Charis

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– Paul, Ephesians 2:8

Grace. Short word, but not easy to define. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about grace this past week. If you read the last blog or listened from the podcast, then you’ll know I mentioned grace at the last part of the blog. As promised I’m going to talk about grace. Last time we looked into placing blame on others and considered several examples of shifting the blame on others, when we ourselves often overlook our own responsibilities. What we need is grace.

To be honest, I have a difficult time narrowing down a definition of grace. I know for some of you who might have grown up around Christian circles there is an acrostic for grace using each letter of the word. But, I think it needs a bit further example. It is true we do experience the grace of God because of Christ’s expense on the cross, but what does it mean to live in this life of grace? How does it play out? Like I said, I’ve been trying to find a good example to give you and have been reminded that grace is the right topic for me to write about this week. It has been literally everywhere. Have you ever noticed that when God has something for you to meditate upon, He keeps bring it up in the simplest and strangest of places? For me, it was in a podcast I listened to,my devotional this week, and in my reading through the letter to the Ephesians, written by the apostle Paul. If you haven’t read it, or it has been awhile, let me encourage you to do so. Paul has a lot to say about grace.

One of the strangest reminders of grace this week, was finding grace written on the side of a building. Well, let me be specific, it was a sign on a church building in a very small city, near where two of my adult children live. Can I call them that? It does seem a strange contradiction of terms. Anyway, I almost overlooked this prime example of what grace can be defined as, since I was familiar with this church. I had visited once, when it was located in a smaller building and was aware they had moved down the street.

But, what is remarkable is not a church moving, or that they are called “grace” church, but what bigger picture I think they represent. Let me explain. I am a big fan of revitalizing old down town areas. Not with large condos, that push out the people living there, so they are not able to afford to stay put, but restore, reuse, remodel and reawaken dead, historical business districts. Many times the architecture found in these older buildings is amazing. Great care was put into the design and expert workmanship. They were not simply quick, cookie cutter buildings. But they had history and design. They often reflect the time period in which they were built.

But, sadly, as my husband and I have discovered traveling across the United States, so many of these classic, historical down towns are neglected, falling into ruin and boarded up. Interstate travel moved the business districts too far from the traveling public, subdivisions created commuters and fast food restaurants to be accessed by cars. Drive- thru’s took the places of sit down diners. No one ventured off the bigger roads to visit these small towns anymore, factories on the fringes of the towns closed and businesses shuttered their doors.

Often as I drive through these towns, I wonder what they must have been like in their hey day. Before the faded paint, broken windows, and darkened interiors. I close my eyes for a minute and imagine it. People strolling down the streets, shop keepers displaying their goods in the window, the smell of food drifting from the restaurants and the faint sound of music coming from inside. As it got dark, the street lights would come on and the lights inside, welcoming and beckoning the shoppers and those looking for a meal.

As I opened my eyes, it was still there. The brightly lit shops, the food smells from the restaurants, and the music. There was even the sound of saws and hammers as another building was being rebuilt inside. This wasn’t my imagination, but a reality in which I found myself this past weekend in a revitalized down town. The streets have been all repaved in bricks, the restaurants open their doors to tables and benches on the sidewalks, special events and event spaces now frequent these once broken down and silent areas of town. As I ascended a staircase leading to a newly opened photography studio, I noted the decorative welded iron work on the stairs. This was definitely not cookie cutter, but the work of a skilled craftsman from years ago.

I visited this same town three years ago, as it began to revitalize when there were only a few new businesses in these graceful old buildings. It has taken those willing to step out of the cookie cutter strip mall worlds, invest in the broken down and old. The abandoned and forgotten. To see how it can be. It took someone to see past the inside of the buildings, past the darkness of broken street lights, and broken windows to offer this town a second chance. To imagine what this town could be like once again. Full of life, and full of light and joy once again as people were welcomed to visit it. It took grace. And not just the church that decided to revitalize an entire city building for its new church, rather than build in a large suburban area, it took looking past the broken parts to what it could be.

We are like that too. No, we are not the imagineers, or the visionaries. We are those broken buildings. Dark inside, without light and life. We were once full of light and life, but not now. We are full of strife and anger and hopelessness and sin. When we were created and designed by the ultimate designer and architect, God, we were designed to be welcoming, to be in perfect relationship with our creator and each other and full of life, His life, His Zoe that He breathed into the first man Adam. But then sin arrived and we found ourselves off the beaten path from God. The life and light was gone. We grew old and our bodies saw decay and death. But God offered us grace, right from the beginning, and He promised to send Jesus who would defeat our enemy and restore our life. God looks past the brokenness of our lives, the dark places we have been and that resides within us and offers to recreate us. To restore our relationship with Him, to give us life, not just like the world’s cookie- cutter version, but His life, and Himself, the Holy Spirit, who will change us and transform us into the likeness of Jesus, what we were and should have been. God offers us grace. His grace. Nothing we have earned or deserved, but because He sees what is possible in us and loves us despite our shortcomings. God Bless- Nancy

Nothing

The server worked efficiently and silently as she placed the large platter on the table. As I focused on the newly placed plate, other platters followed, each one more joyous and amazing than the one before. I have to be honest, it was the largest most decadent piece of chocolate cake I have seen. The chocolate cake looked like a mountain of chocolate goodness. It was extra chocolate. As I stared at the huge dessert, that was the equivalent of two normal sized full sized cakes, my mind started to panic. After several different desserts had been placed in the center of the large round table, the server announced  that they were all a gift from the chef who’s child was a student in my daughter’s class. He appreciated her as a teacher and wanted to show it through offering this generous gift.

It was very unexpected and after the server left, those of us at the table began to share our thoughts. We all had had feelings of panic and concern before the server told us it was a gift. We all had wondered who had ordered dessert and who was going to pay for it. None of us at the table were used to such extravagance. We are not fancy people who regularly dine at pricey restaurants. It was not a usual place for us to go out for dinner, but my daughter had received a gift card that she wanted to share with us. The gift card would not cover all seven of us in the party, so we had all decided before how we would split the bill when it came, and now there was going to be this add- on charge for dessert. Needless to say we were all very relieved when the server said it was a gift. We would wash dishes if we had too, but we were glad we didn’t need to.

Have you ever had a moment like that? A moment of panic, when you wondered how you would pay for something? Something you had not planned for. You are unprepared and do not have a means to pay. A similar experienced happened to my husband and I many years ago while driving through Pennsylvania. We had made a wrong turn and ended up on the ramp to a toll road and could not turn around. The toll required was change only, no cards, no bills, just coins. It did not have an attendant. It was a large basket to catch the toll coins. We did not have any. We had not planned on being on this road. We could not move forward because of the bar across the highway and we now could not back up because a car was tight behind us. Then it happened. The person behind us got out of their car and put coins in the basket. The barrier arm raised and we were free to proceed. We thanked them and were on our way. Someone paid for our travel on that road, so we would be free to travel, that is to be allowed to travel on that road.

It is nice when someone else pays. It is even nicer when we really need them to pay because we can’t pay. I have been reminded lately of just how much Christ’s payment on the cross means. It means I don’t have to keep on trying to pay for something I could never fully pay. Paid in full means just that, in full. There is nothing more I can do to pay for something (my sin) because it is already paid for. Once for all time. Hebrews 10:14 says, “ For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Yet, at times I  see so many people, myself, included, who feel bad and allow guilt to push them to keep trying to do better. Now, doing better and improving our actions and attitudes is a part of growing in our Christian walk, but trying to change in order to earn a right standing before God is fruitless, rather than fruitful. It is what religion is, trying to reach god or perfection, or nirvana or doing good karma. But, that is not Christianity. Christianity is Christ coming down to save us, not us trying to reach Him.

     There are little habits we all have that we wish we didn’t. I worry and stress too much and the more I worry and stress the more I start to feel guilty for worrying and stressing. And then it leads to a feeling of failure, like I can’t change and will never change. My mind reminds me of sermons I have heard before “that anything that isn’t by faith is sin”  and then the guilt piles higher and higher like that over sized  piece of chocolate cake at the restaurant. Now, I could try to fix myself, get busy trying to do more good and trying to make myself look good, hoping I will replace guilt with contentment with my accomplishments. But, it will be short- lived. It is only when I acknowledge Christ paid for all of it, once, for all, that I can relax and allow God to work on me in His timing and in His way. He will make the changes in my attitude and help me grow in my Christian walk. As the writer of the Book of Hebrews adds;  ” This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord.I will put my laws in their hearts,  and I will write them on their minds. Then he adds: Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” (v.15-17, NIV).   Writing the law in our hearts and minds refers to the Holy Spirit living within the believer. He enables us to live out this Christian walk. Allow Him to lead you and heal you of those things you are trying to deal with on your own. Christ paid the toll so to speak, we need only to receive it as the gift it is. We are free to travel on the journey before us. But first we must acknowledge that we can never earn it, trying to reach God through good works or religious duties, nor do we need to let guilt overwhelm us and force us to keep on trying to earn it even after its been paid in full. Paid in full, let that sink in for minute. Nothing else will be able to add or subtract from that. God Bless -Nancy