Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Surprising Grace of God

The mission of the Church is to share the surprising Grace of God with other people.

Think about that for a minute. I don’t know what you might or might not think the mission of the Church is. To be honest, I don’t really care. Lots of teachers and preachers and pastors and theologians have written and preached and taught on this subject. But think about it. What if this is it? What if this is all God wants us to do? How different would our churches be if this was their reason for being? How different would your life be if you lived this out?

The mission is to share. We simply cannot keep the good news to ourselves. Because the moment we do, it ceases to be the good news and instead becomes a millstone around our necks. We are merely the conduits of the mission, the means not the end. It’s not Evangelism. It’s 1 Peter 3:15.

The mission is surprising. When was the last time you were surprised by Grace?  For too many of us, Grace has become expected, almost deserved. Instead of believing, “It’s free because I cannot afford it,” we feel, “It’s free, so it must not be worth much.” Grace has become cheap.

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost Of Discipleship

The mission is Grace. Not judgement. (Though Grace and Judgement may be even more than two sides of the same coin, in God’s economy, they may be the same thing.) Not feeling or thought or belief. Not doctrine. Not creed. No “ology” of any sort. Simply Grace. Unmerited, abundant, radical. Grace is freedom to not keep on sinning. Grace is laughter through the tears. Grace is the ability to love. Grace is being loved, not in spite of ourselves, not despite ourselves, but simply as ourselves.

The mission is God. The mission is not the Church. How do we keep mixing this up? The Church serves the mission, not the other way round. The mission isn’t a book or a program or a sermon. The mission is God. Don’t give me a book or a song or a movie about God. Give me God. Not about God. Or with God. Or of God. God.

The mission is others. I heard an Asian church planter define discipleship as “learning from the master in order to teach others what the master teaches.” We learn and learn and learn. We study and ready and gather information. Donald Miller, in his blog, likened the American Church to a school whose purpose is to keep students in the school, a school where no one ever graduates. Enough already. The mission isn’t about us. It never was. The mission is about them. (And I’ll let you in on a little secret: we like to think “there’s not them, there’s only us”; but we’ve got it backwards, you see, there’s no us. We’re all them.)

The mission is people. You. Me. Your next door neighbor. Your crazy Aunt Sally. That annoying guy across the street whose yard always looks better than yours. Grandparents. Children.  Circus performers. Draft dodgers. LA Dodgers. Roger dodger. Mr. Rogers. Roger Stauback. Roger Wilco. Wilcox. Will. Coxswain. Rowers. Mowers. Towers. “Here’s to Sgt. Hulka, our big toe.” The Incredible Hulk. Bruce Banner. Bruce Jenner. Jenny McCarthy. Cormac McCarthy. Paul McCartney. The rest of the Beatles. The people, not the bugs. And on and on and on. You are the mission. The surprising mission of God.


The Zacchaeus Principle

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus… Lk 19:1-10

So begins the story of Zacchaeus in the nineteenths chapter of Luke’s gospel. A story memorialized in Sunday School song through the ages: “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he…” A story, however, which speaks to more than just children. If we allow it, God will use the story of this wee little man to teach us a simple principle for living in response to Jesus.

The Zacchaeus principle. Seek. Receive. Respond.

Zacchaeus seeks Jesus.

And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.

He was seeking to see who Jesus was. And he was willing to do whatever it took to see him. Run ahead. Sneak through the crowd. Climb a tree. He found out where Jesus was going to be and put himself in that place. Which is exactly what we must do. Seek Jesus. Find out where Jesus is. Then go there. Don’t sit on your couch expecting Jesus to beam in through your television. Go to him. Here are some places where he can often be found:

  • Through the Bible – especially the stories in the Gospels, but you have to ask God to speak to you, you can’t just read
  • With people who know him – if you wanted to meet Tina Fey and you knew her best friend, it would make sense that you would ask for an introduction
  • Where people are in need – in v10 of this story, Jesus himself says he came to seek the lost, and by lost he doesn’t mean “sinners who are going to hell”, that wasn’t one of his categories, when Jesus uses the term “lost” he means those who do not they are included in the Kingdom of God. And people who live apart from God’s Kingdom exist in all sorts and manner of need.
  • Apart – Jesus often separated himself from his daily life and community, he went away, he set himself apart from others in order to encounter God. Silence is a great way to do this. Solitude is another. This is one of the things fasting can do, it can help set you apart in the middle of an otherwise ordinary day. Geography is also a way to be apart. Mountains. Deserts. Backyards. Beaches. Rivers. Ranches in South Texas.

Zacchaeus receives Jesus.

And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully.

He received him joyfully. He doesn’t hesitate, equivocate or wonder. He doesn’t sit up in the tree pondering the deep theological significance of Jesus’ words. He doesn’t worry about his house being clean enough or what he will serve dinner. He shucks his buns outta’ that tree and says yes to Jesus. (You know what I just noticed? Jesus kind of invited himself over to Z’s house, didn’t he? Man, I bet his mom was mad when she found out.) When we go where Jesus is and meet him, He will come and stay with us. He wants to come into our homes, into the physical and metaphorical places we live, into our very lives “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (Jn 14:20). We receive Jesus when we:

  • Literally say yes – no, like actually, with words, say “Yes, Jesus”, out loud or in your mind; it doesn’t count if you don’t say it, imagine a wedding where the groom forgets to say “I do”.
  • Do what Jesus does – love our God by loving our neighbor
  • Do what Jesus says – love our God by loving our neighbor
  • Love whom Jesus loves – the orphan, the widow, the alien in the land; in other words, those who have no one to care for them

Zacchaeus responds to Jesus

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”

I give to the poor. I restore it fourfold. The natural reaction to receiving Jesus is action. Z does something. Something real, something practical. He attempts to right the wrong he has done. He sacrifices for the good of another. He serves someone who cannot serve him back. Notice, as well, what he does not do. He does not sign up for a class, join a committee or attend a seminar. He finds Jesus, or Jesus finds him, he says yes, and all of a sudden giving away half his goods makes sense. We know we have received the Lord when we find ourselves doing things like Z, things like:

  • Giving away money – without attaching any strings to it, letting it go so God can use it as He sees fit
  • Being extravagant – not just making up for things we have done, but going overboard in doing so
  • Finding ways to serve – being generous, not just with money, but with our energy, our time, our focus, our gifting
  • Repenting – working to restore that which we have broken, relationships, hearts, whatever

There are only two kinds of people in Scripture: the righteous and the humble. The righteous, or self-righteous, are those who rely upon themselves. The humble are those understand themselves correctly in relation to God. Zacchaeus is both. We expect him to be self-righteous because of his wealth and position. But he has found himself humbled for exactly those reasons. To be a Jewish tax collector during the Roman occupation was to live outside the community. The Zacchaeus principle shows us his humility. Through seeking, receiving and responding to Jesus, Zacchaeus finds himself ushered into a new community, the community of believers, the community of the Kingdom of God.



Jesus Boarding Flight 1667

There is so little grace in an airport. All around me I nothing but misery and waiting. One young lady, early thirties, arguing with her boyfriend on the phone. She is furious. Stalking back and forth, “you’re not listening.”

A middle aged woman, too tan by far, fake red hair, late forties but dressed like a twenty-five year old. Whose attention is she trying to get? Who is she trying to impress?

A forty-somehting guy, all tats and goatee. Camo shorts cut off above his cons. He must have arrived too late because he’s telling someone on his phone that they gave his seat away and he won’t be there on time.

So many people overweight. So many. Tall and fat. Short and fat. Young and fat. What has happened to us? The literal weight of our national gluttony finally catching up with us.

Everyone has a phone. And a laptop. And an ipad. Little islands of battery-powered isolation. Everyone sits so connected. Everyone stands so alone.

A rushed and angry gate agents yells at a family. “Hurry. Hurry. Hurry. I’ve got to shut this door.”

Where is Jesus in the airport? At the non-sectorian, blandly apponted chapel? On standby? With the pilots? Is that him, with the dreads and the bulging backpack? Or is that him, flip-flopping on by with a computer bag and carry on in tow?

If Jesus, the same Jesus we meet in worship on Sunday mornings, is not here, then he’s no Jesus at all. He must be here. He must be. I just can’t see him.

Is this how the rest of the world goes through life? With no glimpse, no hint, that Jesus is real, that he is here and dwells among us. How can they know if we don’t show them? How will they hear if we don’t tell them?

Is it me? Am I supposed to be Jesus here? How can I be Jesus here? Me, sick and tired as I am? Oh lord, how can you love us when we act like this? You are beyond me. Your love for us, decrepit though we are, amazes me.

We wander, like sheep without a shepherd, from gate to to security to terminal and back again. Who will lead them? Who will love them?

Is it me? There are so many. They are so angry. I drift with them. swirling on a carpeted sea. I can’t do it. I don’t know what to do. I close my laptop and I pray.

%d bloggers like this: