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September 18th, 2014
I’m writing these words to you on Wednesday, which happens to be my 43rd birthday.
Age has begun to taunt me. Font-sizes matter like they haven’t before. Rising from the wrestling match with the kids, my knees don’t feel as sturdy as they once did. Memory lapses occur; I just can’t remember how frequently. I think I may have even put my boxers on backwards this morning. It’s that bad.
But I’m not out to bemoan these comparatively trivial encounters with advancing age, nor solicit belated birthday wishes.
It just occurred to me today how birthdays invite one more experience of Grace. How so?
This morning I was regaled with gifts from gleeful children (including this little entomological weapon); my wife served up a sumptuous omelette; well-wishes came from quarters near and far, and from friends old and new. Even Starbucks treated me to a free mocha. (living the dream)
And all for the sole reason that I happened to have been born this day several decades ago.
Note the passive voice there. I had nothing to do with that day. I have no reason to expect anything of note this day. Still the kindnesses come. All just because I am. That’s in some small way a picture of Grace.
How fitting then that we should be listening to Paul’s anything but placid tirade on the centrality of Grace in the life of a follower of Jesus. What seems so simple to grasp conceptually proves so difficult both to trust and to practice. Grace defies expectation. It falls for us almost effortlessly into that category of too good to be true. Who loves to that degree? With that perseverance? For such a counter-intuitive reason as God has in Jesus?
As you may hear from Paul Zahl this Sunday,
Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable. It is being loved when you are the opposite of loveable. . . .Grace is a love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved. It has everything and only to do with the lover. (Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life)
This is the love we all want but can’t believe exists. It’s the love we flock to theaters and bookstores to encounter but refuse to admit their possibility in real life. Given ourselves–both our frailties and our instinctual move to make what is peripheral paramount–all stories must find their way to that love born of Grace. For you will falter, and disappoint, and inevitably test the love of another. So when you fail, what then? Or better: who then?
Consider this clip from the 2005 film Elizabethtown about a young executive working for a multinational shoe company who’s just lost a billion dollar contract. A flight attendant named Claire befriends him, but later puts his fruitless efforts in context.
Only when Drew is met by love from someone who gives him the grace to fail can he discover a new and noble reason for striving.
We’re looking at Galatians 3:1-14 this weekend. It’s focus is the difference between faith in the Grace of God and trust in one’s own works for God. As we’ve tried to trace Paul’s argument so far it might feel like he’s contrasting faith with obedience, which only makes James’ argument about the place of obedience appear more in conflict with Paul’s take. So we’ll try to get at both what that distinction is precisely and why it matters.
One reason we need the Grace of God is that we have no other option to know the favor of God. Whatever innate desire to fulfill the law of God is found not just lacking but entirely contrary. In Paul’s vein from Romans 7, again Paul Zahl:
The law is not up to the task it sets for itself. If the law says, “Jump,” I sit. If it says, “Run,” I walk. If it says, “Honor your father and mother, “ I move. . .to Portland. If it says, “Do not covet, “ I spend all day on the Home Shopping Channel.
Zahl means that Law provokes the very things it intends to suppress. So why the Law at all? Paul will get to that in a few weeks time. For now it’s enough to say that something must come between us and the Law, not so that we dispense with the Law, but so that we will come to reflect the righteous character to which it points-something we’re incapable of doing apart from Grace.
And what we’ll review this week is how Jesus brings into more vivid color just how gracious is that Grace–so much so that what came with Him makes anything that came before appear almost monochromatic.
We’re a Body whose epicenter lies in S. Dallas County, but we fan out to corners further out–often way out. So where do you go?
Here’s your challenge as you traipse the countrysides and cityscapes hither and yon: add to the record of your journey with a snapshot of yourself with a CtK bulletin in hand. Here’s a couple shots of late–one from some visitors to The Perot Museum in Dallas, the other from the Akovenkos in St Petersburg, Russia at the foot of monument to Pushkin.
So drop a CtK bulletin in your carry-on or your rucksack, and send us a photo from your getaways.
Finally, as you pray, pray for these:
- for the rescue of kidnapped journalists and aid workers in Syria
- for the wisdom of our government in its responses to terror and strife
- for the containment of Ebola and healing for those stricken by it
- for Dave and Gloria Farah as doctors try to ascertain what’s afflicting him
- for our new women’s Community Groups forming next month
- for Kyria in W. Africa, the Gasslers now in Cameroon, Jane in Thailand, Brett and Taylor in Nagoya, Jim & Sue at conference in Russia