The Scandal of Grace

Recently, I have found myself amidst conflict. As someone who hates conflict and tends to avoid it at all cost (sometimes to an unhealthy extent), I have been experiencing extreme anxiety, confusion, and unrest. I have been nauseous and unable to sleep as I attempt to untangle the unrest in my soul. My typical go-to coping mechanisms of binging on carbs and buying gifts for my dogs to cheer myself up vicariously through them have been ineffective (which is probably a good thing since both are unhealthy coping mechanisms…but hey, I’m human). So, in the messiness I am reminded that the only answer is Jesus ( oh how easily I forget this). As I have been prayerfully processing my thoughts and emotions in this conflict, I felt God challenge my heart. God directed my attention toward His grace. I realized that in this conflict,both sides have explained that they have felt that they have extended grace to the other side; however, neither side expressed feeling that they have received that grace. This revelation really challenged me in my understanding of God’s grace. How often do we hear from people who are not plugged into a church that they feel judged by the church despite the church believing that they are sending out a message of grace? Where is the disconnect? How can we be better at carrying the character and culture of Christ? As I  sat uncomfortably in the confusion, I found myself crying out to God in prayer, ‘What do I not understand about grace? What am I getting wrong/missing’. As I leaned into scripture and the correction I felt from the Holy Spirit working in my heart, this is what I learned:

1) Grace saves you a seat. Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him and yet he saved him a seat at the dinner table. Judas attended the last supper (…and I thought my family dinners could be tense lol…). Is anyone else questioning Jesus’s judgement/choice of friends? It doesn’t make sense…but THAT is grace. Grace doesn’t make sense. Jesus did not cast judgement on Judas, because He knew that not only was Judas limited by his “human-ness”, but He also understood the significant role Judas was playing in God’s story. He celebrated with Judas. Jesus loved Judas, and he never stopped…God is love. And the other 11 disciples were not without their own faults. Jesus also saved a seat for Peter who would go on to deny him three times. Jesus knew that the people closest to him would disappoint him, but he embraced them unconditionally.

“Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins'”(Matthew 26:27). 

 As I read this verse, I am reminded how thankful I am for Jesus. If I had been in Jesus’ shoes, the verse would read something like this” :

“Then she took a cup passive aggressively saying to them, ‘Drink…especially YOU Peter (makes direct eye contact and mumbles, you liar). This is my perfect, faultless blood which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins which you all desperately need. And you’re welcome, I’ll be praying for you..;” (the book of Abbey 26:27)

If I was in Jesus’ shoes I would be spilling tea not pouring communion. Jesus saved a seat for Judas and Peter and forgave them before they betrayed him.  As I read through this verse, I felt God asking me who I needed to save a seat for. Who in my life have I “uninvited” because I have felt hurt. In order to carry a culture of grace, I have to be willing to celebrate the plan and purpose of God with everyone…especially my “enemies”.

2) Grace produces gratitude. Grace is being able to read the crucifixion story without  villainizing Judas. Grace is being able to read the crucifixion story and thanking God for Judas and the high priests’ roles in the larger story. In Matthew 26:27, it says Jesus took the cup and gave thanks. Moments before Jesus would be betrayed, abandoned, and crucified, he was giving thanks. (what?!) Even while he was being wrongfully arrested and prosecuted, Jesus took a stance of humility and silence.  If I were in this situation, I would be defending my reputation and trying to prove to those around me why I was “right”. But, Jesus didn’t do that. He didn’t belittle Judas’ character or insist that he had done nothing wrong, he simply walked the path of his calling. So often when we find ourselves in conflict we can confuse the need to feel “right” with the deeper need to feel seen and heard. As Christians, we can carry a culture of grace by learning how to listen and empathize with others. We are all undeserving of grace, yet God sees, hears, and responds with love to our story anyway. For that we can be grateful.

3) Grace requires transparency. Even though Jesus lived a perfect and faultless life, that is not the most important part of the story. God desired a relationship so deeply for us (sinners who are imperfect), that He sent Jesus to take our debt so that we could have an eternal relationship with our father. You cannot share a testimony of perfection and also tell a testimony of grace. If Jesus had spent his entire walk towards the cross trying to convince others of his perfection/innocence, the power of grace would have been lost. Jesus didn’t take a victim stance because he knew he had victory. Jesus was willing to wreck His image, because He fully embraced His identity. Jesus knew who He was, and He knew the heart of God. Personally, I would be heart broken if anyone ever looked at my life on social media and thought, “I wish I was her. I wish I had her life…it looks so fun/easy/happy.” I would hate for others to think I have a “perfect” life because of how I narrate my life via social media. Trust me, you do not want my life. Not that it’s not filled with joy the majority of the time, but I have really difficult struggles and hardships (just like everyone else). Instead, I pray that my vulnerability and transparency on social media and within my relationships would be saturated with a story of grace. I pray that my life would never be about me but would always be a reflection of God in me. When we carry a culture of grace, others feel safe and free to be their authentic selves. They do not fear judgement or rejection. I truly believe outsiders and nonbelievers will be more willing to enter the doors of a building where the transparent walls allow them to see that inside the people are just like them. People are attracted to grace.

4) Grace results in change. This past Easter season, my church encouraged church family to share their story of grace. Each story followed a similar pattern: an imperfect person encountered God’s grace and was changed forever. When we encounter God’s grace, our hearts are changed. This part can be especially hard to embrace. Not only can it be painful to humble out and admit that we need to change things within our own hearts, but it can be even more difficult to be patient in the transformation. So often as Christians when we find ourselves in conflict with others, we are quick to respond in prayer for the other person. But grace and prayer require action. If you are praying for reconciliation, what actions are you taking to see God move in that way? If you are praying for peace, what ownership are you taking over that promise? Sometimes the solution is to stay and work hard on restoring the relationship. Other times, God will call you onto a different path. What is important to remember is that the destination is the same. We are all racing towards eternity, and that requires a lot of grace. The position we take in the transformation determines our destination. For example, we can view separation as division or we can view it as expansion of influence in building God’s kingdom. When we keep our eyes on God’s mission, which is building His Kingdom, we remain unified in grace. CELEBRATE the calling on other’s lives. It is not a competition. Changing the world is a big task, and it starts and continues with the transformation we receive through grace.

5) The object of grace is relationship. God extended grace to us because he deeply desired relationship with us. So, you cannot claim that you are extending grace if your goal is forgiveness, justice, or an apology. The goal of grace is relationship. When we extend grace, we have to be willing to lay down our pride and hurt emotions. If we are holding onto bitterness or expecting something from the other party, then our extension of grace will not reach far enough. Grace often requires sacrifice. As a church, individuals will experience God’s grace when we make real, healthy relationship with them the goal. Where can God use you to heal loneliness? Where can you reach out to bring healing or health to a relationship? How can you be more inclusive in inviting others into your circle? The object of grace is relationship or it’s not grace.