Agonizomai: Grace Upon Grace

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Grace Upon Grace

One of the things I posted to another blog recently touched a number of hearts. It was a true story about a friend's daughter who went to the Dominican Republic to help the poor.

I wrote it in part to show how Jesus Christ is alive and working in the intertwined lives of sinful believers through the faith they have been given. Here is an edited version of my original post (the whole thing can be found here - though you'll have to wade through 1,000 comments to find it)

A good friend of mine, a pastor, has a daughter who, in her late teens, got the social gospel itch and went off to the Dominican Republic to save the world by alleviating their poverty. She started a small workshop called "La Tienda" (which I'm told means "the store") and trained husbandless mothers suffering from extreme poverty and aids to make jewellry so that they could have some money and stop having to prostitute themselves in order to live.

From my ivory tower of theoretical theology in an insular society of cloying abundance I prayed (somewhat) faithfully that, among other things, she would...

a) be kept safe (there were 2 attempted rapes on her person)

b) grow in grace

c) be made fruitful for Jesus' sake

At one point I wrote her an admirably i-dotting and t-crossing theological treatise about the ills of the social gospel and the need to preach Christ as the only means of salvation. The idea was to get her to understand that no matter how much their poverty was alleviated, it did no good if they remained lost and ended up in hell.

In response she sent me a wire bookmark made by the girls of the DR and absolutely no other feedback whatsoever. And who could blame her?

Time passed. She continued to live out her life doing what she was doing and I kept on praying and suppressing the resentment, judgmentalism, and manipulativeness that is my natural bent. Every one was happy - she changing the world for Jesus and me sitting in judgment, dispensing wise Biblical epithets designed to change her outlook so that it was more like my own, and praying "superior" prayers that made me feel good.

And this would be a sad story if that's all there was. But there was Jesus. The real Jesus, I mean. The One that shows up in the details and is always working unseen in the subtext of our lives - unseen not because he is invisible, but because we are so blind. The Jesus who makes silk purses out of all of our sows ears. The faithful Jesus. The omnipotent Jesus. The one that gets left out (to our cost, not His) when we go down to Egypt for chariots, or when we make flesh our arm. That Jesus.

To my charismatic friends... no! the earth did not move. The Holy Spirit didn't bring a second Pentecost or a "Great Awakening". People weren't healed on demand (in fact they kept on dying of disease and poverty). Far greater things than this happened.

Despite the pervasive garnish of her sin and my sin, and amidst the sins of those she was ministering to, Jesus changed us both. He did it quietly and unexpectedly. I became slightly less of a pompous ass and she came to see the vital need for the pure milk of the word to be fed to those around her. And if you understand the darkness of sin you can see just how miraculous even this bit of progress is, and how great the power of God is, in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

She was a postmodern child and I am an evangelical dinosaur. But the common denominator is in the Spirit, thorough the grace and power of God on account of Jesus Christ. He gets it done through us, despite what we are, and He changes us all at the same time.

My point is to wonder who we think is in charge. We say that we believe God is in control, but in practice how much do we wrest that control back through our plans, our foibles, quirks, biases and sins?

I may want salvation to be a theological event produced by clean propositions of truth sagely delivered to undistracted and attentive hearers. As if! Missiological people may want to remove all the perceived obstacles to people's hearing and receiving the gospel. Bon chance! (not a strictly Cauvinistic expression) But all the time, Jesus is working and His Father is working, too by the Spirit, in the world, through the saints bringing all things to their appointed end.

I'm not saying we shouldn't strive. We are not fatalists. I am saying that it is God who moves the rocks we push against, not us. Our pushing helps us to see when God moves something.

Wherever you have two saints you will have disagreements. Our unity is in the Spirit. We build sandcastles while God erects a massive edifice above and around and among us - then gives us credit because some of the sand passed through our bucket.

Missiologically speaking, we should get over ourselves. God doesn't need us. He chose us and He chooses to get it done through us. My friend's daughter "just did it". She started out imperfectly, but with a right heart and, though she is still imperfect, Jesus brought her to a better understanding of His priorities through the process.

And I got to see this from my insulated little covey because God had granted me prayers for her that caused me to see His hand working.

I suppose - and no offence intended - I find all this angst about "how to be missiological in a postmodern society" to be rather puffed up (and believe me, I know puffed up when I look in the spiritual mirror) in view of the story I just related. God put us where we are or He calls us to where we must be and we should just do it, trusting God to be in the details. Missiology is mainly the overflow of a vibrant and sincere chasing after Christ.

Anyway - do visit my friend's daughter's site and read the last three or four entries. Jesus is all over them and in them and through them. I hope you see Him there. It puts me to shame and fills me with joy at one and the same time. Why!- it's almost like being a Christian!

And here is the real live response of my friend's daughter to a copy that he sent to her, unbeknownst to me. After reading this I just sat down and expressed my love for God, my wonder and thankfulness for His forbearance, His wisdom, His condescension and His grace. It took quite a while for me to get it all out. I absolutely adore the way he works in things so that there is no glory for us to grasp at, but so that we are thrilled and fulfilled by Him alone.

This was a beautiful letter mostly because it talks of the reason I long to share the kingdom in the first place.

The fact that God is able to mold us and change us, the fact that He creates miracles and washes away our sin, the fact that he restores all things, for his glory, the fact that he receives us with grace and then puts us up on the altar as living sacrifices.

The fact that I run ahead full steam sure of myself only to slam into a brick wall and God´s holiness still prevails.

It is because God has revealed to me THIS about his nature that all I can think to do is PROCLAIM it as loud or as silently as God calls me too. When I doubted God and was afraid of him, what motivated me to share? If all I knew was chains and fear what could I say to release the kingdom...... I couldn´t lie, I couldn´t share about a Jesus I didn´t KNOW.

It was a mircale. The miracle of MY LIFE so far. To see how God works. To Feel the pain and the suffering of my sin, to become enslaved to it, and for God in his mercy to mold me and make me knew all the while I cursed him and shook my fists and yet he loved me.

......anyways, I loved this letter that Tony wrote because of the ´Holy is the Lord God´ in it. The Lord is HOLY, I am amazed by his grace. AMAZED.

Some follower of Christ said ¨the church is a whore and she is my Mother¨ and Ezekiel (I think) talks of us like an orphan abandoned in her birth fluids, received by God, only to play the harlot with Idols, and yet God restores us.

There is no conclusion to this, I am just so amazed

Grace upon grace, filled up, pressed down and running over...

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans


Blogger dec said...

There is no conclusion to this, I am just so amazed

A declaration of life eternal in Christ!

(Looking forward to your writings on the blessings of suffering.)

4:47 pm  
Blogger agonizomai said...

Thanks, dec,

Amen! Check back in mid-October. Pray for traveling mercies for me.

8:29 pm  
Blogger sf said...

I am looking forward to more writing from you in the future.

In Him,

11:09 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home