Words: Grace

Good morning.  Welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil Human and it’s a privilege to stand here and speak with you about the goodness and indeed the greatness and nearness of God.  I want to do my very best to help you see God for who he is.  I know there are people here today who doubt God’s existence.  Or doubt God’s goodness – and I want to do my best to get you to change the way you think about God and the kind of life he has for you.

A word of thanks for the cards and kindness you have shown to Jody and our entire family as we mourn the loss of Jody’s mom.  We had a great celebration of her life last weekend, and in fact are planning one for her Nebraska friends in Seward next weekend.  And so thank you for you thoughts and your prayers.

This morning we are going to look at one word in particular that if I do a good job helping you understand it, it alone ought to make you want to become a follower of Jesus.  One word alone should make you rethink your life and want to follow Jesus.  And that word is Grace.

Grace is a word that is better illustrated than defined.  Although a definition is in order.  Grace means The unearned (Undeserved, unmerited) kindness (Love, goodness, benevolence) of God.

One might unpack those two words in a hundred ways, but both must remain.  Grace is unearned.  It isn’t payback.  It’s not a since you scratched my back I’ll scratch yours – it’s not quid pro quo – you did nothing to deserve it.

And secondly, it is awesome!   The most common adjective used to describe God’s grace in the bible is the word wonderful.  Other writers of the bible use adjectives like, Marvelous Grace, Generous grace.  Overflowing grace.  Glorious grace.

It is God’s wonderful kindness displayed to you simply because he wants you to have it.

The best definition of these two words was provided to me years ago by a Christian rock group called the Newsboys, and they have a song called “It’s a real good thing.”  And they define Grace and Mercy in their song in a helpful way.  And it makes sense to put them together because Grace and Mercy often go together.

Like Salt and Pepper, they travel together, Grace and mercy.

The newsboys put it this way.

When you don’t get what you deserve – it’s a real good thing.

When you get what you don’t deserve – it’s a real good thing.

When you don’t get what you deserve – that’s called mercy – if the thing you were in line to receive was a bad thing -a negative thing.  Not getting the fine, the penalty, the late-fee – not getting these things when you deserve to get it?  That’s mercy.

One of the first jobs I ever had was working in Nyack for Video Village.  Kids people used to go into a store and rent video tapes to watch movies and they had to get the movie back to us in 48 hours or else we charged a late fee.

I remember people coming in a day late and my job was to charge them a late fee!  But the owner told me – listen, use your own discretion.  Feel free to show a little mercy if you think it should be shown.

That was a lot of power for a 16 year old!  People came slinking into the store – excuse me, kind 16 year old sir, Have mercy.

Well, I don’t know.  We have a waiting list of people waiting to see Tootsie!

But they just wanted mercy.  Please 16 year old – don’t make me pay.

Mercy means not making them pay.

What would grace look like?  Ever rent a car before?  Have you ever actually driven the car you signed up for?  No.  Sorry sir, I see you reserved a Chevy Suburban, great choice.  but all we have available is this Kia.  Well of course.  Well at least it has a sweet spoiler on the back to keep the back end on the round as I reach top speed of 58 miles an hour! 

Know what grace looks like?  Walking up to the rental car agency and letting them know you are here to pick up the Kia you are renting. and hearing them say – I’m sorry sir we are out of Kia’s – but we’d like to upgrade you instead to this car.  Hope you don’t mind.  No I don’t – and I think I’ll take the full coverage insurance on it.

Now spiritually, where does Mercy come into play?  Well, when we place our faith in Jesus we are spared the penalty – the wages of our sin.  We are spared getting what we deserve.  The bible declares that all of our debts are paid.  Doug mentioned last night that we are forgiven.  And all of this falls under what we would call Mercy.

And as Doug talked about last week – what God asks of us – is that since we have been shown mercy – we would become the kind of people who would be merciful to others in return.  Since God isn’t going to make us pay, and it’s God plan for us to become the kinds of people who don’t have to make others pay for their offenses against us.

The reason that the word Grace comes into play is because the word Mercy has it’s limitations.  See, mercy generally looks backward.  Mercy has a past tense feel to it.  Something happened yesterday that I will not hold against you today.

But the coolest thing about God – and why you should follow him – is that not only is he full of mercy – he is full of grace. Not only do we not get what we deserve, but we get what we don’t deserve!

Check out how Hebrews 4:16 puts it – I like this.

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

I like how this verse puts a slight difference in between the words.  We receive mercy, which alone would be enough.  But wait!  There’s more – more than mercy – we discover grace.

Mercy is wonderful.  It’s wonderful to not get blasted even though you deserve it. But wait!  There’s more.  There’s grace – God’s grace – the undeserved, abundant,  generous, marvelous kindness of God to all who follow him.

Jesus told this story – it’s recorded in  Luke 15 – it’s a story about the mercy and grace of God and it goes like this.  A father has two sons.  One day the younger son says to the father, in essence, I don’t think I have the patience to wait until you are dead to receive my inheritance.  Please give it to me now.  And he takes his money and drinks it all away in wild living.

In short time he’s broke and all his ‘friends’ abandon him and one day as he is stealing food from the pigs he’s supposed to be feeding, he thinks – I’m going to home to work for my dad.  He pays better wages than this.   Maybe my father will hire me as a servant.

The father sees him coming and races to great him and showers him with love and hugs and affection. See the father shows him mercy by not shaming him, or berating him, or embarrassing him, or rejecting him – not only does he show him mercy – but even better, he shows him grace.  He puts fine clothes in him and he restores him back into the family and throws an extravagant party to celebrate this prodigal son.

This story alone should make you want to follow this God that Jesus taught us about.  What did Jesus come to do?  He came to teach us about what God is like.  He is telling us – listen I know the Father better than you and this is what he’s like.  He is full of mercy and wonderful grace.

What’s missing from this story that would convince you to follow Him?

Ah, but perhaps this story bothers you.  You side with the older brother?

The brother who on the outside seemed to be the ‘good boy’ who obeyed all the rules.  He was under the impression that his goodness earned him his Father’s approval.

See, the older son – he doesn’t understand grace.  The older son only understands law.  You got your share brother.  Beat it – you aren’t our problem anymore.

And this is why grace is so important – Because Grace is the anti-religion.  Grace is the opposite of religion.  Religion teaches that God likes people who deserve to be liked – who obey all the rules.  Just obey – stay between the lines – don’t do anything stupid, and the father will not be able to hold anything against me.

That’s religion, man.  That’s all religion.  And what does the story of the older son teach us about religion and law?  It teaches us the utter bankruptcy of religion – of obeying the law.  Because at the end of the story one brother hugging the father and the other brother is estranged from him.  And it’s not the one you thought it would be when Jesus began the story.

The older brother – the law keeping religionist – proves that one can keep all the rules and still be a hateful angry person.  One can keep all the rules and still be far from God.

People often wonder what Jesus meant when he said that at the end people will come up to him and say Lord didn’t we do all kinds of things in your name, and Jesus tells us some will hear God say depart from me, I never you.”

We can’t know God until we receive from him grace.  We will never know God if we think it comes from rule keeping religion.

I read author Philip Yancey, who wrote a pretty good book called “What’s so amazing about Grace.”  He writes in the book,

“The more ungodly, unrighteous, undesirable a person was, the more that person felt drawn to Jesus.  And the more righteous, together, and desirable a person was, the more that person felt threatened by Jesus.  Just the opposite of what most people think.”

Here’s another example of grace.   We find it in the book of John chapter 8.  Jesus is teaching at the temple when suddenly there is a ruckus and these religious leaders show up with a woman – and they drag this woman in front of Jesus and they say – this woman was caught in the act of adultery, Jesus.  The law says she deserves to be stoned to death – what do you say?

What were they doing here?  Were they just trying to find someone that Jesus would condemn?  The religionists – the law guys – they were batting zero.  They had yet to find a human being Jesus wouldn’t treat with dignity and respect.  Prostitutes, drunks, thieves, scoundrels, even politicians! – Jesus befriended them all!

Certainly there must be someone Jesus condemns, right?  Let’s try an adulterer caught in the act!

And you almost get this feeling that these religionists would be relieved if Jesus would stone her to death.

Doesn’t that sound sick?  But religionists have always found a measure of comfort in identifying people worthy of killing.

Yet if you read the story in John 8 you find Jesus – he doesn’t answer them directly, he just bends down and begins to write stuff in the dirt.  What did he write?  I don’t know but many surmise that perhaps he was writing out the hidden sins of those standing around him.  Maybe the name of a woman one of those guys had an affair with?  Maybe the name of a webpage they shouldn’t be visiting?  Right?  Jesus begins to write out some things in the dirt that gets their attention and then famously says – let the person who has never sinned throw the first stone.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

11 “No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

Jesus shows this woman, not just mercy.  It would have been merciful of Jesus to not stone her.  To put her on probation, or something.  Mercy would have been enough, but with God there’s always more.

He goes beyond mercy and into grace.  He lifts her out of that dungeon of shame and restores to her by speaking directly to her.  I know what you’ve done.  I will not condemn you.  Go and live a changed life.

And you know that he still says the same to you?  He knows what you’ve done.  He does not condemn you.  Receive mercy and go for a swim in God’s grace – that unbounded, undeserved wonderful and marvelous kindness that God lavishes upon us out of his unfailing love for you.

I’m telling you, you should become a Christian because of Grace.  I dare you to find this kind of God anywhere in any religion on earth.  Mercy and grace flows from the character of God upon all who will receive it through faith in Jesus.

Now I can imagine there are two kinds of people in this room that might raise an objection to what I’ve been saying.

First – there just might be a Christian in this room who perhaps is visiting from another church or something and maybe the message of grace leaves you uncomfortable, and you are thinking, Oh, I’ve stumbled into one of these “Cheap Grace” churches.  One of these churches that preach grace but don’t preach truth!

I guess there’s a kind of thought that you’re not a good church unless you are hammering people about how sinful they are.  And the idea is that people will not know they need forgiving unless you point out on a regular basis that they are sinful.

But you are more than that, you know.  Don’t stop with the mercy of God.  The mercy of God brings us forgiveness and pardon.  But don’t stop there.  There’s more.  There’s grace!  And grace brings life abundantly.  A life freed from the shackles of our former worminess.  Mercy and Grace!

There is no tension between grace and truth.  Jesus demonstrated both to the woman caught in adultery.  Jesus was able to preach both grace and truth to this woman without having to berate her about her failings.  He doesn’t go off on her about all the ways she has disappointed God with her sin.  He doesn’t shame her.

Her sin was evident. She understood her sin.  What she needed to understand was grace!

And this is what I’m getting at – What does change lives?  What really changes lives?  Love changes lives.  And receiving unyielding, unmerited, unfailing love of God?  Now that is the fuel that changes lives.

There is no tension between speaking truth and displaying grace.  We don’t even need to be careful to balance the two.   Jesus lived a life of full throttle truth coupled with full throttle grace.

Let me quote Yancey one more time…

“Somehow Jesus had mastered the ability of loving people whose behavior he disapproved.  That’s a lesson the church has not been so good at learning.”

And this leads me perhaps to the person who has a second objection.  If it’s true that God is full of mercy and grace, then why is it that his followers often are not?

And I will tell you that we agree with you.  There are too many examples of plodding and lifeless and graceless people who call themselves Christians.  And it really has hampered the church and we truly are sorry if you have had to taste the bitter pill of graceless religion.

Forgive us for receiving grace from God and then cheating you out of that same Grace God wants to show an unbelieving world.

Gang, my fellow Christians.  You are not just a picture of God’s grace.  You are pitchers of God’s grace.  It is God’s desire to use us to dispense grace and mercy to a hurting, defensive, cynical world.

To be the salt and light of the world means displaying grace and mercy to people just because they are human beings, created and loved by God.

So how can you become a more grace-filled person?

Two very simple and practical ideas.

First, I think it would be good to study the word grace on your own time.  So let me encourage you to Go to Biblegateway.com.  For goodness sake, please bookmark this website on your computer.

Write the word Grace in there and peruse the 85 times the word Grace is used.  You’ll discover so much on your own that would interest you.  Be curious.  Do some research.

You’ll notice that there is a another word that accompanies grace and mercy – I won’t tell you what the word is – but when you discover it – ask yourself why that word makes sense.

Secondly, spend one week praying for the chance to display grace. 

Pray something that sounds like this.  Lord, help me be an agent of grace today.  Help me be on the lookout for a person I can show unearned kindness toward.  Help me display grace to the grumpy and the grouchy, the aggravating and the annoying.

Help me to become the kind of person who is able to display grace to the kid who sits alone at school – or the employee everyone picks on in the workroom, or the weird neighbor.

You start praying that and hang on tight.   I guarantee it will not take long to receive the opportunity.  Because not many are praying this prayer and it will certainly get God’s attention!

And you will discover what a thrill ride faith can be.  You and God, working together on a daily basis – searching for places that need to be watered with God’s wonderful grace.

Pray it!  I dare you!

 

 

 

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