The third big idea in Lifesong’s Six Big ideas was GRACE.
Years ago I noticed that most definitions of Grace define it by the unmerited favor aspect, which is completely accurate, but not accurately complete. Scripture tends to describe Grace as not only God’s favor, but also His power. For example,
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed (2 Corinthians 9:8)
This verse speaks of God’s blessing and favor definitely, but it is a powerful kind of blessing which also makes us able and sufficient. Anyway, the definition I’ve been using in my conferences, counseling and pastoring is that God’s Grace is His power and desire to do good to you.
Not only does He desire to do good to you but He has the power to do so. Not only is He capable of doing good to you, but He actually wants to. The kicker is that this is an aspect of God’s character which does not, cannot be changed. You cannot make God more or less gracious to you not matter what you do. Behave well or poorly it makes God not one ounce more powerful or well disposed to you. God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent.
Anyway, this last week in my pilgrimage, I’ve been thinking about, and seeing this, in three ways:
Last week I was invited to a pastor’s retreat in Colorado by the man in this picture with me.
His name is John Meyer. He is the regional director for Great Commission Churches for the region in which Lifesong church used to exist. See that’s part of what was amazing about this invitation. I was, in some ways no longer officially under his authority or care, no longer having an actual church in his region. I have nothing tangible to offer him. No tithes, no ministry, nothing to give him. Yet lack of office, does not equal lack of pastoral care. I’ve experienced that myself with my former Lifesingers as we’ve met for Lunch at Dion’s or chatted via email, phone or in person., but it was nice to be on the receiving end. John had the power to do good to me by inviting me to this retreat, and he apparently had the desire as well, because he did so with nothing to gain for himself.
It was an interesting counterpoint to a moment I describe in my book, The Hidden Life, 20 years ago when I was on my way to a pastor’s conference. At that time I was a pastor of a church who felt as if he didn’t belong at the pastor’s conference for having failed. It was during that time I learned most deeply what Grace meant. This time, I was no longer a pastor of a functioning church and yet I felt very much as if I belonged at this pastor’s retreat. It wasn’t just John but the group of men with whom I shared this retreat.
That’s not some weird religious gesture; they are in fact pretending to be elk. Why? Who knows?
These men had gathered to plan, pray and inspire one another on their next steps for their churches. Some of them have planted churches from their church plants, others are very much where Lifesong was just a year ago, trying to discern what needs to happen to continue in fruitful ministry. These men, not only accepted me on their retreat but they treated me, not as a pesky hanger-on who needed a place to hangout, nor a failed CEO to be pitied, nor even a wounded brother to be healed, but as an equal, worthy of giving and receiving advice. These men, who were focused on planning for the future, spent time listening to stories of my past, as if it were valuable not only to me but to them to do so. They had the power, by their mere interactions with me to do me good, and I’m grateful they also had the desire.
The stories we shared, our own and our loved ones, our congregations and families, our communities and churches, reminded me of the importance of the work we do. It affirmed my growing sense that not having a church doesn’t mean not using my gifts, and it certainly doesn’t mean people aren’t in need of Grace and love. There is a lot of beauty in the world, much nobility, but there is also a lot of pain and despair; people in need of hope and grace and truth, in short Christ. Everyone of us is given some supernatural flavor of that power and desire to do good which is so much a part of God’s character. He invites us to share in such a precious stewardship; more precious than time, or money or even the people (congregations, kids…) we have authority and care over or any other stewardship he gives us. The very stewardship of His manifold Grace.
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 1 Peter 4:10
Week by week in this pilgrimage God continues to remind me of the needs in the world, the gifts and other resources He’s given me, and the expectation that i will be a steward of God’s Grace, just as He expects of you.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
As you and I walk this pilgrimage together I hope both of us get a clearer vision of how our stewardship unfolds. Maybe some of our paths will cross and some of our stewardships will be shared. Perhaps you will be God’s grace for me and I for you. Who knows.