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Searching for a Place of Grace

Somebody asked me, “How are you?” recently. It was the first time in a while I felt someone was really interested – my role can be intimidating and off-putting to people. And the answer is that, honestly, I’ve been feeling lonelier as I go through further emptying ceremonies in this season of an …
By Seth Barnes

Somebody asked me, “How are you?” recently. It was the first time in a while I felt someone was really interested – my role can be intimidating and off-putting to people. And the answer is that, honestly, I’ve been feeling lonelier as I go through further emptying ceremonies in this season of an empty nest. 

My son’s wedding was that – at once an epochal event and a thing of grace. On seeing Christina coming down the aisle, his tears fell like the Florida evening rain outside – suddenly, almost surprisingly.

Grace, when it shows up, is usually a big surprise. 

In life we expect an equivalent response – an eye for an eye, tit for tat. We expect to say, “He got what was coming to him.” Something inside us expects reciprocity, just as one note follows another in a song or a pendulum swings back at the end of its arc.

In contrast, grace says, “Unilateral disarmament is better.” It says weakness makes room for spiritual strength. Jesus pointed to it as the hallmark of his soon-coming kingdom.

Rules vs. Grace

Yes, rules are necessary – they define our limits and help us respect others. And truth be told, most of us prefer rules to grace. When something bad happens to us, we want justice – a reckoning based on the rules.

Rules are predictable and grace is not. Rules define life in such a way that you don’t have to rely on an unseen deity. You have more control over circumstances. Rules keep chaos at bay. God himself gave us ten rules upon which to organize our lives and multiple books of the Bible to show us the specific ways in which we should live.

But Jesus, knowing we’re terrible rule-keepers, has a better idea. He wants to help us make a paradigm shift away from the old covenant and toward a new way of living.

My own experience

As I reflect on my upbringing in the church and in missions and I think about all the complicated situations I was in that needed grace, it’s amazing how graceless many of the communities I was in were. When people messed up, they were kicked out. And sometimes you found yourself sitting in the ejection seat and didn’t know why.

There were times when as a young man I was summarily fired. There was a string of churches that imploded and fired their pastors. And the church splits. The divisive meetings. The bitter and broken relationships that resulted.

Sometimes the Christian communities that we’re a part of can look like train wrecks. It’s no wonder that close to half of young people are leaving the church and want nothing to do with it. All they want is authenticity and grace, and they don’t see it in our communities.

Would Jesus feel welcome?

And so you and I, living in the now, not bound to some old wineskin, have the opportunity to try to re-invent community as a place where Jesus would feel welcome. A place where people get a second chance. A place where the truth is told in love. A place where we fight for one another.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but you don’t get to live in a place of grace without fighting. We don’t get to live in a place of grace unless we are all prepared to fight for it. You have to appreciate the role of rules and then you have to be willing to break them when grace is more right than the rules. And after that you have to fight all that’s within you that wants to be proven right.

I want to live in a place where rules are respected, but grace is normal. For 25 years I’ve been fighting to create a place like that at Adventures. I’ve been wrong a lot and apologized a lot. We’re still struggling to get there, and yet I haven’t given up.

A place of grace is a thing of wonder to behold. It’s a rarity. It’s worth the pain. It’s worth the humiliations and struggles along the way. It’s what we seek in our churches and our relationships. It’s the only environment in which true disciples are made.

It’s the glistening white surface on the pearl of great price that Jesus described. A thing our spirits know to be timelessly beautiful.

I think I’m prepared to do just about anything to find it. What about you?

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