled him aside and talked it through, using the word ‘inappropriate’ a lot.…“We learned that Adolphus sometimes walked the five miles to church on Sunday because he could not afford the bus fare. Members of the congregation began to offer him rides. Some invited him over for meals. Most Christmases he spent with our assistant pastor's family.“Boasting about his musical talent, Adolphus asked to join the music group that sang during Communion services. After hearing him audition, the leader settled on a compromise: Adolphus could stand with the others and sing, but only if his electric guitar remained unplugged (he had absolutely no music ability). Each time the group performed thereafter, Adolphus stood with them and sang and played his guitar, which, thankfully, produced no sound
“The day came when Adolphus asked to join the church. Elders quizzed him on his beliefs, found little by way of encouragement, and decided to put him on a kind of probation. He could join when he demonstrated that he understood what it meant to be a Christian, they decided, and when he learned to act appropriately around others in church.“Against all odds, Adolphus's story has a happy ending. He calmed down. He started calling people in the church when he felt the craziness coming on. He even got married. And on the third try, Adolphus was finally accepted for church membership.“Grace comes to people who do not deserve it, and for me Adolphus came to represent grace. In his entire life, no one had ever invested that kind of energy and concern in him. He had no family, he had no job, he had no stability. Church became for him the one stable place. It accepted him despite all he had done to earn rejection.“It gave him a second chance, and a third, and a fourth. Christians who had experienced God's grace transferred it to Adolphus, and that stubborn, unquenchable grace gave me an indelible picture of what God puts up with by choosing to love the likes of me.”[2]
God is so good!  He looks at our horrible ugliness and loves us anyway.  Jesus draws us close to Him and tenderly covers our filthiness with His spotless sinlessness because He wants to spend eternity with us.  Thank you, Jesus, for your extravagant grace

[1] Walter Wangerin, Jr., in “Reliving the Passion.” Christianity Today, Vol. 38, no. 4.

[2] Philip Yancey, "Taking My Stand with the Church," Leadership (Spring 1996)

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