#5&#6: Days of Grace

Yesterday through this morning I was a tyrant. I will admit my stress over projects for school had taken over. Especially regarding my Communist Ballet paper…. I felt I was so immersed in it I couldn’t clearly write my topic. Slowly sleep deprivation and resentment towards my inability to write clouded me even further.

God has continued to give me grace when I am stressed. I’m truly thankful to people who can love me at my worst. When I am stressed, and when I doubt myself, and when I make bad choices because of that.

Recently I have been feeling my brokenness and the brokenness of this world. Sometimes there’s not a perfect way to do something. My perfectionism says there must be. But I know my ways will always be less than perfect.

But if I am vulnerable about my shortcomings then I see grace. It’s not that grace extended is dependent on us. But it is as if we are crouched on the ground with our head facing down. A shadow appears over us. And we know that should we look into the eyes of another being we will lose face. All the pain inside may coming tumbling over in the form of tears… We can ignore the figure above us. We can turn to anger. Or we can let the tears roll and allow ourselves to be touched with Grace.


The Way We Are & Our Broken Ways

Christmas Eve Eve (that is the eve of Christmas eve) I took my two younger brothers and baby sister (who is now quite old, at the age of 9) out to the movies. We saw Dolphin Tale, which is the touching story of a beached baby dolphin who has been injured in a crab trap. I’ll try not to spoil the entire movie for you, as it is worth seeing, but infection spreads in the tail of the dolphin and they have to amputate. It’s really a great story about over-coming pride and any disability you may have. The story also made me think of humanity. How do we deal with the brokenness we face?

We live in a broken world, filled with broken things, and broken lives, and broken people. Winter, (the dolphin–who is actually a real animal with a real story), learns to swim on her own without a tail. This is incredible–that a dolphin could swim without a tail. Her caretakers, then, find that her wriggling side-to-side motion used to swim is causing damage to her spine.

Think about this, in our brokenness we find ways to make it work. And we can make it work for a long time. In our brokenness we learn how to deal with things. We wriggle by. We’re swimming, it’s working, it’s not as effective as it would be if we were whole, but it’s working. We just wriggle through our lives. Making it work however we can, yet, in the process, we’re damaging our life-strand (spinal cord). Maybe some of us have dealt with this on a real, physical level. I’m sure all of us deal with it on a spiritual and mental level. We’re just getting by with wriggling. We’re making it work… yet it’s some how not good enough.

We can’t live on like that. Making our brokenness work on our own will eventually kill us. We were never intended to wriggle. We were intended to swim. But how? How should we swim without a tail?

The story of Winter ends happily. The story of Winter ends in a prosthetic tail. And her story inspired adults and humans from a young girl in a wheel chair to veterans in the VA hospital. She learned to swim and her testimony intrigued and encouraged those around her to learn to swim too–and to accept help in their brokenness.

We have to be willing to accept the help. Winter rejects many attempts to help her. We do the same. We’re proud. We don’t like help. We don’t feel like we need it. We’re doing just fine. But do we realize how we’re hurting ourselves? We have to be willing to accept help in our brokenness. We have to be willing to become vulnerable.

When we surrender, God can heal us. It feels weird–it is right. He can make it work in ways that are whole, even when we are broken. We can take on Him to fulfill the things we cannot. Other people come into our lives to make up for the way we can’t do it on our own. We learn to swim with the help of our prosthetic tail. We’re made whole in our brokenness. We become inspiring.

This is the last thing I want to leave you with. Your broken story is inspiring. Because you’re learning to swim. Whether you’re wriggling or your swimming with a prosthetic tail you’re in this journey. Your story is part of you and it’s worth telling. Your vulnerability is inspiring.

Jesus said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. — 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Grace Is Sufficient

Let me tell you a story. This story can be found in the Gospel of John chapter 4. I’m going to throw in my own commentary, because I love this story.

The Pharisees had begun to realize that this Jewish man, Jesus of Nazareth, was becoming quite infamous. And this radical man was gaining many new followers and disciples everyday. When Jesus learned of their realization, he left Judea for Galilee.

To get to the place he wanted to go, Jesus had to go through Samaria. Samaria was the land of the half-bloods. The Samaritans were regarded as being unclean by those like the Pharisees. A good Jew would not be seen associating with a Samaritan. They were outcasts of Jewish culture, because they were half-bloods. Many Jews would have chosen to bypass this area completely, but Jesus came right into Samaria, the highly-avoided culture. And Jesus came to a town called Sychar. This was the place of Jacob’s well, and thirsty, Jesus stopped there for a drink. The sun was directly overhead, and I expect that no one would have wanted to be out in the heat of the day.

Yet, in the scorching heat, a young woman came to get some water. The disciples of Jesus had gone into the town to buy food, and Jesus was alone. He asked the woman “will you give me a drink?”

This is astounding. Picture this. A middle-class man on the street, there’s a homeless man on the street too. And we all know it happens, no one likes to make eye-contact with him. It makes us feel uncomfortable or something. Now this story isn’t really the same thing. But it is similar. This is a woman, who would have already been un-associated with and a Samaritan, who would have been considered unclean.

The Samaritan Woman is the most astounded by this. And she says “you are a Jew, and I… I am a Samaritan woman, how can you ask this of me?” This Jewish man is risking both his reputation with God and with men just to get a drink of water from her. And if he only knew who she was… He never would have asked her.

But Jesus, in his strangely puzzling way, says this: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

Jesus knows exactly who he is talking to. The woman has no idea and says, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Wow, Jesus is offering the woman eternal life? The woman is intrigued.

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

“I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.  The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.  Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

So Jesus calls her out. Not in condemnation. He knew who he was talking to when he asked her for a drink. He knew who she was, and that she was not only unclean by Jewish standards (being a Samaritan) but also Samaritan standards (because of her past and present). So here is this completely unworthy woman whom Jesus is speaking with. And he tells her about the future. About what is to happen, basically how we will be redeemed to worship God. She’s heard about this reclamation. She knows it’s about the Messiah. Then Jesus, tells her point-blank, “that’s me.”  This is the first time he refers to himself as the Messiah. The ones who the Jews have been waiting for. But he doesn’t reveal this amazing truth first to the Jews. He doesn’t first tell the Pharisees. In fact, the beginning of the passage tells us he’s heard that the Pharisees are hearing rumors about what he’s up to, and he leaves. I don’t know if he did that specifically so that he would tell this woman who he was first. But it is eventually how it plays out.

A Samaritan woman is the first to know. She runs back to her village and proclaims the good news! She says “He told me everything I ever did.”

And the thing is, Jesus knows everything we’ve ever done. Those things that we would be so scared to tell anyone, much less the Church, much less the Pharisees in our lives, He knows them. And he reveals himself to us anyway. He asks us for a drink and then offers us living water.

What is this living water? It’s the reconciliation between us and God. We can’t reconcile ourselves. The Jews made sacrifice after sacrifice. And we can go to confession after confession. We can do all the work for God we want, and believe me, I’ve tried. But that’s not what God is looking for. He’s looking for worship in Spirit and in Truth, and what Jesus came to bring is our ability to do that: GRACE. Grace is not something you can earn. It’s not for the perfect people. Perfect people won’t accept grace, they don’t think they need it. And it’s not for someone who wants to earn it, because you can’t earn grace. It’s a gift. We need it, and it’s freely given. With nothing done on our part.

This is counter-cultural. In a Nation that believes that you have to work your ass off for everything you get. You have to deserve it. And if you don’t have it, it’s your own fault. Grace doesn’t seem to fit. Grace rubs against our ideas. Grace ruins American Christianity. Grace is a gift we can’t earn. And grace fills the gap between anyone who is willing to accept it, and God. Regardless of what they are like.

In Matthew Chapter 9, Jesus heals a man who was paralyzed. I think in those days it was a common belief that bad things happened to bad people. Paralysis was probably seen as a curse. Jesus says to the man “your sins are forgiven.” The Pharisees call Jesus a blasphemer. Only God can forgive sins. Then Jesus asks them, is it easier to forgive sins or to make this man walk? Then the paralyzed man gets up and walks. After that, Jesus goes to a tax-collectors booth. Now tax-collectors were extremely disliked among the Jews. They basically betrayed the Jews to the Romans for money. Plus, no one likes taxes anyway. He says to this hated man, “Follow me.” And Matthew left what he was doing to follow Jesus. The passage goes on saying “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”– Matthew 9:10-13.

To share a meal in Jewish culture you are symbolizing sharing life. Jesus deliberately shared his life with sinners. Who do you think of when you think of sinners? Maybe it’s a gay man, or a woman who had an abortion, or someone from another political party, or the IRS, maybe you think of Muslims or prostitutes, or maybe you think of yourself. These are all things people associate with people that Christians seem to hate on. But look at this, these were the people Jesus ate and drank with. He partied with the druggies and the crazies.

It’s not that Jesus hated Pharisees and church people. I really don’t think he did. I think Jesus loved Pharisees and church people and the self-righteous. But the self-righteous don’t think they need Jesus. And Jesus came to save the ones who knew they needed saved. People who know they aren’t perfect. Jesus came for Ragamuffins. Not perfect church-goers.

Us church people try really hard to look perfect. We’re afraid of being hypocrites. We’re afraid someone will accuse us of not practicing what we preach. We’re afraid we’re gonna be called as the sinners we really are. And we are. We’re sinners.

For a while I clung to every word of Scripture. I was so broken I couldn’t handle regular life. I knew I was broken. This was not a fun place to be, the truth was, in that spot I knew I needed Jesus. And after that, Jesus saved me, and I was healed and I started living for God. But things caught up with me, and all of the sudden, I not only wanted to have it all together, but I was working to over-achieve and perfect and all of these things. Truth is, I’m still doing all of those things. I’m a workahaulic and a perfectionist. But I don’t have it all together. In fact, no one does, and the fact that I think I need to be both of these things proves that I’m missing something. Grace. I’m missing grace. I don’t think God is all that impressed by my perfectionism. But he will accept me when I fail. That’s grace. We fail, we mess up, even after we’re quote unquote saved we fail and mess up, and we ruin things and we aren’t perfect or pure or totally sanctified or righteous. I’m not sure how Christianity became any of those things. Christianity does make people perfect. Christianity is really about Jesus making up for the fact that we are NOT perfect, so that we can still be accepted into the Kingdom of God.

We’re poor in spirit. We struggle to accept free gifts. And we look for the catch. But here is what Paul writes about all of this: Jesus said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. — 2 Corinthians 12:9. Paul never pretended to be perfect. I bet he wasn’t afraid that he would be accused of not practicing what he preached though, because he preached about not his own strengths, but about his weaknesses. I think Paul was very self-aware. He wasn’t about self-hatred. He also knew what He had gotten right. He said in one letter to imitate him as he imitated Christ. However, Paul knew his weaknesses, and he says he boasted about them. So that Christ would be lifted up for what he did to bridge the gap between the sinner and a holy God.

And it’s okay to admit we don’t have it all together. It’s okay to admit faults. We need to be able to let Christ work on those and make them better. We need to be able to say, I need him because I’m not perfect. Which is very different from earning a place in the Kingdom of God, which is impossible.

Jesus came and ate and called upon and revealed himself to the unclean and unfit and outcasts. And you know, I think the experience changed them. It didn’t make them perfect, but it changed them. Because before they were unfit to see God at all. But after Christ, they were allowed to see God, and God changed them. And Christ’s grace is sufficient enough for us to keep following him even when we mess up.

2 Peter 3:15 “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation.” The Lord is patient with us in our trials.

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved”– Acts 4:12. And Jesus came for anyone who is willing to cry out for His grace.