We Need a Whole Lot More Grace


Grace of GodSometimes, I think we don’t have any idea what grace is.

This seems unbelievable to me, given that grace is one of the bedrock distinctives of the Christian faith. When we talk about freeing people from their locked chains, grace is the key in that lock.

But beyond the grace that God gives that allows us entrance to eternal life when we die, what does grace look like in the everyday life of the Christian and the Church?

Grace can’t be for the future alone. What does grace look like now?

I confess that I remain unclear on grace for the present. Part of that is because I see the American Church continuing to add to people’s burdens. The great hope of the Christian faith that we we used to sing about in our old hymns was how grace allowed us to lay our burdens down. But today, I wonder if what we do is substitute a different set of burdens. What grace is there for the mom who is juggling four young kids and a job and yet her pastor says she’s not doing enough for the Kingdom because she can’t find a way to squeeze in teaching Sunday School or going out to feed the poor?

Jesus said this:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
—Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

What does that look like in the life of the average American Christian today? Are we living by grace? Or are we simply finding ways to sanctify burdens?

In addressing another aspect of grace, I wonder what grace today looks like in the lives of Christians who fail. And not just for moral failures but for people who fail in other ways. What grace exist for the student who went to college, found it harder than expected, and dropped out? What grace exists for the person who is bad with household finances? Where is the grace for the businessman who starts his dream business (or dream ministry), only to watch it fail?

One of the strange trends I see in Christian nonfiction books is an over-reliance on stories of success, as if these stories are always reproducible, even if the underlying conditions that made them possible don’t exist elsewhere. More than anything, I’d like to read real stories of real Christians who failed, how they received grace in the aftermath, and how their churches channeled that grace to them. Don’t we all need to know how grace works when we fail in those ways too?

What are your thoughts on grace, its availability, and what it should look like in the everyday life of the Church?

The Dreaded Christian To-Do List


Pile, inbox, list, to-doMy son and I are reading through the New Testament together this summer. Though I’ve read through the NT many times previously, the word of God is rich, my life circumstances change, and people grow and see with more spiritual vision over time.

One truth is hitting me hard this time around.

If you are a parent of a child who has gone through public or private school, you received notes from teachers about your child. Some addressed issues in your child’s life that required fixing. Others were updates on the school or its activities.

In reading the NT again, I was struck by how Paul’s letters to the churches often resemble those notes from a schoolteacher. They contain correctives, do’s and don’t’s, progress info, and so on.

But here’s the thing: If I were try to recreate an image of my child, would those letters he brought home from teachers be sufficient to tell me who he is?

I see this tendency in churches to take the Scriptures and make lists of do’s and don’t’s, form an image from those do’s and don’t’s, and then call them The Gospel™.

Problem is, compiling lists and performing what’s on them is not the real Gospel and never has been. Ironically, there exists a list of 10 To-Do items meant for “religious” people and those religious people found it a bear to do them. Even more ironic, the Giver of those 10 items concurred with the people: Yes, those 10 were impossible to keep perfectly.

And yet for most people attending a Christian Church in America, what comes out of the pulpit on Sunday is almost always a list of more “spiritual” things for them to do. It’s three, five, 10, or 12 bullet points (depending on how long-winded the preacher is) that we must now perform to have perfect





prayer lives,

Bible-study skills,

and on and on.

We have exchanged 10 items impossible to do for innumerable items impossible to do.

Preachers love to mine the Old Covenant for these items, despite the fact that covenant has been replaced by a much better one. Then they look at the better one, read all the “Notes from Teacher” letters of Paul, and use those corrective letters as additional fodder for more lists. (If anything, those corrective letters are intended more for Church leaders themselves to wrestle with. Sort of a “Teacher, teach thyself” sort of thing. But then how many preacher/leaders look at them that way?)

Funny thing  is, though the post-apostolic Church has loved its lists, the early Church knew better. When the issue of lists of Christian things to do came before the apostles and early Church leaders with regard to the gentiles, an astute James said there was no reason to frustrate those believers with a massive spiritual To-Do list. In the end, the leaders kept that list sane and super-short.

Even wilder? Those same apostles and leaders called the spiritual To-Do lists they’d had to contend with their entire lives “trouble” and a “burden.” You can read about this in Acts 15.

Jesus didn’t like lists either. When someone tried to force a list of approved behavior out of Him, He said all you needed to do was to love God and love your neighbor.

You know what? I think I can remember a list of two items. (Still, even those two are tough to keep!)

And yet today, the lists multiply and lengthen.

In Ecclesiastes, the narrator complains of the endless making of books and the weariness that comes from studying them. In our self-help, active, To-Do-centered culture today, books now equals lists. Because, hey, we’re too busy with our lists to focus on anything as lengthy as a book.

As someone 50 years old who has been a Christian for 35+ years, I’ve had enough Christian lists spoken to me over the years to gag a T. Rex. Actually, more like a herd of T. Rex. How many of those lists do I remember? None.

But if I really think about it, that statement may not be true. I do remember those lists—in a way. They bubble and churn under the surface of my spiritual life like so much hidden acid reflux and manifest as a case of spiritual heartburn. Not spiritual conviction, just a feeling like I swallowed something that’s stuck in my throat. Something akin to a millstone.

You know what? I don’t need more lists. You don’t either.

What we need more of is Jesus. And He never was and never will be a To-Do list.

When Cleanliness Thwarts Godliness


In my previous post, “Burying The Proverbs 31 Woman™,” I mentioned that I’d been talking lately with women about issues that affect them. Oddly, one issue came up repeatedly.

We’ve all heard the old aphorism: Cleanliness is next to godliness. Anymore, though, I’m not sure that’s true. In fact, the opposite may be the case.

Most women in a church are painfully aware of The Proverbs 31 Woman™ whose house is so perfectly kept that even Howard Hughes could bunk there in peace. The white glove treatmentForget eating off the kitchen floor, as the bathroom floor would do just as well. If that woman has kids, it’s a wonder how her home retains that museum-like quality—unless, of course, she chains the little tykes to a wall in the furnace room for hours on end. No matter what time of day or what’s going on in the household, one can hear a faint moaning, as dust mites starve to death by the millions. And that pleasant but faintly artificial smell that permeates the house? Scotchguard.

Sadly, a handful of those women in a church is enough to drive other women to despair. I know this because my own wife despairs of ever having our house look like the shrine to Martha (either the biblical person or Stewart) that we have encountered in some women’s homes.

This is not to say that we live in a pigsty. By no means! It’s just that it’s darned near impossible to keep up with that “sanctified” level of cleanliness and order.

Which leads to an intriguing problem.

Lately, I’ve heard women say that the main reason their families stay cooped up in their homes and do not have other people over is the fear of being judged for having a home that is not clean. And by clean I mean worthy of a visit by Queen Elizabeth. (At least that’s how I see it.)

It’s a two-fold problem: Women are afraid of being judged, and there exists a phalanx of people who will, indeed, judge them and their home’s perceived level of cleanliness.

All this manages to do, though, is place burdens on women while hurting Christian community.

Imagine, under the circumstances, how impossible these verses become:

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
—Acts 2:46-47

Husband: “Hey, hon, let’s have our small group over for dinner Friday.”
Wife: “But the place is a wreck and there’s no way to get it cleaned up by then.”
Husband: “I’m willing to do what I can to help.”
Wife: {Sighing} “We all know how that worked last time. You can’t swap Windex for Pledge, remember?”
Husband: “Oh well, maybe some other time.”

But next time never comes, does it?

Wouldn’t it be great if we Christians could stop with the judgmentalism, stop with the self-esteem issues, and stop with the need to have our homes look like the interior of the Guggenheim? Wouldn’t it be great if we could stop worrying about what other people think and instead do what is deemed best by God?

Seriously, isn’t fellowship closer to godliness than cleanliness?