Over the last 4 months, I have grown in many ways as a Christian, a husband, and as a man. But I also have been on a journey to understand, as someone who has been called to preach (at least on occasion), something that I did not even know I was trying to understand ...have you ever felt that way?
Last January, I was in a conversation with a much more experienced minister than myself and he said, "We have got to reclaim what it means to preach grace from our pulpits."
I politely nodded my head and thought to myself...I wonder what exactly he means?
Since that time, I have thought about it here and there. Overall, I assumed he was kinda being a softy. One of those run from the word sin kinda guys but given what I knew about him that was inconsistent so it just kinda bugged me.
Then I had a conversation with one of our youth at the church. He was highly upset about a pattern he had seen repeated at the churches he had gone to. In general, as we were talking, I thought he was simply expressing the heartbeat of our culture.
"We shouldn't judge other people."
"Who are we to decide what is right or wrong for other people."
"Our God is a loving and awesome God. Why can't we just talk about that?"
But as our conversation went on and I was gently trying to redirect him and challenge him to think about things a little differently, I began to realize that the heartbeat of what he was saying wasn't so much culture driven as it was Gospel driven. He began asking me,
"Does tearing down someone else's faith or beliefs really move them towards the Gospel?"
"Is that what the Sunday morning sermon should really be all about or should it be about showing them just how amazing Jesus is? How much God loves them? How much they need Him in their lives?"
All of a sudden, I began to realize what preaching grace was all about.
It's not about skipping over sin. It's not about believing, teaching, or supporting the idea that all religions are equal, all worldviews are good, or that all philosophies are wise.
It's about the making much of Jesus.
And that brings me to today.
This morning, as I was beginning to wake up, the Lord and I were continuing to talk all of this over and this question came to me,
"What do I want people to be thinking as they leave a Sunday morning worship service?"
Do I want them thinking about the deep truths I unpacked?
Do I want them thinking that I really showed the differences between Christianity and ______?
Do I want them thinking that I was a good communicator?
Do I want them thinking about a certain illustration or point or application?
Honestly, I admitted to the Lord I wanted people thinking about all those things...then He said, "But is that what I (God) want them thinking about?"
I paused and rethought the question from God's perspective and came up with this answer:
As they leave, I want them thinking, "I may not believe what that pastor, church, or faith believes but what I heard, saw, and experienced today at this place with these people was amazing and like nothing I have ever experienced before. I can't wait to hear, see, and experience more next week."
As I pondered that this morning, I met with my discipler again, and this is what we studied:
1 For we know that if the tent (our bodies) that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (Second Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 5 ESV)
This whole chapter applies to this blog post, but can I just highlight one part? Verse 19. Specifically, "...not counting their trespasses against them..." and then all of verse 21.
How often have I held people's sins against them in a sermon? How many times have I been and have I put a stumbling block (2 Cor. 6:3) in front of people? Because if I have made a point of religion, worldview, or philosophy then I almost certainly have done so.
I have not preached grace. I have not made the presenting the wonder of Jesus my chief aim. So, I write all of this to tell you that I am endeavoring to do better. I will think more carefully. Consider more wisely. Lean on the Spirit more heavily.
I am sorry for not preaching grace as clearly as I should have. There is a time for comparing and contrasting. For upholding what is true in light of what is evil. What is right in contrast with what is false. But I no longer believe that Sunday morning worship is that time. I believe the corporate worship service must be where we, as the Church of Jesus, make much of our Savior. Oh, that the world may see and hear us do so and be struck with wonder.
Teachable. I will preach grace. Amen.