We are in our third week of this series, entitled “The Grace Effect.” The basis for this series is the fact that when grace is truly understood, it will have a drastic effect on our lives. So, grace has an effect…
Last week was the hardest week for me as a speaker. It was the hardest because I had tried to define grace for you. The definition that we came up with was from the OT picture of grace and the NT picture of grace. In the OT we see a picture of a God that was about keeping His promises and does not give up on His people; we learned from the OT that everything is about God. That everything is about how God held His end of the deal, how God pursued, and how God maintained the promise.
From the NT picture we saw that God will go to any lengths to keep His promise. We noticed how the NT picture of grace wasn’t logical or practical. That even though we failed in holding our end of the deal, God decided to keep it for us. We can see from the NT picture that God is good. God is good in the fact that we could not keep our end of the promise so He kept it for us by sending Jesus.
So for us to have a practical or working definition of grace we said that grace is the goodness of God.
But last week was still hard for me. Why was it hard? It was hard because I don’t believe that a definition in itself accurately tells us what grace is. In fact, I’m not even sure if we can really define grace.
You can read about grace in the dictionary, you can study about grace in a Sunday school class, you can talk about grace with your pastor, and you can read a book about grace, but the fact is, even after all of this you may still not have a more accurate understanding of grace than you did in the beginning.
Why is this? Because some things just can’t be explained; some things just have to be experienced; some things can’t be simply defined and we move on. Grace is one of those things, grace can’t just be explained, taught, or defined and then we completely understand it and move on. Grace is one of those things, even though we try, can’t be explained or completely understood- grace must be experienced.
Things on Grace
This week as I studied and prepared I came across some cool things on grace. I would like to share some of them with you.
A lot of people quote Bono and use a bunch of his stuff when trying to understand religion. Bono has a unique idea on religion and a unique understanding of Jesus. I do not believe that Bono is a believer, but what I found shocked me. Here is Bono’s interpretation of grace over Karma.
“It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between grace and Karma.”
There are a few things wrong with Bono’s quote here, but he apparently is amazed that the God of the universe loves people. But he goes on to discuss this concept of grace and Karma….
“You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics- in physical laws- every action is met by an equal or an opposite reaction. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff… it doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.”
If you don’t know, Karma is this idea that when you do good, by divine powers, you will receive good; and when you do bad, also by divine powers, you will receive bad.
So, Bono compares grace to Karma. Personally, I think most of us, if asked about it, would actually like this idea of Karma a little better than this idea of grace. Karma feels more just somehow.
That you reap what you sow, you get what you deserve, if you do this- you get this, and most of us like that idea. Most of us like this idea… you know why? Because most of us don’t think of ourselves as very bad, and we see the bad people in the world as deserving what they get.
So when grace enters the picture, there’s part of us that, we just don’t like it anymore, because here are these people doing all of this bad stuff. And if grace is grace then they aren’t going to get what they deserve and we just don’t like that too much.
When it comes to grace, I think it matters whether we are thinking of ourselves or thinking of others- because we want it, but don’t want other people to have it.
Here’s another story that I found this week:
There’s this book called “Everybody’s normal until you get to know them” by John Ortberg. And in the book he tells about this young man named John Gilbert, who at age 5 was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. This is a genetic and progressive debilitating disease. What this means is that as John ages, his body gets a lot worse. John died at age 25 because of this disease.
The book tells about this kid. Every year John lost something. One year he lost the ability to run, so he couldn’t play sports with the other kids. Another year he lost the ability to walk straight, so all he could do was watch the others play. John lost the ability to do all of the outward things, and then eventually he even lost the ability to speak. John Gilbert suffered far more than any of us could imagine during those years.
Other students humiliated him because of his condition, a bully used to torture him in the lunchroom; no one ever stood up for him, or gave him a helping hand.
John Ortberg writes in his book, “What a silly species we are. We all need to feel accepted ourselves, but we are constantly rejecting others.”
But John Gilbert had other moments in his life too. In the book Ortberg writes of one of those moments.
John writes that once Gilbert was invited to a professional basketball league fundraising auction. And when it began one item in particular caught John Gilbert’s eye. It was a basketball signed by players of the Sacramento Kings Basketball team. John so desperately wanted the ball, that when it came up to bid, he felt his hand raise up in the air. Not having the funds to participate, John’s mother quickly pulled his hand back down. They watched as the bidding went up and up, until one man made a bid that no one else could possibly match and won the prize. The man then walked to the front to claim the basketball, but instead of going back to his seat, he walked straight across the room and placed the ball in the thin small hands of the boy who desired it so strongly.
John Ortberg writes, “It took me a minute to realize what just happened. I remember hearing gasps all around the room, then thunderous applause, and weeping eyes.”
John Gilbert a boy, who did nothing to earn the ball, would never bounce the ball, or shoot the ball from a foul line. Received the one thing that he desired the most.
Grace is hard to teach…
So, all of this goes back to my statement at the beginning of this time: Grace is not something that can be simply defined, grace is not something that can simply be taught, but grace is something that must be experienced.
Which as a speaker and teacher, is really hard to admit, because I want so desperately to give you something that grasp your mind, cause you to think and cause you to see God in a new and fresh way. But as I admit that grace cannot be simply taught on, I admit that I cannot teach you this absolute truth. I admit that I cannot “make” you understand grace. All I can do is pray that you will experience it yourself. Because when you experience grace and can define it yourself, then and only then, will the grace effect be seen.
So, as I teach you tonight, unless you experience it, you’re most-likely not going to get it. Think about it this way: Romance is one of those things that can’t be taught on but must be experienced.
When you’re a little kid, this concept of being attracted to someone of the opposite sex is foreign. I mean, girls have cuties! Girls are yucky!
Hopefully, someone sat you down and at least explained what this attraction thing is. Hopefully, you at least understood that boys are supposed to like girls and girls are supposed to like girls. But even in that understanding, you probably hadn’t really experienced this romance for yourself. It was still a head knowledge type of thing. Something that you knew would happen, or something that you knew was real; but you hadn’t tasted it for yourself. You hadn’t experienced it yet.
Then you see one of your friends liking someone at recess. You don’t understand it. I mean, they don’t want to play with you anymore and start dissing you for this girl or boy. You see it happening, but you just don’t understand.
Then that day comes, then that moment happens. You meet someone that is just so amazing, you start to feel this desire to hang with them and talk to them. And then all of a sudden, you understand. This romance thing makes sense.
Why? Because romance is not something that can be explained, but you must experience.
The Story and Grace
So, over the past few weeks I’ve been trying something new in my teaching. I’ve been trying to teach more with the use of stories. In the Bible, important concepts are taught in story form as well.
Story form is a wonderful way to teach a new concept. In college I took a class called Hermeneutics- How to Interpret the Bible. One of the things that I learned about the story is It’s not just “what” is said in the story, but “how” it’s said that you must pay attention to. So you don’t just pay attention to the writing, but you pay attention to the context as well.
In the Bible, I’ve discovered that more times than not, when the concept of grace is taught, it is taught through story. This use of the story tells me something about the writers of the day. It tells me that they felt the same frustration that I feel today about teaching grace. That grace is not merely something you can define and move on, but it is something that must be experienced. That the use of a story actually tells us more about grace than any simple definition could ever tell us. The story I just told about John Gilbert probably spoke to your heart in a more relative way than my simple definition did last week.
In fact, I discovered that our stories are very similar to those in Scripture. I found that no matter what your position in life, chances are you can find a story in Scripture that will accurately describe grace to you in a way that enlighten your heart. That you can find a story in Scripture that will teach you something about grace that fits your life experience.
Whether you’re a thief, liar, prostitute, murder, or drunk there is a story in Scripture that will teach you about grace, because the people is Scripture were all of these things. The people in Scripture were just like us and the people in Scripture all experienced grace on some level. All of these different kinds of people found out that grace can still cover a multitude of their sins.
In fact, God was gracious enough to even use these imperfect people in Scripture to do great things… watch this video.
It seems to me, a lot of people in scripture were unqualified to experience God grace and even more unqualified to be used by God to share His grace to others.
Stories of Grace in the Bible
I want to share with you a few very short lines from stories of grace in the Bible. As I read these tell me if you recognize them.
1) Genesis 45:1-14 Joseph could stand it no longer… Then he broke down and wept. He wept so loudly the Egyptians could hear him, and word of it quickly carried to Pharaoh’s palace. “I am Joseph!” he said to his brothers… “Please, come closer,” he said to them. So they came closer. And again he said, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place…” Weeping for joy, he embraced Benjamin, and Benjamin did the same. Then Joseph kissed each of his brothers and wept over them, and after that they began talking freely with him.
2) This is after David sinned with Bathsheba… 2 Samuel 12:13 Then David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin…”
3) In the story of the Paralytic, Jesus said, “You’re sins are forgiven you… Now get up take your mat and go home.”
4) In the Parable of the Lost Son. Luke 15:20-24 So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.” But his father said to the servants, “Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.”
5) Jesus on the cross to the thief. Luke 23:39-43 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself- and us, too, while you’re at it!” But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
In Scripture, when grace is taught it is taught in stories; because grace is not something you can simply define, but something you must experience.
So, tonight I’m not going to teach you anymore. What I want to do in a time of reflection, with the room quiet, is just go around the room and let you guys share your experience with grace. Tell us of a time when God showed you his grace in a practical way. And as the leader of this time I’ll start…
How did this make you feel? Sharing your experiences of grace? What does this experience of grace compel you to do? Does your experience of grace stir your hearts?
Tonight we kind of looked at the inward effect that grace has- hopefully you experienced it tonight. Next week we are going to look at more of the outward effect that grace plays as we look at how to transfer grace to others.