Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Grace Observed

“There is nothing we can do to make God love us more.
There is nothing we can do to make God love us less.”

(Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997, p70)
I like Yancey’s rendition of what grace means. It is a down-to-earth definition. It is beautifully captured in God’s love. It removes from us the burden of having to work for something in order to be affirmed in our humanity. It is given to us freely. Grace is something that is more easily conveyed than explained, as Yancey would attest. How can we ever define what an act of grace? There are far more expressions and nuances of grace than one can ever know. It is one of those things that is better felt than thought, better practiced closely than observed at a distance; better lived out in the present rather than stored up for a future which may never come. Of course, one cannot be overly dogmatic about grace. The arms of grace must be long enough to embrace the people from all walks of life. It is wide enough to make room for people of different shapes and sizes. It needs to be deep enough for people with much more profound needs. It ought to be tall enough to encourage people to pursue the heights of their vocation. Grace is like water which freezes in order to retain the freshness of people; which steams up to reawaken the coldness of society; which eases itself into liquid form under conditions of normality. It is like what Yancey writes, ‘the last best word.’

Living in Grace in a World of Ungrace
Some learns grace by actively doing good works. Some exercises grace best when they are in a giving mode. Others know grace instinctively when there is a need to let people show kindness to them. Some needs to be introduced to grace via a classroom approach. Others prefer to be educated in the school of hard knocks.

In a broken world, it is a constant ordeal to live against the backdrop of an environment where ‘ungrace’ seems more prevalent than true Christian grace. Sometimes in Christian organizations, there are more instances of ungrace than anticipated. Christianity Today has an article about the state of ungrace in the Church. This is sad. Perhaps expectations have been painted too unfairly. Those who work in non-Christian places seemed to be under a different expectation ruler compared to people working in churches and Christian based societies. The work might be the same, but the expectations are different, too dissimilar for comfort. For example, it seems to be ok to have disputes in a business being fought out in the law courts. Yet, when church conflicts get publicized openly in the media, people shake their heads even more. Sometimes, the world seems to think that ‘Christian people’ ought to be sinless in their behaviour. The fact is that all people including Christians, still belong to the human race that has sinned. “For all has sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” writes Paul in Romans 3:23. Believers of Jesus may not be sinless, but they are called to sin less. Biblically, the word ‘grace’ is an oft-mentioned word. In the New Testament, the word ‘grace’ is used in every one of Paul’s epistles. Each time it is used, Paul acknowledges the source: God. The word χάρις (charis) is a noun that can be translated as grace, favour or simply ‘goodwill.’ It is not merely to be analyzed or admired but to be received with open hands. Like a bottle of vitamins, merely holding up the bottle and analyzing the ingredients on the label will not provide additional nutrients to the person’s physical body. The bottle has to be uncapped, the number of required capsules to be taken out and swallowed via the mouth often with water. Grace cannot be simply studied for itself. It needs to be accepted with gratitude. It takes grace to receive, grace to give. Like air, grace is not something that is an object that is visible in any one specific form. It is only seen through acts of love. When a person listens carefully to a grieving party, that person is showing grace in desiring to comfort the anguished. When a driver slows down to let another car on the shoulder join a busy highway, grace is demonstrated. When one gives up an entitlement for the sake of another, grace is illustrated. When a wife refrains from comment when her husband is in a foul mood, grace is lived out in love. In an electronic age, when one is offended by an email, one can choose to give the sender the benefit of the doubt with an attitude of grace. Sometimes, it may be necessary to do a reply to clarify certain things. A gracious answer will be one that is sprinkled with grace. It will be one that is honest to God, self and neighbour. When placed under the care of God’s grace, it will be measured with considerable quantity of self-control.

Grace tilts the balance between the left and the right unto truthful talking. Grace saunters the tightrope of gentleness between two opposing viewpoints unto graceful walking. Grace tiptoes across the garden of roses to avoid trampling the roses while shunning the thorns. Grace navigates the ship gently when caught amid the stormy waters of disputes and conflicts. Human grace is never complete without God. The grace of God is the best fertilizer, the perfect sunshine and the most hydrating fluid in the garden of humanity. Grace extends through all kinds of human relationships. Luci Shaw paints a beautiful portrait of God as the Gardener and our struggles as parents.
“Just as young parents learn, from the experience of having children, a great deal about the Parent heart of God – his delight in our growth and success, his disappointment and yearning when we ignore him or rebel against his guidelines – so the illustrious and creative gardener learns much about the God who wants to make of us a garden, where with abundant water and sunshine, with heat and cold, with sowing and growing he can see the fruits of his loving labors.” (Luci Shaw, Water My Soul, Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1998, p45)
As friends, grace is also shown in terms of the willingness to let our friends be who God has made them to be. True friendships are usually seen in rocky moments of life. Jesus failed to find any friend among his disciples when he was arrested and tried for crimes he did not commit. All his disciples and all who knew him deserted him in his darkest hours of need. It is important here not to become too absorbed in the sufferings of Christ, that we forget about the purpose of his suffering: To bring us closer to one another in Christ.
“But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” (CS Lewis, The Four Loves, Harcourt, 1991, p89)
Only in Jesus, who is fully man and fully divine, can we learn true grace. The late American playwrite, Eugene O’Neill describes the relationship between humanity and divinity beautifully as follows.

Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.” (Eugene O’Neill)

Let me end this article with a lovely blending of friendship and grace in the garden of love. Essentially, let us all start by planting this garden, and over time, the flowers will bloom and we obtain the sweet fruits of God's love. Credit goes to this website.

A Garden Just For You

For the garden of your daily living plant three rows of peas
  1. Peace of mind
  2. Peace of heart
  3. Peace of soul
Plant four rows of squash:
  1. Squash gossip
  2. Squash indifference
  3. Squash grumbling
  4. Squash selfishness
Plant four rows of lettuce:
  1. Lettuce be faithful
  2. Lettuce be kind
  3. Lettuce be patient
  4. Lettuce really love one another
No garden is without turnips:
  1. Turnip for meetings
  2. Turnip for service
  3. Turnip to help one another
To conclude our garden we must have thyme:
  1. Thyme for each other
  2. Thyme for family
  3. Thyme for friends

Water freely with patience and cultivate with love. There is much fruit in your garden because your reap what you sow.

May the Lord be blessed as we observe grace more frequently in our lives.

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