The Pastor Next Door

Amazing Grace? Oh OK...

I remember sitting in the living room of my friend, mentor, and pastor, Bob Smart. There were about ten of us sitting in a circle for a Koinonia Group. Koinonia is the Greek word that is roughly translated as “fellowship” in English. He asked a simple question, “What is grace?”

I answered quickly because I knew the answer!

“Grace is unmerited favor, Bob!” I said.

“What's so amazing about that?” He said.

I sat dumbfounded. Silenced by a simple question that demanded more of me than an intellectual response.

Bono of U2 once wrote about grace this way,

She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name

It's the name for a girl
It's also a thought that
Changed the world

And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness
In everything

She's got the walk
Not on a ramp or on chalk
She's got the time to talk

She travels outside
Of karma, karma
She travels outside
Of karma

When she goes to work
You can hear her strings
Grace finds beauty
In everything

She carries a world on her hips
No champagne flute for her lips
No twirls or skips between her fingertips

She carries a pearl
In perfect condition
What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings

Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things

Grace finds beauty
In everything

Grace finds goodness in everything

This paints a picture well beyond something cold like, “unmerited favor”. I am struck by the emotion of what Bono has written.

At the time that I responded to that question by my friend, Bob, I don't think that I understood that emotion. Grace hadn't made it down from my head to my heart.


There's an ancient story that resonates deeply in my soul.

One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee's house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.”

Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Oh? Tell me.”

“Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?”

Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”

“That's right,” said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn't quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn't it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”

Then he spoke to her: “I forgive your sins.”

That set the dinner guests talking behind his back: “Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!”

He ignored them and said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50, The Message)

For a really long time I thought of myself as good. If I'm really honest with you, I thought of my self as being really, really good. So, while in some sense I knew that I needed grace, I was much like Simon in the story above. I didn't realize that my shadow, my sin, my own brokenness was deep.

I don't really know when it happened that I began to get it.

Perhaps it was with the birth of our first child and I began to see the deep seated selfishness that reigned like a tyrant only to be demolished by a toddler tyrant supreme?

Perhaps it was beginning to see how I responded to various stressful situations where my go to was anger and rage (heck, that happened yesterday!)?

Perhaps it was acknowledging that my sin-sickness was not somehow less than any other person's?

As my own need for grace moved from head to heart it stopped being an intellectually rooted concept. It became something else.

Grace had become the thing that “makes beauty out of ugly things.”

What is grace? Grace is the fundamental reality that we are loved, accepted, embraced, reconciled, and cherished by a sovereign and good God because we simply are.

There's nothing that we do to earn the love.
There's nothing we can do lose the love.

The only thing we bring is ourselves and God loves us.

God chose to love us by lavishing a grace on us that is overwhelming when begin to think about it.

It truly is amazing.


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