This is one of those blogs that has been on my mind for a while. It also will be an unfinished blog, but I want to throw out to the world what has been churning in my mind, so that maybe just maybe the world can help to refine it. I don’t think this is a truly original idea. I’m sure other people have thought it, taught it, and probably lived it, and if you know of that person or are the person who have done so: well I would love to listen and learn. This is an idea about grace. Grace is a popular topic among Christians. We like to sing songs of grace: “Grace greater than All our Sins” and of course, “Amazing Grace.” As Wesleyans we like to talk about Prevenient Grace, Justifying Grace, and Sanctifying Grace. Countless books have been written on grace, yet there is continually more than we can learn about this thing called grace.
My definition of grace: Grace is anytime God interacts with the world. Anytime that the Triune God of Heaven and Earth relate to us in this world, that is grace. God creating the world: grace. Jesus teaching us, dying for us, and rising for us: grace. The Holy Spirit redeeming and perfecting us: grace.
Now I also believe that grace occurs when you and me as God’s representatives channel His love for the sake of one another. So, when you encourage me in my faith: grace. When you serve your neighbor: grace. When you love your wife: grace. This is how we as Christians are called to live, as people constantly giving grace.
So what then do I mean by peculiar grace in a familiar world? I mean grace that is radical in how it is delivered. This I cannot just sum up quickly, so here is a story.
Over a year ago, Heather and I were working at a church as co-youth director, and Heather also served as Children’s director. During our time there, we had a great difficulty with a fellow staff person. For a long time, we kept our difficulties with this staff person to ourselves or shared with just a select few. About last February, another incident occurred with this person and we decided that it was best for the church (and us) to bring the whole situation before the appropriate party (the SPRC). As we told the committee chairperson and the committee about the continual pattern of disrespect and lack of teamwork that this fellow staff person showed, we had no idea what all would happen from there.
To make a long, long story very, very short. There was a great division in the church and hurt flew around that congregation like batting practice balls for an HGH-induced Barry Bonds. It is difficult to explain all the hurt that was inflicted both intentionally and unintentionally by people including myself. It grieves me to look back at what happened and see the hurt that I caused my brothers and sisters in Christ, even if it was unintentional. One thing that happened during this experience was an us vs. them situation. Both sides believed they were being righteous, while the other side was misguided at best or evil at worst. One of the other unfortunate things, I say unfortunate like I spilled milk in the parlor, tragedy might be a better word is that I started to treat people as people who were on the other side of the conflict. Now, I tried to be respectful in my dealings with them, but I hardly showed them grace, especially not peculiar grace.
During this stressful situation (throughout the months of church conflict, I would just refer to it as “the situation”), life happened for some of the people in the conflict. Family members passed away. Individuals got sick. So on top of this consuming stress that was ”the situation.” Some had the extra stress that life brings it. What did I do as this supposedly grace-filled Christian? Nothing. I might have offered some brief condolences, but I was hardly compassionate to their situation. Looking back this was my greatest fault, I saw them as “them” instead of seeing them as part of the “us” the family of Christ. This change in perspective is the beginning of what I mean peculiar grace.
Peculiar grace begins with a radical viewing of another person as a member of the family of Christ, no matter the situation. This is not easy. In fact this is amazingly difficult and must be done through a paradigm shift. From an us vs. them, to simply us. We do this by seeing people as the nouns that they are: brother, sister, daughter, friend instead of the adjectives that we attach to them: mean-spirited, hostile, selfish. (Even if they are all those things.)
The next thing about peculiar grace is that it stands by the truth of a situation. It is not cheap grace that actually serves to enable the other person, no it is a challenging act of love. So, in the church situation, it would not have been right of me to let this other person continue to act in the destructive ways that he did, instead peculiar grace calls sin what it is, breaking the will of God, but yet continues to work and love through those situations. Peculiar grace proclaims the truth of the gospel at all times.
The next aspect of peculiar grace is that it shows loves extravagantly. This is the most notably aspect of peculiar grace. This is what gets the worlds attention: extravagant love. For example, before I arrived at Asbury Seminary, they had decided to not allow skateboarders to board on campus. There were good reasons for this. Of course, liability played a part in this, but not just the safety of the boarders but also those who are around campus. I’m sure there were more reasons, some good, some probably not as good, but this could be seen as another example of the church excluding a group of young people. So what could peculiar grace do in this situation? Asbury builds the community a skate park. But that would cost the seminary a lot of money. But it is not their responsibility. But that is extravagant love. It sees the importance of these young people and it tells the world: we love them, but it does not compromise the campus experience of others. This is just an example of how extravagant love works in peculiar grace. Can you imagine how differently those young people would look at the church for the rest of their lives. Instead of feeling excluded from the community, they have been embraced and loved by the community.
Peculiar grace in my church situation would show extravegent love to those who I did not agree with. I would have prayed constantly for them. I would have sent cards of sympathy when they went through times. I would have went out of my way to serve them. Empathy for them would have to be evident. I would even do simple things like talk to them about life because life is bigger than that situation. As I write this, I don’t know exactly what I would do differently, but I think that if I began to give peculiar grace it would have grown like the number of NY Giants after they beat the Pats in the Super Bowl.
Those are the basics of peculiar grace: radical seeing of another, maintaining God’s truth, and extravagant love. The greatest example of peculiar grace is of course Christ. He did not see being in the form of God as something to be exploited but he humbled himself, radically seeing himself as a slave to us. He proclaimed God’s truth through his words and his actions, and finally poured out extravagant love and forgiveness to us, those who did not deserve it, by his death on a cross. This act of grace has made the world take notice for over 2000 years. We notice it because of its peculiarness. Why would someone do this? I can maybe understand death, but why such a horrendous death? I can understand dying for some, but dying for all?
Peculiar grace is an act of rebellion to the powers of this world, that screams into the night “we will not conform to this world, but we will transform the world.” This is God breaking into our ordinary world and building his extraordianary community. Part of me wishes that the word grace wouldn’t have been cheapened by our world. So that when we talk simply about grace, we come to understand a loving flow of God that causes the world to take notice, and say there is something peculiar going on, and I don’t want to miss it.
(Like I said this is an unfinished post even though this is one of my longer blogs. This is an idea I would be interested in expanding, so give me your thoughts about this, what questions do you have, what ideas do you like, etc.)