The third big idea in Lifesong’s Six Big ideas was GRACE.  

Years ago I noticed that most definitions of Grace define it by the unmerited favor aspect, which is completely accurate, but not accurately complete.  Scripture tends to describe Grace as not only God’s favor, but also His power.  For example,

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed (2 Corinthians 9:8)

This verse speaks of God’s blessing and favor definitely, but it is a powerful kind of blessing which also makes us able and sufficient.  Anyway, the definition I’ve been using in my conferences, counseling and pastoring is that God’s Grace is His power and desire to do good to you.  

Not only does He desire to do good to you but He has the power to do so.  Not only is He capable of doing good to you, but He actually wants to.  The kicker is that this is an aspect of God’s character which does not, cannot be changed.  You cannot make God more or less gracious to you not matter what you do.  Behave well or poorly it makes God not one ounce more powerful or well disposed to you.  God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent.

Anyway, this last week in my pilgrimage, I’ve been thinking about, and seeing this, in three ways:

First,

Last week I was invited to a pastor’s retreat in Colorado by the man in this picture with me.

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His name is John Meyer.  He is the regional director for Great Commission Churches for the region in which Lifesong church used to exist.  See that’s part of what was amazing about this invitation.  I was, in some ways no longer officially under his authority or care, no longer having an actual church in his region.  I have nothing tangible to offer him. No tithes, no ministry, nothing to give him.  Yet lack of office, does not equal lack of pastoral care.  I’ve experienced that myself with my former Lifesingers as we’ve met for Lunch at Dion’s or chatted via email, phone or in person., but it was nice to be on the receiving end.  John had the power to do good to me by inviting me to this retreat, and he apparently had the desire as well, because he did so with nothing to gain for himself.

 It was an interesting counterpoint to a moment I describe in my book, The Hidden Life, 20 years ago when I was on my way to a pastor’s conference.  At that time I was a pastor of a church who felt as if he didn’t belong at the pastor’s conference for having failed.  It was during that time I learned most deeply what Grace meant.  This time, I was no longer a pastor of a functioning church and yet I felt very much as if I belonged at this pastor’s retreat.  It wasn’t just John but the group of men with whom I shared this retreat.

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That’s not some weird religious gesture; they are in fact pretending to be elk.  Why?  Who knows?

These men had gathered to plan, pray and inspire one another on their next steps for their churches.  Some of them have planted churches from their church plants, others are very much where Lifesong was just a year ago, trying to discern what needs to happen to continue in fruitful ministry.  These men, not only accepted me on their retreat but they treated me, not as a pesky hanger-on who needed a place to hangout, nor a failed CEO to be pitied, nor even a wounded brother to be healed, but as an equal, worthy of giving and receiving advice.  These men, who were focused on planning for the future, spent time listening to stories of my past, as if it were valuable not only to me but to them to do so.  They had the power, by their mere interactions with me to do me good, and I’m grateful they also had the desire.

Second, 

The stories we shared, our own and our loved ones, our congregations and families, our communities and churches, reminded me of the importance of the work we do.  It affirmed my growing sense that not having a church doesn’t mean not using my gifts, and it certainly doesn’t mean people aren’t in need of Grace and love.  There is a lot of beauty in the world, much nobility, but there is also a lot of pain and despair; people in need of hope and grace and truth, in short Christ.  Everyone of us is given some supernatural flavor of that power and desire to do good which is so much a part of God’s character.  He invites us to share in such a precious stewardship; more precious than time, or money or even the people (congregations, kids…) we have authority and care over or any other stewardship he gives us.  The very stewardship of His manifold Grace.

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 1 Peter 4:10

Week by week in this pilgrimage God continues to remind me of  the needs in the world, the gifts and other resources He’s given me, and the expectation that i will be a steward of God’s Grace, just as He expects of you.

 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

As you and I walk this pilgrimage together I hope both of us get a clearer vision of how our stewardship unfolds.  Maybe some of our paths will cross and some of our stewardships will be shared.  Perhaps you will be God’s grace for me and I for you.  Who knows.

Third,
Today was the first day my family actually visited another church.  It is Tax Holiday weekend in New Mexico so it’s one of the few Sundays a year when I work at the Apple Store, so I was unable to go with them.  They visited Calvary of Rio Rancho, which is in many ways not far removed, a sort of distant cousin of the same age, to Great Commission.  They enjoyed the service, saw a few old friends there and were surprised by how well a few things went (for example our autistic son did better at this new strange  school than we envisioned.)  That being said, it was a very difficult time for my kids.  For them, dad has pastored the church they’ve attended for their whole lives.  For some of them, every thoughtless act affecting their pastor over years of pastoring, every act of disloyalty and every perceived disloyalty (even when there was none) now becomes a wound leading to the death of the church.  Maturity and longer experience of grace shown to me over the years makes it easier for me to understand the closing of the church as God’s plan, even in the midst of human failings.  It also allows me to understand that not all church partings are inappropriate or disloyal, and that even wrongful leavings are not personal attacks.
As with my children, for some of my congregation, Lifesong was the most accepting community they’ve found, a place where they felt they belonged and now that’s gone from them.  It is easy to look to people to blame; to me, to those who left, to ourselves.  How do we, when faced with such questions of loss, when feeling a desire to blame, when fairly or unfairly identifying someone to blame…how do we treat them with grace, how do we move through the grief to a place of hope and and ability to love others who did not love us first or well enough?
This is a struggle we all have.  There is not enough grace in the world between the sons of the King because we find ourselves dragged down into our own hurts and insecurities.  I hurt you, you hurt me, I hurt you in return and soon fairness becomes more important than love and the last word trumps acts of Grace.  My encouragement to me, my kids, my Lifesingers, and any who understand this struggle, is to remember God’s grace in our own lives, to dwell obsessively on the Gospel and the amazing power and desire of God to do good to us, and then we will be more likely to become stewards of that same Grace for others.
Well, that’s my pilgrimage thus far.  What do you think?  Where have you seen Grace?  Where are you not experiencing it?  I prefer dialogue to sermon, so comments are welcome, here or on Pastormac’s Facebook page.

2 Comments

  1. Dave, almost every day I am reminded of the illustration you used during your “FaithLift conference” (now “The Hidden Life”) where you describe God’s Grace like a spot light that we walk away from, all we need to do is return – God’s Grace is never changing. It then reminds me of the grace that I am to extend to others. The thought bounces into my head, it seems, anytime that grace is an appropriate response. At our church here in Florida, we have been studying Ephesians (since November) and this weekend we worked on Eph. 4:30 regarding the Holy Spirit and how he dwells inside us. A powerful reminder that grace and love is part of us and we are to share it with others. I am excited for you that your conference this time around was so very different from that first one you shared….God is so good – always meeting us where we are and bringing us to where He wants us to be. ~Carol

    1. Carol, thanks for engaging. I’m glad you reamember that but I am more glad that the remembrance has been just a part of God’s grace becoming enmeshed in your life’s activities. Ephesians is a great book. One of my favorite. 🙂

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