On Grace: the Performing Arts

(If you’re going to read this post, you probably should read the one prior to it. Click HERE.)

I’ve enjoyed the little puddle I’ve played in for the last few weeks, even if it’s been a little too reflective at times to the point of revealing some sensitive areas. Who of us wants to ponder grace, only to find that the “garden variety” definition you’ve always known doesn’t fit? It’s like returning to the elementary school that seemed huge and adequate at the age of 7 to find it’s nothing you perceived it to be. What once felt too far to run from end to end with a too-fat-to-grasp climbing rope reaching forever to the ceiling now equates to a miniature gymnasium with a tired interior.

Grace.

But when the goodness and love for man appeared from God our Savior, He saved us–not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by His grace we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life.  (Titus 3:4-7, HCSB)

I’ve heard people say that mercy is not receiving the punishment we deserve, and grace is receiving love and then some, which we do not deserve.

I wonder if, once upon a time, a more thorough understanding of the word coursed through the veins of the followers of God. In a day and age where we justify nearly every action as some reaction to someone else’s careless or malicious action, we just might not grasp it. We are thankful, even excited, that those “really bad sinners” in our churches found forgiveness in Christ. But, we can’t relate to their lives, and often choose not to. If we’re gut-level honest, is there a “two class system operative in the churches” these days (Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel)? In the First, Second, and Third Splash entries, I explored some of the complications of our self-centered, haphazard, imperfect heart tendencies. (See the right hand margin for those reads if you’d like.) The truth of it is, the congregation stands on more level ground than we may know, or care to admit.

We live in a performance-driven societal system. It’s been given wonderful names by the spin doctors of the age. Sometimes we call it “positive reinforcement” or use cute gold star charts for our kids. Sometimes the flip side of it is called “natural consequences” or “consequential discipline” with our kids. We can use part of this system to introduce something biblical in the lives of children. (No, I’m not knocking the entire system in a “baby with the bath water” way.) I do believe there is danger in it when the whole thing manipulates behavior and transforms self image.

Truthfully, our heavenly Father uses rewards (Matthew 16:27; Mark 9:41; Luke 6:35). Paul wrote about his reward (1 Corinthians 9:17,18). Whatever we don’t know about rewards, we at least know they are covered in the scriptures. The Lord rewards (Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 3:24; Revelation 22:12).

The real problem is something of a snake that sneaks into our grace garden and attaches something that doesn’t belong. In response to the amazing grace, we want to show love through deeds. Pure love is often shown through loving actions, so that can be the purest form of love. After all, the Father sent his Son to do for us what we could not possibly do for ourselves (John 3:16). Here’s the “warp factor” in the thing: somehow our self-esteem can become entwined with the good deeds. (Honestly, this may or may not be a problem for a follower of Christ.)

Again and again we’ve tried to measure up, thinking that if we could meet certain standards, we would feel good about ourselves. But again and again, we’ve failed and have felt miserable. Even if we succeed on a fairly regular basis, occasional failure may be so devastating that it dominates how we see ourselves. (McGee, The Search for Significance Workbook, p. 24)

Knowingly or not, we may begin to associate good deeds with good in us, and that’s not entirely wrong. It’s a dangerous road when our scheduled devotional activities focus less on sweet relationship with our Abba Father out of love for the grace we’ve received at the cross through the power we’ve received from the Holy Spirit, and they focus more on measurable target numbers and check lists. We can ever so slowly begin to embrace we’ve become more acceptable to God by doing certain activities: 7 out of 7 weekly devotionals, growth from 5 minutes of prayer to a full hour, 52 weeks a year in the same seat at the same time each week in the sanctuary. (It’s even better if we attend the same sanctuary in those 52 weeks, right?)

It’s not about performance. And, our performance has little to do with the way that our Father sees us…or why He embraces us so tenderly and lovingly.

The world’s system:

Self-worth = Performance (what you do) + others’ opinions (what others think or say about you).

God’s system:

Self-worth = God’s truth about you. (McGee, The Search for Significance Workbook, p. 20)

So, if we come to our Abba Father thinking our performance brings us closer, makes us more acceptable, or cleans us up in His eyes, we need to know that’s all an act (Isaiah 64:6). There is no doubt. We all fall short of perfection. We all, on our best days and our worst, are loved by our God, are precious in His sight, and are His treasured possession!

I do not have a college degree in the performing arts, but on some days, I most definitely qualify for an honorary one. More than anything, I hope for a deep, heart-drenching understanding of this grace which has loved me anyway…even though…even if…no matter what!

This isn’t the end, but it’s my personal sweet beginning on this topic. Remember the cartoon character that catches an oversized whale out of a bucket? Yeah, my puddles are a little like that.


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