Grace Beyond Eggs & Peeps

I’ve claimed to be a devout Christian before. The height of my claim came in high school when, for a few months, at least, I was set on the decision to attend a Seventh-Day Adventist college and major in Theology to become a pastor. For the most part, my spiritual life has been hit and miss since then.

The past couple years, however, brought about a growing acceptance of the concept of God’s grace. Essentially, there is nothing that I could do, or have ever done, to earn God’s love and acceptance. This realization has brought me closer to him than I’ve ever been or ever could become by learning to quote from the many writings of Ellen G. White or by refraining from doing the wrong thing on the sabbath (two big emphases of the Adventist church). Both of my hands are empty and free to serve now that I set my score card down.

My realization of the profound consequences of Grace on my personal life, has developed a greater appreciation of the events that the Christian Easter season celebrates. I grew up, as many kids do, coming out to the living room on Easter Sunday to find an Easter basket full of candy, treats, and usually a toy. The Peeps were my favorite. This was before they became available for every other holiday. I’m talking about the marshmallow, sugar-coated, yellow, pink, and purple chicks and bunnies. I still love them!

Sure, I was familiar with something related to Jesus being resurrected (or something like that), but, that was all on the periphery. My main focus when I was a kid was the candy, the oversized rabbit that stands on two legs at the mall, and egg hunts. Even in my mid-twenties I didn’t grasp the significance of “Good Friday,” as many people called it.

Last night I participated in a Thursday evening communion service in which we focused on commemorating Christ’s last supper with his disciples in the upper room. I’ve been focusing on this event in my personal readings over the past week as well. To me, this is where the truest character of Jesus is revealed. From the revelation that John the disciple reclined at the table with his head resting on the chest of Jesus, to the fact that the Messiah disrobed, wrapped his clothing around his waist, and washed each of his followers’ feet.

Though he knew he was about to suffer the greatest pain known to man, Christ spent this evening breaking bread with his betrayer, and providing food, wisdom, and comfort to his disciples. On the eve of the day when He would experience the greatest mental, physical and spiritual struggle to touch mankind, Jesus provided rest to his disciples and served even those who would, later that night, betray and deny him.

The next day he was unjustly executed. Three days later, on resurrection Sunday, he served all mankind by tying the knot of grace that binds, to Him, those who accept his generous invitation to eat with Him in His kingdom.

The hope and peace of my life rests on these events.

“Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.” John 13:23

3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, 4 rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. 5 After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” John 13:3-5

Real World Jesus

Above all of the politics, theology, denominations, and technicalities is the demand by Jesus that we love God with all our beings and that we love others as we love ourselves. We won’t know God truly until we are bent backward in service to others as in a way that denies our own existence. I, for one, have plenty of room for growth in that regard.

Finding Life Through Sacrifice

The beauty of God is the grace of God. The splendor of life as a follower of Christ is the utter humility that Jesus has called us to live in. To sacrifice personal gratification in favor of truth in giving is favorable to He who gave all for us. To do so when nobody is watching is to live as Jesus called us to. It is a perspective that runs counter to the predominant sentiment of our culture. While the reality of our self-centered nature often wins out over the ideal of putting first what is right and good, it is an ideal that is reflective of His character and an ideal that, by His grace, we are able to meet through Him.

Questioning His Limits

I remember growing up and believing myself to be the face of future Christianity. I thought I was going to be a Seventh-Day Adventist pastor. I wore my GOD DOESN’T BELIEVE IN ATHEISTS t-shirt, listened to Petra, Michael W. Smith, and DC Talk sing songs like “I Am On The Rock,” “Place In This World,” and “Jesus Is Still Alright With Me.”
I got out of the pool during swim practice and left my teammates like a good Adventist at Sundown each Friday. I didn’t drink or party with my friends. I had a HE LOVES ME bumper sticker on the back of my 1980 Toyota Corolla right next to an anti-abortion bumper sticker. I read Christian books, attended Christian youth conferences, and even spoke sermon-style to a group of church members at a vespers meeting.
But, there were some issues that weighed heavily on me at that time. They were issues that would continue to weigh on me for years to come: What was I supposed to think about my dear grandparents who loved me, provided breakfast for me each morning before college classes, co-signed a loan for me to buy a car, but, didn’t attend church? What was I to think about the Contemporary Christian Music artists that I so avidly adored and that I perceived to be so sincere, but, in reality were no better than I? Or, wait a minute, maybe they were better. Maybe they were closer to God. No. That can’t be right. They weren’t Seventh-Day Adventists! What about babies born in China or third-world aboriginal cultures where they will never hear about Jesus? Are they going to hell just because they didn’t have the technology to get the Billy Graham broadcast that included an altar call? What about those friends of mine who, though they taught me to get drunk, smoke cigarettes, and do other things I shouldn’t do, also taught me what it meant to have somebody I could rely on?

The truth is that God’s grace surfaces in so many different forms throughout our lives. Nobody in this world is as they should be. We are all lost: The condescending Christian that responds to your apology with an I-told-you-so-type attitude. The Pope, Ellen G. White, Ghandi, John Lennon, Trent Reznor, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Billy Graham, Michael Jordan, Paris Hilton, Bono, Tony Blair, my in-laws, and myself.

If any of us had to lay our hope in our own pathetic efforts to be good, attend church services, pay tithe, perform rituals, or argue our way into heaven, we would all face eternal seperation from God. I don’t know if there is an eternal Hell or if all the damned just cease to exist. What I do know is that our only hope is in God’s grace. His grace and his Love far supercede any church doctrine, any liturgy, any papal mandate, and any governmental law. The Creator knows the hearts of those who have never heard the gospel and He knows the hearts of those who have heard, but, persistently deny the gospel. His justice will be served.

Its strange indeed that anybody on earth would have the audacity to try to outwit God. Instead, I admit my flawed self. I concede that my own direction will only lead to pain for myself and those around me. My hope rests in my faith. My faith built on His grace. God offers his fatherly, unconditional, loving, eternal acceptance to me. I accept it. I pray that you do, too.

Peeling the Hardened Shell of the Church

Thanks to the insights and emphasis lent to the topic by authors such as Brennan Manning, Donald Miller, and the writers of the gospels, I’ve come to a much greater appreciation for what Christ intended when he taught the early disciples. When asked what is most important about living, Jesus said that we should love God with our whole beings and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

This was the opportunity for Christ to name what he wanted his church to look like. So, did he say, “spend disproportionate sums of money on ornate, aesthetically pleasing cathedrals?” Did he say, “contribute large sums of money, time, and enthusiasm to the political funds of candidates running for a role in government?” How about, “lecture, criticize, and turn your back on homosexuals, self-proclaimed atheists, and people who get abortions?”

The Church, as referred to in scripture, is the body of people who believe in Jesus and follow him in faith. Unfortunately the focus of so many Christians in society today is inappropriately placed on contributing to the campaign funds of self-proclaimed “conservative” politicians, having the most stylish clothing and accesories to wear to church, and shunning those who are in such need of love that they’ve turned to unnatural, abusive means like promiscuity and addiction. From this perspective, the church is weak.

The church has been guilty of this kind of posture for ages. The prostitution of the church in Europe during the renaissance is evidence. The witch-burning days serve as evidence. The self-righteous population that drives to services in BMW’s and high-end SUV’s to fill churches, chapels, and cathedrals across America today serve as evidence.

If we truly loved others as ourselves, as Jesus instructed us to, we might sacrifice a little more so that we could contribute to meeting the basic needs of those starving and suffering in places like Africa and Central America. If we truly loved others as ourselves we would spend more Saturday mornings serving at the local homeless shelter and less recovering from hangovers from drinking too much the night before.

Nobody is perfect and some of the examples stated above of inappropriate emphasis were taken directly from my own personal list of weaknesses. But, can you imagine how much better off this world would be if the Christian population in America reorganized their personal priorities to match the priorities that Christ instructed us to have?

The cause of Christ has never been cheap, unjust, or fake. The people that make up the church of Christ, however, are all of those things. All of us are less that what we should be. God has bigger plans for us. Drop your religion and follow Jesus. Serve him by loving those around you.

 28One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.[e] 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[f] 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[g]There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31